The past weekend Beth and I headed off to wine country on the first trip of the season. Passes were clear and the weather forecast was calling for 70’s and sun. That’s all we needed to hear. Car packed with a few goodies, we hit the road. Oh, one thing before we continue the trip. I wore shorts and sandals. Yup. Shorts exposing legs that haven’t seen the sun since a Kennedy was in the white house. Sandals. A biker with shorts and sandals. I think the place is getting to me.
We crossed over Snoqualmie pass on I-90E and noticed that the snow pack was way down from last year. I mean WAY down. I’m not much of a skier anymore so lack of snow bothers me not, but a reduced snow pack means less run off, which is a bad thing for an area that gets hit with wildfires on a regular basis even after good winters.
Making our way down the eastern side, we start to enter the desert. Sage brushes are everywhere. The scent of sage lingers in the dry air like a fine perfume. Man we love it over here. We exit I-90 and get on 82 east headed towards Yakima. If you take this route, and it’s a sunny clear day please watch the mile markers. At around mile marker 22 the road bends to the right and there before you lies the Yakima Valley framed by Mt Adams on your left, and Mt Rainier on your right. In one moment you get everything that makes this area so wonderful.
Continuing on, we decide to head to Prosser, check out a winery, grab lunch and then head back to Yakima to get a room. In Prosser we find The Blue Goose restaurant and decide to give it a go. Tiny little place, looks like it would be right at home in Amish country. Beth got the chicken club, and I went with the chicken fried steak. I love a good chicken fried steak, and this wasn’t. Gravy was almost watery with absolutely no pepper to speak of. This tasteless gruel was ladled over a passable fried steak, with okay spice in the breading. Over all though I would not recommend it at all. Fries on the other hand were hand cut strips of potato heaven. Fair Fries, gotta love em! Beth had a Chicken Club that was so so overall, but had a wonderful apple wood smoked bacon on it. Looking back I should have gone for a BLT.
We paid our tab and headed to the Desert Wind Winery. It’s like you leave Prosser WA and travel to Taos, NM in less than a mile. The tasting room is huge, with a kitchen on the side where they hold cooking classes throughout the season, and several suites for yon weary travelers who just can’t pull themselves away. As for us, well we want to move in. It’s that cool. Oh, and they also produce some remarkable wines as well. I’m not going to go into all of them, if interested please send me email and I’ll give a full report. For this I’ll just mention the 2005 Merlot. Oh my. This Merlot melts in your mouth. I know that sounds silly, but it is so deep and complex for a Merlot that at first we were taken aback. Then as it lingers on the palate it “melts” into a vibrant burst of Cherry and Blackberries and just a hint of spice at the finish. A splendid wine that would go as well with souvlaki as it would spaghetti.
We purchased some bottles, cheese and some pate for later and headed back towards Yakima. On the way I jumped on my trusty iPhone and booked a room at the Red Lion, set up dinner reservations, paid bills and edited President Obama’s speech. Yes, iPhone…the phone for little i’s with big egos. iPhone. Get one today. (coughs) Okay! On with the show.
We get in to Yakima and head to our room. Sun is beating down on the patio, all is right with the world. We rested up a bit, then decide to head out for a bite. Long time readers of this attempt at a blog will be familiar with our destination, The Barrel House. We have had both great and mediocre experiences here, and decided to give it another go. I am beyond grateful we did. Beth ordered the orange roughy with linguine alfredo. I ordered lamb chops in a light curry sauce with grilled apples and curry rice. Our house salads arrived. Fresh spinach, cucumbers, olives, feta cheese and blue cheese dressing, along with olive oil bread that was…the bomb. There I said it. I’m not ashamed. After savoring every morsel, the main course came. Beth’s fish was in a typical lemon caper sauce that was light and very tasty. The grilled assorted veggies were crisp and full of grill goodness. I think Beth would agree, it was an A. As for mine. One sentence. Nirvana on a plate. First off, the cut of meat was brilliant. Just the right marbling, perfect really. Then the presentation. I asked for rare. I got rare. Outside was a beautiful char, inside red and spot on perfection. The curry sauce was very subdued. You could tell it was there, but it wasn’t the star of the dish and it knew it. The veggies were perfect and the curry rice was divine. I wanted that meal to go on forever. Barrel House, you did it again. We thank you.
