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The crush of fall appears promising for wine drinkers

Wed., Oct. 27, 2010

An unusually cold summer has made this harvest season a little more stressful for wineries.  (File)
An unusually cold summer has made this harvest season a little more stressful for wineries. (File)

Autumn is an especially exciting time for both wineries and wine drinkers.

This year’s harvest has been a nail-biter, as a result of the summer’s unusually cool weather, and a series of uncharacteristic rainy spells in September.

But with most wineries more than halfway through crush as this is written, things are looking very good. I’ve spoken with dozens of winemakers in the past couple of weeks, and they are especially excited with the quality of the merlot and syrah, but happy across the entire spectrum.

New releases come out in the fall, and it’s a splendid time to visit your favorite tasting rooms. During an all-too-brief visit to Spokane a few days ago, I stopped at Arbor Crest, Nodland Cellars and Barrister. Here are notes on the excellent wines I found at all three:

• Arbor Crest’s devastating fire has led to some exciting new developments, and the completely reconstructed Cliff House is scheduled to open within the next few days. It retains the exterior look of the original structure, but dramatically opens up the interior, allowing for a state-of-the-art catering kitchen and spaces for special events.

One highlight is the 2009 Bacchus Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($8) – an outrageous value, with pungent aromas of concentrated stone fruits, and lip-smacking acidity.

Also not to be missed are the 2009 Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay ($18), soft and silky, a tapestry of floral, musk, lemon polish and apple scents and flavors; the 2008 Five Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($18), loaded with chocolate, sandalwood and cherry confit, wrapped around tight cassis and plum fruit; and the very limited 2008 Conner Lee Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($18), chalk, graphite and granite underscoring bright cranberry and currant fruit.

• My first visit to Nodland Cellars immediately turned into an excellent jam session with fellow guitarist Tim Nodland, but ultimately we put the guitars down and concentrated on the first few vintages of riesling and blended reds.

Tim and Tracy Nodland have made the wise decision to focus on just a couple of different wines. The jazz-inspired names and labels are delightful, and the wines show some real care and talent.

We tasted three vintages of Bebop Riesling: 2005, 2006 and 2008 (the current release). Interestingly, all three were quite different, including vineyard sources and sugar levels.

If you have the 2005 in your cellar, I’d suggest drinking it now; it’s at a fine stage of development, with smooth, ripe fruits and streaks of butterscotch and vanilla.

The 2006 has more concentration, more aging potential, and hints of petrol – very Germanic. The 2008 ($20) is finished dry, but has a pleasing softness in the mouth, with green apple fruit and some spicy skin phenolics.

Nodland does a six-grape Bordeaux blend called Private Blend Red. We tasted the 2005 (sold out) and 2006 ($35), both well-balanced but moving quickly along the aging curve. These wines are cellared for an extra year or more and released ready to drink.

More concentration and power are evident in the 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($45), crafted from McClellan vineyard (Walla Walla) grapes. Just 50 cases were made. It’s a tasty mix of fig, plum, and black cherry fruit, extending into a finish offering layers of coffee, cherry liqueur and dried leaf.

A preview of a not-yet-released 2007 Avant Garde Carmenère ($32) was the final bottle we sampled. Carmenère is rarely found as a varietal wine. This was sourced from Seven Hills fruit, and is crisply defined with fresh flavors of herb and peppery spice, some tart fruit and a lick of citrus.

• I have been enjoying Barrister’s buxom reds for some years now, but the new releases are clearly the best ever. Happily, they also include a pair of white wines.

Barrister’s 2009 Riesling ($17) – the first ever – shows the depth and dimension that only old vine (30-year-old) Riesling can produce. The 2009 Klipsun Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($19) is always welcome; this new vintage is especially fine, with lots of melon, apple and pear fruit flavors.

On to the reds: Best of show are the 2008 Cabernet Franc ($27) and 2007 Merlot ($25), but close behind are the 2007 Sagemoor Cabernet Sauvignon ($33) and an especially fine version of the Rough Justice Red ($20). This is one of Washington’s finest values, a blend of 2008 merlot, syrah, and cab franc along with some 2007 cabernet sauvignon.

A final surprise: Barrister has made a 2008 Sangiovese from Kiona vineyard fruit ($25) – a delicious wine that will now be a regular offering.

Quick notes: My new book, a revised and updated “Washington Wines and Wineries” (second edition), includes notes on other Spokane wineries. It is available at many tasting rooms and online.

Also, Washington state’s Nov. 2 general election ballot includes two wine-related initiatives: 1100 and 1105. A discussion of the pros and cons can be found on my blog,

Paul Gregutt is a freelance wine writer based in Washington state. His column appears in The Spokesman-Review on the last Wednesday of each month. He can be reached at Visit for Gregutt’s daily blog and other commentary.

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