Visiting the Vine

by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & ake the same basic variables -- winery, Spokane, new releases, a warm and sunny weekend in May -- mix liberally with happy wine tasters and buyers, and it's amazing the variety of experiences you'll come up with.

Friday traditionally brings out the serious wine buyers, according to Greg Lipsker, winemaker and partner at Barrister. People who want time to talk with the winemakers come in on Friday so they'll beat the weekend crowds. On Saturday and Sunday the more casual buyers come out.

My strategy was to start with a Friday walking tour of downtown wineries, and then venture further afield as the weekend progressed. Despite lots of competing events -- concerts, graduations, visits from friends, Mothers Day -- I visited 8 of the 11 venues open for the event. (My apologies to Arbor Crest, Townshend and Mountain Dome, who I missed this year. I'll put you at the top of my list next time.)

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & ere's a rundown of the wines I sampled, along with comments about each winery experience. Barrister1213 W. Railroad Ave.'06 Sauvignon Blanc'05 Cabernet FrancRough Justice blend'04 SyrahComments: I began at this urban oenological oasis (try saying that after four samples) conveniently located a couple of blocks -- staggering distance -- from my office, in a wonderfully cavernous red brick warehouse in the alley by the railroad viaduct. It smells of wine-soaked oak. The sauvignon blanc, with its citrus-y crispness, and the cab franc, the silky smooth cousin to last year's big Indy award winner, were my favorites. I loved the vibrant wine-themed paintings by artist Bart DeGraaf of Sandy, Ore., , and I've got my eye on one of those "Rough Justice" T-shirts -- in black, of course, to match my literary wardrobe.The Wine Cellar906 W.

Second Ave.'05 Viognier from Vin du Lac'02 Cabernet Sauvignon from Grande RondeComments: The relatively small tasting room is chock full of gift items and art for sale, even before you add 18 people sampling wines. It's the only locale that did not offer free tastings -- visitors handed over $5 for the experience, although at least we got to take home a nice glass. My favorite Vin du Lac vintage (the '06 Sauvignon Blanc) wasn't being sampled, but I'll probably snag a viognier next time I'm in.

Vintage Hill Cellars319 W. Second Ave.'06 Sauvignon Blanc'06 Viognier'06 Merlot Ros & eacute;Comments: Spokane's newest winery opened the night before the Spring Barrel Tasting began. Partners Brian Murray and Cody George have only whites and the ros & eacute; right now, but '06 reds are on the way. The viognier is a delight -- I'll be back. These guys may be new to the game, but the samples prove they know what they're doing.

Robert Karl Cellars115 W. Pacific Ave.'06 Sauvignon Blanc'04 Claret'05 SyrahComments: Steel tanks line some of the walls of this surprisingly bright and light-filled warehouse; handmade quilts by Vicky Boubel of Clarkston cover the rest. The claret -- a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cab franc, petit verdot and malbec -- is stunning and incredibly delicious with both the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the dark chocolate truffles set out for nibbling. The time to buy is now, though, before the August issue of Wine and Spirits hits the newsstands -- the magazine just gave the claret a 93-point rating, so everybody will be clamoring for it.Caterina905 N. Washington St.'02 Sauvignon Blanc'04 Sauvignon Blanc

(not yet released)Comments: Caterina is one of the few places sampling an unreleased vintage. The '04 Sauvignon Blanc -- done in the vinho verde style of northern Portugal, my pourer tells me -- will be ready in about a month, so it's not too far from a finished product. These sauv blancs are aged longer than most whites, with a dominant flavor note of green apple rather than the citrus sensation of most of the others I've tried.Latah Creek Winery13030 E. Indiana Ave.'06 Semillon'06 Riesling'03 Cabernet Sauvignon'05 Sangiovese'06


(not yet released)Comments: Latah Creek offered the most wines to sample and the best pairings of food and wine -- sausage-and-pasta salad with the semillon, smoked pulled pork loin with the cab. And, they offered a true barrel sample of last fall's sangiovese, which won't be released for another 9 to 12 months. Side by side tastings of the '05 and the '06 proved a great education, showing how aging helps develop the complexities of a wine while mellowing any sharp edges.Knipprath Cellars5634 E. Commerce Ave.'05 Sauvignon Blanc'05 Moonstruck Merlot'05 K Sera SyrahSangria de ColumbiaComments: Set in a 1913 former schoolhouse, Knipprath took the event toward a home garden party theme. Sampling of the premium ports and dessert wines (for a fee) happened in a tent on the lawn, with the rest of the wines available inside. The names border on too-cute, but these wines are tasty. The sangria is fun and different, with added fruit and spices making it a great treat when poured over frozen berries.Lone Canary Winery109 S. Scott St. #B2'06 Sauvignon BlancBird House Red'04 Merlot Comments: As I approached the tasting counter for my last sample, I asked the pourer for a recommendation. She understood the gravity of the decision and poured out a generous sample of the merlot. It's smooth, yet bold and fruity, lots of oak but not overbearing. Great with the Double Gloucester cheese. The tasting room feels modern and industrial, but with a hint of Old World ambiance thanks to the racks of oak barrels. Groups of tasters continued to mingle and chat, even as the Sunday 5 pm closing time loomed.