We had walked to the Barrel House, which I was now very grateful for. As we strolled back to our room we heard jazz coming from one of the many little wine shops that dot Yakima Ave. This sounded like a nice way to close out the evening, so we ventured on in. The Taste Of Washington is a small place, and home to wines from 4 different vineyards I believe. We went into the back, found a place to sit on an overstuffed leather couch and ordered a glass of wine. The wine was lovely, and the chocolate cheesecake “chaser” was a choco-holics dream come true. The band seemed okay, small group of 5, lead, bass, drums, trumpet and sax, with the horn players…um…aged lets say. Not the best band, with the trumpet player playing more out of tune than in, but hey, the wine was good, the chocolate fix was in, and we were happy.
Day 2 began with us having breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. Beth got the breakfast wrap with spicy chicken sausage, while I opted for eggs and “regular” sausage. Mine was palatable, nothing outstanding, but serviceable. Beth’s breakfast was cut short by the heat of the sausage. Beth is no slouch when it comes to spicy foods, so when she says something is too hot, it’s too hot. A rewording of the menu for this item is in order.
Jump started with hot sausage and hot coffee we headed out for more winery tours. We got back on 82 and headed east towards Red Mountain area. You really can’t go wrong just driving 82 looking for wineries. They are well marked for the most part, and the bottom line is you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one.
First one we stopped at was Goose Ridge. The tasting room is undergoing some remodeling, and based on the fireplace mantle alone, is going to be spectacular when finished. Outside the tasting room is a wonderful grassy area with picnic tables and chairs set up. We sampled several wines, and the one that really peaked our interest was a 2007 Riesling. Rieslings can tend to lean towards the sweet end, so much so that the flirt with being a dessert wine, but not the case here. This Riesling is very bright, with apricot and pear notes at the front. The finish is crisp, with little to no lingering after tastes. I would pair this with my halibut and scallop recipe posted earlier. We purchased several bottles and headed out for more.
Next up on the hit parade was Chandler Reach Winery. Wow. Wow wow wow. Can I say wow enough? I don’t think so. This place sits up on a hill that over looks the valley below. With the classic Italian architecture and the terrain, it’s like you are in Tuscany. Breathtaking. This place alone is worth a trip over. Trust me. On the wine front pretty much middle of the road. The 2004 Merlot was incredibly deep and complex with very strong spicy overtones. Keep in mind this is an estate winery, so the estate wines produced here come only from the grapes grown on the estate. The wines then will tend to vary more year to year than places that can blend out some of the imperfections. While they didn’t make our favorites list on wines, they will be worth another shot. We picked up a nice sampler of bottles, some huge wine glasses and headed out towards our last stop.
Last stop was Sagelands Winery. The building is pure Napa Valley, and lovely to look at. Inside is a large room with plenty of space for tastings, and great views back towards Mt Adams. We tired several wines here and settled on the 2008 Rose as our favorite. This is a great dry Rose with sparkling fruit notes and a finish that leaves you wanting more. A perfect summer wine for just relaxing. We also tried the NV Ellipse, a Cab based “port like” dessert wine. Fantastic. I know the rules in calling something a port, but I’m telling you rules be damned. This is one fine “port”. We picked up some of both, some silly cat coasters, a t-shirt and called it quits.
We headed back from whence we came, back to I-90 and over the pass. Again, if you take this route, keep your eyes peeled around the 92-95 mile marker area. The road opens up a bit, and the mountain vista ahead of you is right out of a postcard. In fact, look up Pacific Northwest in any encyclopedia, and this view is what you would see. Love it.
On our way home, we decided we had to stop at The XXX Root beer Drive-In. This is the home of the huge burger, the Triple X, that was featured on an episode of Diners Drive-ins and Dives, as well as other Food Network shows. I just wanted to see one, but like an idiot, I ended up ordering it. First of, I should not be eating this much red meat over a weekend anyways. Second, the carbs alone on this thing were going to make my sugar go wacko for days. But let’s face it, I’m an idiot. So, I plunged headfirst into total absolute gluttony. Ugh. Beth was good and got a regular sized burger and onion rings. Now, this place has all the hype it needs, and it’s not going to be affected by the review of a blogger with an audience of 3-4 folks, but…it wasn’t good. Size aside, the burger wasn’t good. Beth’s wasn’t either. In both cases the meat was dry, with an overcooked sitting on the burner taste. The onion rings were sub-par as well. The only saving grace was the root beer. Best damn root beer I’ve had in a while to be honest. It took me back to the old A&W drive-in days in the 60s. Loved it. I’d go back for the soda, nothing else.
Well that’s it. Another successful weekend getaway. I encourage all of you to take the time to do something like this. Life is far to short not to.