There's a lot to love about wine, especially wine that's made locally from grapes grown in some of Washington state's finest vineyards.
If you're new to the wide world of wine, or on a budget, a good bottle isn't out of reach. Regional wineries have plenty of cost-effective, as well as more splurge-worthy, options. The latter offers a new avenue of exploration for wine enthusiasts looking for a special bottle or who want to refine their palate.
So whether you're looking for something special or just browsing, spring is the perfect time for a tasting, as many wineries are also showcasing their latest releases, including during the Spokane Winery Association's annual Spring Release Weekend, happening May 6-8. Read on for some recommendations from area winemakers, who share their top picks for a budget-friendly bottle, and what they'd uncork for a more elevated experience.
2017 Columbia Valley Merlot ($30)
2018 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($42)
Former academics Phil and Patricia Butterfield opened Winescape in 2017. The winery, which sits on a 14-acre farm in Glenrose southwest of Spokane, produces mostly red wines with a few exceptions.
"Our portfolio is mostly reds, but Phil is making a killer chardonnay and an amazing dry riesling in the white realm," says Patricia Butterfield.
She says her recommendation for those new to wine is Winescape's 2017 Columbia Valley merlot, priced at $30.
"That bottle is the magical point for quality and value," she says. "It just was awarded a gold medal and 93 score in Great Northwest Wines' recent comparative merlot tasting. The panel said it has amazing balance, and it does. It's just a stunning bottle of wine."
For those with more seasoned tastes, Butterfield says Winescape has a number of premier wines, all of which are aged in French oak, and featuring hand-picked grapes from some of Washington's top vineyards.
"Right now, the 2018 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($42) is drinking beautifully," she says. "It's from Kiona's Heart of the Hill Vineyard and is a velvet glove. Definitely worthy of a special steak night with friends."
Winemaker's Red ($15)
Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($52)
Maryhill owner Craig Leuthold says the winery features one of the area's largest selections of grape varietals available — more than 35 in all — and has more than 65 distinct bottlings.
While this might seem intimidating to newbies, the variety makes it more likely that visitors will find a wine to suit their taste.
"For the novice wine drinkers, we have several sweet white wines like riesling and muscat canelli," he says. "For new red wine drinkers, we have several easy-drinking merlots to choose from as well as pinot noir and cincaut."
For those looking for a cost-effective option, Leuthold recommends the Winemaker's Red, a blend of cabernet, merlot, syrah, and cabernet Franc. (Maryhill lists the Winemaker's Red for $19 online, but it can also be found in most local grocery stores for around $15.)
"The Winemaker's Red is smooth and easy drinking and can pair with just about anything, or can stand alone," Leuthold says.
For those looking for a more premium option, Leuthold recommends the winery's Reserve cabernet.
"It's a blend of cabernet from several of our premium vineyard sources that varies from year to year depending on what our winemaker thinks is the best that year," Leuthold says. "It represents what a premium cab from Washington should be like."
Red Ass Red ($20)
Gonzaga Alumni Red ($50)
Barili Cellars winemaker Russell Feist, who co-owns the winery with his wife, Marlene, and business partners Gary and Sue Hustad, says the winery's Red Ass Red is a favorite for both new and seasoned tasters.
A blend of malbec, merlot and cabernet, this light red wine is Feist's recommendation for those looking for a reasonably priced option.
"If you're new to red wines, this one's for you," he says. "It's dry, but easy to drink. It makes a nice summer deck wine, and pairs well with barbecue chicken."
For a more splurge-worthy option, Feist suggests the winery's Gonzaga Alumni Red.
"This is an exclusive bottling we made for Gonzaga, with half the proceeds going to benefit the Gonzaga Alumni Association's scholarships," says Feist. "Gary [Hustad] is an alumnus, so it's a good way to support the university. It also has a unique label that would make a nice keepsake gift for folks with a connection to Gonzaga."
Feist describes the wine as a well-made cabernet, with the traditional characteristics of this well-known wine, which is full bodied with dark fruit flavors and warm spices like vanilla or licorice.
"We took our time and really made sure to create a classic cabernet," he says. "It pairs well with steak, or pasta dishes."
Rough Justice ($23)
Petite Sirah ($39)
Barrister Winery owner Greg Lipsker says Rough Justice, a red blend of eight grape varietals from nine different vineyards, is the winery's most popular and, at $23, its best value bottle.
"It's a drinkable wine, matching our style of fruit-forward with soft mouth feel and gentle tannins," he says. "People love it; it's our best seller."
Barrister makes predominantly red wines, but does offer one white wine, a sauvignon blanc. Lipsker says the winery's bottles are moderately priced, with most listed between $30 and $40.
"There aren't many that I'd designate as particularly splurge-worthy," he says. "However, for those looking to try something new, I'd recommend our petite sirah."
Lipsker says this is the first year Barrister has produced the petite sirah ($39), which features a soft mouth feel and a rich finish.
"The petite sirah is new for us, you don't see too many sirahs around here, and it's made with grapes from Wahluke Slope which is a great vineyard," he says.
CRANBERRY ROAD WINERY
Chardonnay ($28) or Cranberry Wine ($29)
Winemaker Chris Tiffany and his wife, Maria, founded Cranberry Road Winery in Westport, Washington, back in 2009.
"We made the decision to move the business to Idaho last year, and opened our new location in Coeur d'Alene on May 5, 2021," says Chris Tiffany.
While Cranberry Road's first wines were cranberry and cranberry cinnamon, Tiffany says they began producing red wine in 2013, followed by white wine in 2018.
"We currently have 16 wine varietals and more in the works," he says.
Tiffany recommends either the chardonnay or original cranberry wine for those looking for lower-cost options.
"Our chardonnay is made in stainless steel and finished with American oak, with great fruit notes and a light butter finish. It pairs well with seafood, poultry or pork, and is great for those warm days sitting on the patio," he says.
"Likewise, our cranberry wines are customer favorites, with tarte cranberry taste and a sweet finish. It pairs great with salads and desserts, but also makes an excellent sangria by simply adding fruit."
Tiffany says those looking to splurge should check out Cranberry Road's syrah ($38).
"It's fruit-forward with a clean finish," he says. "It's my go-to wine when I want to relax and enjoy a great wine. Syrah is a grape that most any red wine drinker can enjoy."
Tiffany advises novice wine drinkers to go to tastings at multiple wineries.
"What people don't realize is that you can taste a merlot at 10 different places, and most of them will taste different," he says. "They don't understand that climate, soil, type of oak barrel, type of yeast and origin of the grape can change the flavor profile." ♦