Grapevine: Recent wine report overlooks some of Spokane’s finest


I was dismayed and disappointed to find, when reading through the much-hyped report on Washington wines in the most recent issue of Robert Parker’s influential Wine Advocate, that the Spokane wineries were completely ignored. There were no reviews from any of the dozen or so producers here, nor any mention that such wineries even exist.

Whether intentional or accidental, it’s a shame that wineries as good as these are virtually unknown except in their own backyard. The point was emphasized recently by my tasting of new releases from two of Spokane’s leading boutiques – Barrister Winery and Robert Karl Cellars.

Barrister, now entering its seventh vintage, is the project of attorneys Greg Lipsker and Michael White. A three-story brick warehouse in Spokane’s Davenport Arts District was purchased and renovated a couple of years ago, and the tasting room (1213 W. Railroad Ave.) is open on Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. or by appointment.

The owners enjoy having a chance to meet customers one-on-one and offer guided production tours with the chance to taste from barrel as well as bottle. During crush they may be quite busy, but if you can get in, it will be a very exciting time to visit.

Barrister makes just 2,000 cases of wine annually, mostly reds. A little bit of Klipsun vineyard sauvignon blanc and Dionysus vineyard riesling is also made.

Given their limited production and very fair pricing, it’s no surprise that Barrister wines are mostly sold to mailing list and tasting-room customers, with the rest distributed to a few select restaurants and wine shops.

The winemaking style is no holds barred, big and expressive, with plenty of barrel flavors. The one wine that best expresses the Barrister combination of power, weight, massive fruit and sweet, toasty oak is their cabernet franc. The latest release is the 2005 Barrister Cabernet Franc ($25). You’ll find it’s a ripe and succulent mix of berries and black cherries, set against firm, ripe and polished tannins.

Barrister also has a pair of excellent syrahs – a 2005 Morrison Lane Vineyard ($26) and a 2005 Bacchus Vineyard bottling ($28). The Morrison Lane vineyard syrah has been co-fermented in traditional Rhone style with 6 percent viognier. The viognier adds palate-lifting citrus and floral scents, while the syrah mixes in tart berry flavors with a finish of mineral and wet stone.

Barrister’s Bacchus vineyard syrah is another potent and punchy wine, bursting with roasted, smoky, toasted oak flavors of coffee and baking chocolate, and a firm underpinning of acid and tart berry/cherry fruit. The 2004 Merlot ($25) includes 20 percent cabernet sauvignon in the blend. It’s a dark and chocolatey wine with a rich, roasted mouthfeel. Finally, there is the nonvintage Rough Justice Red ($19), a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, merlot and syrah. It’s a fine value, capturing the rugged, juicy quality of Barrister’s more costly vintage wines.

To order these wines, contact Barrister Winery at (509) 465-3591 or visit www.barristerwinery.com.

Robert Karl Cellars, founded in 1999 by physician Joseph Gunselman and his wife, Rebecca, makes beautifully crafted, meticulous wines that seem to me to be especially ageworthy. Dr. Gunselman has proven himself to be a talented blender. Many winemakers have told me that blending is the most demanding, and the most fun part of their work, and his gift for doing it well is particularly evident in Robert Karl’s reserve and cabernet wines.

Grapes are sourced from several vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills. The Gunselmans like the area so much, despite the lengthy drive time to get there, that they recently purchased their own eight acres on Phinny Hill. Says Joe: “To me it has a magic to it; it just hit us the first time we traveled there. We didn’t know there were a lot of vineyards already there; we just knew it was the place.”

Robert Karl wines offer exceptional quality at a modest price. If drunk young, new releases should be decanted, so as to unlock the aromas. The Robert Karl 2005 Syrah ($29) is sharp and distinctive, showing tangy flavors of boysenberry and raspberry, hints of meat and smoke and bacon, and clean acids.

The Robert Karl 2004 “Inspiration” Reserve Red ($45) is a complex Bordeaux blend. It’s streaked with every conceivable red fruit, a layer of chocolate, a whiff of coffee, a lick of butterscotch and again, plenty of vivid acids. Almost as good is the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($29). This supple and juicy wine is loaded with berry flavors and blended with small amounts of the other four Bordeaux grapes.

Robert Karl’s tasting room (115 W. Pacific Ave.; 509-363-1353) is open on Saturdays from noon to 4 pm. The official release of the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is planned for the weekend of Nov. 16 to 18. Other upcoming events include an Oct. 24 winemaker dinner at Twiggs and participation in Epicurean Delight, a food and wine bonanza that benefits the Inland Northwest Blood Center. Slated for Nov. 2 at the Spokane Convention Center, Epicurean Delight generally sells out well in advance. For ticket information, visit www.epicureandelight.org or phone (509) 232-4567.


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