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Three Spokane wineries offer up lively releases

Paul Gregutt

Some splendid new releases have livened up my tastings this week, with three Spokane wineries in the spotlight.

At Caterina, a major tasting room renovation is under way, as new owner Don Townshend takes over the winery, which has languished for some years.

They’re planning a grand re-opening in the next few weeks, but haven’t settled on the final details. Be sure to look for these excellent new releases, from 2007 and 2008 Townsend juice:

•Caterina 2008 Chardonnay ($12): A ripe, luscious mouthful of really tasty peach, pineapple and soft tropical fruit, with a finishing lick of butter and toast.

•Caterina 2008 Willard Family Vineyard Viognier ($15): An immaculate viognier mixing melon, white peach, nectarine and lemon fruits with pleasing minerality.

•Caterina 2007 Merlot ($18): Inviting scents of black olive, black coffee and truffle introduce a soft, mellow wine that drinks older than its vintage. The finish has a little maple syrup sweetness.

•Caterina 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20): This elegant cabernet sauvignon sets out a smorgasbord of flavors: plum, cassis, smoke, loam and a hint of the barnyard.

The winery is also offering two well-aged reds made by the original winemaker, Mike Scott.

The 2001 Willard Family Vineyard Merlot is fully mature, with dried leaves, pipe tobacco and highlights of coffee grounds. The 2001 Willard Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is in its prime – smoky, earthy, with dried plum, anise and tobacco – a complex and detailed wine. Each is selling for $20.

Speaking of Scott, the new Lone Canary white wines continue his winning streak with some refreshing varieties.

Lone Canary’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($10) is 100 percent stainless steel fermented. Citrus and sweet grass highlights, pretty floral accents and hints of powdered sugar come into play, though the wine is quite dry.

The companion 2008 pinot grigio ($13) is ripe and full-bodied. Flavors of sweet grain, lemon oil, pineapple and a whiff of petrol mark a rich wine with fine acidity.

To satisfy your Valentine’s Day sweet tooth consider the Lone Canary 2007 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc ($15 for a half bottle). It’s loaded with tropical and pineapple fruit, and just sweet enough with 12 percent residual sugar.

Last, but certainly not least, check out the muscular, nicely proportioned, tightly wound reds from Robert Karl Cellars.

Joe Gunselman’s wines are crafted in what is called a reductive (anti-oxidative) style. When drunk young, they must be decanted – for several hours if possible. I find they are often at their best on the second day.

The current lineup focuses on fruit from the Horse Heaven Hills, much of it estate grown.

Robert Karl’s 2007 Claret ($20) can stand alongside many Meritage-style Bordeaux blends costing three times as much. It’s a delightfully rich, smooth and balanced wine, with the sort of dusty chocolate mouthfeel you might expect from a Napa red. It’s loaded with cherry pie fruit flavors, and finishes with a streak of mocha and caramel.

The Robert Karl 2007 Merlot ($22) is pure varietal, offering scents of bramble and baked bread, smoke and crushed rock, with flavors of strawberry and cranberry fruit. Let it breathe and the wine opens into a seductive finish of caramel and buttered nuts.

The Robert Karl 2007 Syrah ($30) is sappy, bold and precise, showcasing bright berry fruit and a broad swath of coffee and black olive. It’s supremely smooth and satiny, continuing through a very satisfying, lengthy finish, that adds vanilla and dried herb.

Robert Karl’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) is another unblended, 100 percent varietal offering, that captures the winery’s style perfectly. Ripe, brambly berries are set against crisp natural acids, while barrel aging brings in almond candy and chocolate graham cracker flavors. The silky finish adds a refreshing minerality.

Finally, Robert Karl’s 2006 Inspiration Reserve Red Wine ($45) is the best of all. It’s a five-grape Bordeaux blend, and the darkest and most dense of the current Robert Karl reds.

Raspberries, Bing cherries and cassis come together with nuanced notes of black olive and wood smoke. The tannins are refined and ripe, but the sweet and pretty fruit holds center stage.

Arbor Crest support

I was deeply saddened to learn of the fire last month that seriously damaged the Cliff House mansion on the grounds of Arbor Crest Wine Cellars. Happily no injuries were reported and the winery and its wines were not affected.

Kristina van Loben Sels, who owns Arbor Crest with her husband Jim, is determined to rebuild. An extra purchase or two of some Arbor Crest wines would be a lovely way to offer them your support.

Paul Gregutt is a freelance wine writer based in Seattle. His column appears in The Spokesman-Review on the last Wednesday of each month. He can be reached at Visit for Gregutt’s blog and his latest tasting notes.