Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wine Kountry

Napa it ain't. Yakima Valley is in the desert. It is dry, dusty, and sparsely populated. But the wine is pretty good.

We got off on the wrong foot with the Yakima area. We were told good Mexican food could be found in Yakima. We drove into town around lunchtime and spotted a fairly authentic looking taqueria. But it was empty. So we got scared and consulted the guidebook. This was a mistake. The guidebook led us to Santiago's Gourmet Mexican Restaurant. We were hopeful. People were lining up to get in. There were outdoor tables, flowers, and myriad varieties of tequila behind the bar. But then we ordered. Paul was driving and looking for a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage. He inquired about the availability of licuados or aguas frescas. The waitress looked at him blankly. When our enchiladas arrived, smothered in orange cheese and bland sauce, it became apparent to us that Santiago's was neither gourmet nor Mexican. To add insult to injury, by taking an alternate route on our way out of town, we passed about 30 far more authentic looking Mexican restaurants. We even passed a stand selling aguas frescas. Damn you Best Places Northwest!

On the upside, the "Mexican" food in our bellies was a good base for an afternoon of wine tasting. First, we headed into the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Bonair was our first and probably most aesthetically pleasing winery visit. The tasting room is lovely and, unlike many Washington wineries, there are actual vineyards surrounding the place. Everything we tasted there was delicious, but the Gewurtzraminer Port deserves a special mention for its syrupy-pear-uniqueness. Next we hit Claar, but were disappointed to discover that it was just a tasting room on the side of the highway. The wines were good but the service was surly. At least the tasting was free. Determined to get at least one bottle of 100% Rattlesnake Hills grown wine, we checked out Tefft. It did not disappoint. The tasting room guy was super friendly and knowledgeable and the wine was quite good, especially the viognier and the merlot. Then it was on to Horse Heaven Hills. To our great disappointed, Prosser wineries tend to be located in strip malls. Which allows you to hit lots of them at one time, but also results in taste bud fatigue. We hit Hogue, Alexandria Nicole, and Kestrel all within an hour. By the end, we couldn't taste much of anything. Hogue makes a number of exceptional wines that can be purchased only in the tasting room or through its wine club. This is nothing like what you get for $6 a bottle at QFC! Alexandria Nicole has a remarkably hip tasting room, especially given its strip mall digs. It's dark and sexy and they pour some tasty wines, especially their viognier. It would be worth joining their wine club just to hangout in the hidden members-only room (hint, the secret door is behind the bookshelf). Kestrel was ok. Like I said, by the time we got there, our taste buds were pretty worn out.

We stayed at the Hinzerling Winery's Vintners Inn B&B. For a mere $79 a night, we got a nice big room with a soaking tub. In fact, we got the whole place to ourselves. There were no other guests and we never saw the innkeepers. It was a little spooky, a little shabby, and it was unclear how long the scones-under-glass had been waiting for us to arrive. But it was a pretty good deal. Prosser is one very sleepy town. It has only one restaurant with gourmet aspirations, and they are, sadly, just aspirations. The Blue Goose looks like a diner from the outside. The inside is a bit dressier and they serve local wine and decent food. But the portions are ginormous (pictured) and the food, loaded with cheese and butter, is a heart attack waiting to happen. I barely made a dent in my pasta with artichokes, mushrooms, and bacon. Though Paul did an admirable job on his pork chops. Since there is nothing to do in Prosser (not even a bowling alley!), we got a good night sleep and were up with the dawn. Dawn is a little early for wine tasting, so we decided to check out the Horse Heaven Hills vineyards. We were told by one winery employee that they were "just on the other side of the ridge." This turned out to be false (see desert photo at right). We have to wonder whether the Horse Heaven Hills AVA is a bit of a Potemkin village. So, disappointed, we made our way to Walla Walla.

We're willing to believe that we missed some real gems in the Yakima area. And we're planning to make a return trip at some time in the future. If you know of somewhere we should go, please comment!

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