The elevator begins its descent into the basement of Barrister Winery with a lurch. Before the old freight hauler stops and Greg Lipsker lifts the gate, riders can feel and smell the change.
The layers of concrete, rock and brick muffle the street and rail sounds overhead and the cool air is suddenly heavy with the earthy smell of damp oak. The windows have been filled in with curved brick arches. A tall pillar candle is framed by each arch. If the candles were lighted, it would be easy to imagine the barrels lining the cellar of a chateau in southern France instead of the basement of a century-old converted warehouse in Spokane.
If the number of sleeping barrels looks a bit sparse in the expanse between rock walls, that’s because this winery is still just a baby and dreams need room to grow.
Lipsker and Michael White started Barrister Winery with a 5-gallon home winemaking kit. They knew it was time to get serious when Lipsker’s garage had reached its capacity and the attorneys-cum-winemakers nearly swept an amateur contest with their homemade wines. Barrister released its first commercial offering in 2001. By 2003 they had 150 cases of wines to sell. They released four wines early this month, a total production of 1,300 cases and would like to double that next year, Lipsker says.
Barrister makes wine that Lipsker and White love to drink: Bordeaux-style reds such as cabernet franc and merlot – and a syrah. “Our wines tend to be big and complex but with soft tannins,” Lipsker says. The effort is winning awards. The winery recently won Best of Show and Best Red Wine accolades at the NorthWest Wine Summit with its 2003 Columbia Valley Cabernet Franc. The contest included wines from 325 wineries in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.
The winery gathers its grapes from about eight different growers across the state, relying on friends and family to help with the two-days of unloading, destemming, sorting and crushing.
The one complaint they’ve heard, Lipsker says, is that Barrister’s offerings can be hard to find. To help change that, the winery will be open on Saturdays starting this weekend from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They’re also in the throes of building a tasting room with Hotel Lusso designer John Rovtal that should be finished by the end of June.
Barrister Winery is in the Davenport Arts District but the building is a bit removed from the heart of downtown. The building once housed automotive parts and was used to store cars off-loaded from the raised railroad line.
The neighborhood is still in transition from vacant warehouses to prime real estate. When plans for other buildings in the area are finished, the winery will be next door to the Better Business Bureau and nine new loft condominiums. The Blue Chip Lofts and the Red Sky Gallery are across the railroad viaduct.
The key to pairing Barrister wines with food is not to let the big, full-bodied wines overwhelm the main course.
Lipsker said the wines pair well with grilled foods – his favorite is grilled butterflied leg of lamb with the cabernet franc. He also suggests pairing it with mushrooms. “The earthy flavor of the mushrooms really helps draw out the different layers of flavors in the cabernet franc.”
Chef Jonathan Sweatt from the Downriver Grill suggests drinking Barrister’s 2003 Columbia Valley Cabernet Franc ($24) with his Sonnenberg’s Sausage Baked Gnocchi (recipe follows.) “It’s a wonderful bottle of wine and I think it’s a great pairing. We tried it with some of the more typical things you might choose that are on our menu such as the prime rib… but we really liked this one the best because the flavors truly complemented the wine instead of overpowering it.”
If you have a special occasion coming up, try Barrister’s 2003 Red Mountain Merlot ($28) with a recipe Lipsker shared for beef tenderloin (recipe follows). It’s an elegant match you’ll remember long after the sticker shock has faded. Buy this amazing cut (most likely from a butcher shop such as Egger Meats) and putting a memorable meal on the table is relatively effortless. You won’t believe how little you’ll have to fuss for the reward: a big, bold mouthful that lingers and contrasts with the fork-tender texture of the meat.
The winemakers recommend decanting the merlot to open up its full breadth of aroma and flavors.
Break the rules, Lipsker says. “Don’t be afraid to experiment. You don’t have to pair red wine with meat and white wine with fish… it’s all about what you like.”
Here are the recipes Barrister shared that show off its wines:
Sonnenberg’s Sausage Baked Gnocchi
From Chef Jonathan Sweatt, Downriver Grill
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary
2 ounces julienne red bell peppers
4 ounces cooked Sonnenberg’s New York-style Italian sausage, sliced into half moons (see note)
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) red wine
4 ounces marinara sauce
1 ounces fresh grated Parmesan
8 ounces gnocchi
Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallots and rosemary and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add peppers and sausage; sauté for 2 minutes. Deglaze with red wine and add marinara; simmer until thickened.
Add gnocchi to boiling water. Cook until al dente; gnocchi will begin to float to the top when cooked.
Add cooked gnocchi to sauce and toss until coated. Arrange into a bowl and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Broil gnocchi dish until cheese becomes golden brown.
Note: Sweatt cooks Sonnenberg’s sausage in beer before slicing it into half moons for this dish. Sausage should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yield: 1 serving
Nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate due to recipe variables.
Barrister’s Greg Lipsker recommends searching Huckleberry’s Natural Market or the farmers markets for particularly attractive fresh garden vegetables, perhaps steamed miniature varieties, to surround this classic dish. He shared this recipe for beef tenderloin that makes an elegant special-occasion meal.
Tenderloin of Beef with Merlot Sauce
From “Beyond Parsley,” by the Junior League of Kansas City, Mo.
1 whole beef tenderloin (about 4 pounds), fat and silver skin removed
1/2 cup clarified butter (see note)
3 ounces cognac
1/4 cup water, wine or beef broth
1 tablespoon butter
For the Merlot Sauce:
1 shallot, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Barrister’s Red Mountain Merlot
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup merlot, stock or water
1/3 cup tomato sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Coat beef with clarified butter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cook’s Illustrated editors recommend cooking the roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast reads about 125 degrees. (After the meat is done resting it should range from medium rare to medium). Remove meat from oven; pour cognac over beef and flame. When flame is out, place tenderloin on serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
To make Merlot Sauce, sauté shallots in butter. Add wine and cook until liquid is reduced by three-fourths. Add beef stock and bring to a boil. Stir in dissolved cornstarch, tomato sauce and seasonings.
To juice in roasting pan, add water, wine or broth and cook over medium heat, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan. Add Merlot Sauce, simmer and add 1 tablespoon butter. Coat the roast with an even, thin layer of sauce and serve remaining sauce separately.
Note: To make clarified butter, follow these instructions from Gourmet magazine: Cut butter into 1-inch pieces and melt in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and let stand 3 minutes. Skim froth and slowly pour butter into a measuring cup, leaving milky solids in bottom of pan. Discard milky solids. One stick ( 1/2 cup) of butter will yield 5 to 6 tablespoons of clarified butter.
Yield: 8 servings
Approximate nutrition per 6-ounce serving: 470 calories, 36 grams fat (18 grams saturated, 71 percent fat calories), 28 grams protein, 3.5 grams carbohydrate, 121 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 288 milligrams sodium.