"Subtlety. That's what makes Washington stand out among the American wine landscape. The best wines from the state are as impressive for their graceful style as for their vivid flavors." So pronounced the prestigious, widely read Wine Spectator just four months ago. Accolades also flow from Wine Enthusiast, which earlier this year placed five Washington wines in their top 100 wines of the year (with two in the top 10) and Wine & amp; Spirits magazine, which named five Washington wines among their 12 best merlot picks.

Connoisseurs and novices alike can savor the local flavors at this weekend's HOLIDAY WINE FEST. Area wineries open their doors to the public for wine tasting, noshing and holiday gift ideas at this annual event.

At Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, this is one of only two weekends in the year that the Cliff House is open for tours and decked out in its holiday best. A new release, an '04 Klipsun cabernet sauvignon, and other award-winning wines are accompanied by cheese platters at both Valley and River Park Square locations.

Barrister Winery's '03 cabernet sauvignon, '04 merlot and syrah will be released this weekend. Both the '03 Bacchus cabernet sauvignon and '04 cabernet franc that took a gold medal and Best of Show respectively at last weekend's Tri-Cities Wine Festival will be available for tasting.

Caterina Winery is pouring from its various vintages. Homemade soups, cheeses and artisan breads accompany the wines. Live music is featured Friday and Saturday nights.

Grande Ronde Cellars and Mountain Dome winery recently lost winemaker Michael Manz, but they continue to produce cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and champagne. At Grande Ronde's downtown tasting room, 10 local artists will display their paintings, wood sculptures and glass art. Watch sparkling wine disgorging at Mountain Dome's facilities in Green Bluff.

Knipprath Cellars offers its gold medal '04 cabernet franc and '05 French oak-aged cabernet with curried pumpkin soup and turkey. Hot, spiced wine and vanilla and chocolate dessert wines are also available. Natalie's Nectar (a syrah-based dessert wine) is featured at Latah Creek Winery. Stollen bread, smoked turkey and other holiday treats will accompany Latah's sangiovese and moscato wines.

Lone Canary's newly released '03 Proprietors' Reserve and other current releases will be paired with appetizers. At Robert Karl Cellars, a new release of its '03 cabernet and '03 Inspiration red wine will be accompanied by Moroccan stew and local bread. Townshend Cellars is releasing an '05 sauvignon blanc and tasting several varieties of wines as well as sampling chocolates.

Tour maps are available at each winery.


Holiday Wine Fest is Fri-Sun, Nov. 17-19, 11 am-5 pm. Call 926-0164.

Island Time DINING

Hawaii may be in the middle of a vast blue ocean, but it is truly a crossroads -- of cultures, styles and favorite comfort foods. Europeans arrived during the age of sail, bringing the traditions of Portugal and Spain; New England whalers like Melville's hunters of Moby Dick knew the islands well. Travelers from Asia and Australia added their own influence, creating a unique fusion of flavors.

"It is [a culinary crossroads], absolutely," says chef Noel Ayos, who recently moved to Spokane from his native Hawaii. "It's not just American foods -- it's combining them all with Pacific Rim cuisine."

At the ORCHID GRILL near Lincoln Heights, Ayos -- who worked for 21 years as a chef in Hawaii specializing in dishes from the Pacific Rim -- has created a local outpost of down-home Hawaiian cooking. The plate lunches ($7-$9) combine a meat choice with a scoop of white rice and a scoop of the 50th state's ubiquitous macaroni salad, a creamy blend with chunks of potato and bits of shredded carrot and olive mixed in.

"Back at home, all our plate lunches come with it," says Ayos. "The locals really love the macaroni salad on their plates."

Selections range from Korean (grilled spicy honey-ginger pork or beef kalbi) to Japanese (shrimp tempura or chicken katsu) to that icon of Hawaiian cuisine, loco moco -- a broiled beef patty topped with two eggs and brown gravy, over rice.

"Some people who have been to Hawaii, or people who've been stationed there in the military, they're interested in it," Ayos says of the local comfort food. "It's very filling."

You can get all-American favorites, too, like burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and chicken strips ($4-$6) -- Ayos says he wants to accommodate a variety of tastes. The dinner entrees ($10-$18) continue the cultural blend, with pasta, chicken and pork chops -- or coconut prawns and a grilled beef teriyaki steak. The ahi poke and satay appetizers give another nod to Hawaiian and Asian traditions, but save room for Kona coffee ice cream or haupia (fruit pudding) for dessert.


The Orchid Grill, 2812 E. 30th Ave., is open Mon-Sat 11 am-7 pm. Call 535-0440.

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