Spokane full of pleasant surprises for wine-lovers

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 24, 2013 

Today I'll wrap up my three-part series on Spokane wineries by sharing some of the highlights of my visit last month.

At Townshend Cellar, owner/winemaker Don Townshend and his sons Michael and Brendon oversee a winery that produces 18,000 cases annually from over 20 varietals. They also own Spokane's Lone Canary and Mountain Dome labels. I was impressed with how long Townshend holds their vintages back prior to release, allowing the wines to develop additional character and complexity.

Standouts include the 2007 Lemberger (about $20), with dried plum aromatics, notes of strawberry and cinnamon and a finish of spiced cherry; and the just-released 2005 Cabernet Franc (about $28), which is still a bit assertive and earthy and could benefit from even more time in the cellar.

Townshend has just opened a new tasting room, and personable general manager Jill Rider will provide you with excellent service during your visit.

One of the pleasant surprises on the Spokane wine scene is the people and wines I found at Overbluff Cellars. Head winemaker Jerry Gibson will keep you smiling and "wowing" over the quality of his wines, and together with new owner/winemaker Darby McKee, they have developed a hidden gem of a boutique winery worth seeking out.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything I sampled at Overbluff. And because Gibson sources some of his grapes from the same vineyards as local winemaker Peter Osvaldik, you might find yourself thinking you're sipping something from Dynasty Cellars.

The best of the best include two Les Collines Vineyard wines: the 2009 Merlot (about $23), with ultra-black cherry flavors and a touch of toasted vanilla; and the 2010 Defiance (about $29), a jet-black syrah with inky fruits and a whisper of smoky spices.

Two downtown tasting rooms, located within steps of the Davenport Hotel, are particularly notable. Cougar Crest Winery, managed by Samuel Crosby (grandnephew of former Spokane resident Bing), will pour you samples and offer his wine-tasting acumen.

There's plenty to choose from. I suggest starting with the 2011 Viognier and the 2007 Estate Syrah (about $20 each) before diving into the 2008 Malbec (about $32).

Also be sure to visit nearby Whitestone Vineyard and Winery. Their Spokane tasting room is an alternative location to one of the more isolated estate vineyards in Washington, on the shores of Lake Roosevelt, north of the town of Wilbur.

Winemaker Michael Haig tells me the vineyard will be open to the public in early October. In the meantime, he'll pour you a glass of his stunning 2009 Cabernet Franc (about $28) and the seamless, superbly balanced 2009 Estate Meritage (about $35).

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.

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