By Dan Radil | Dan The Wine Guy
Western Washington wine lovers in search of a wine-related getaway should look no further than the eastern side of the state. The Tri-Cities and Prosser areas boast plentiful sunshine, a dry climate year-round, and scores of wineries that feature some of the best food and wine the state has to offer.
According to Visit Tri-Cities.com there are more than 200 wineries within a 50-mile radius of the cities of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick, so narrowing down the field during a single visit is one of those “nice problems” for out-of-town wineophiles.
The place to start may not be a winery at all. The Washington State University Wine Science Center in Richland, headed by Thomas Henick-Kling, Ph.D, offers a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the research involved in Washington winemaking. For tour information, contact communications coordinator Kaury Balcom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accommodations and dining in the Tri-Cities are easy if you prefer nationwide franchises and fast-food outlets. But with a little planning and inquiry into those preferred by local residents, you’ll be rewarded with a more memorable, attention-to-detail experience.
The Lodge at Columbia Point is an 82-room, boutique-style hotel that should be at the top of your list for an extended stay. This extremely well-priced Richland property offers complimentary breakfast, a patio area with a fire pit, views of the Columbia River, and, of course, complimentary tastings of Washington wines every evening.
For lunch, the deceptively named Frost Me Sweet bakery and bistro in Richland seems to be every local’s favorite hangout. Yes, the menu features at least 20 cupcakes and decadent dessert options that change daily. But the paninis are divine, including the chicken and artichoke and candied corned beef options, to name a few. A well-represented list of Washington wines, naturally, is also available at both lunch and dinner.
A reservation at a Tri-Cities winery tasting room with a full-service restaurant is great way to spend an evening.
Manager Casey Brune heads Richland’s Taverna Tagaris, a Zagat-recognized restaurant that specializes in fresh, Northwest-inspired cuisine and Tagaris Winery wines.
The current, red-varietal-dominated wine list includes a 2014 Tempranillo that pairs perfectly with Albondigas (pork and lamb meatballs with tzatziki and naan); and the Spanish style clams with smoky, spicy house-made chorizo are a must.
At nearby J. Bookwalter winery, be sure to visit the restaurant Fiction @ J. Bookwalter. The food and wine pairings are nothing short of spectacular, and winemaker Caleb Foster and a knowledgeable restaurant staff work together to assure you’ll have an unforgettable dining experience.
Start with the Shrimp Mornay with Gruyere cream paired with a glass of 2016 Double Plot Chardonnay. From there, move on to the melt-in-your-mouth Short Ribs and the 2015 Readers Merlot with beautiful red fruit and spicy accents.
Also exceptional is the juicy, cooked-to-perfection Wagyu Bavette Steak. A pairing with Foster’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Protagonist, is sublime.
At the Port of Kennewick, Deputy CEO Tana Bader Inglima heads a waterfront revitalization project that includes the recently opened Columbia Gardens Urban Wine and Artisan Village. The ambitious development will feature winery, distillery, and brewery tasting rooms, as well as boutique shops, and public art.
The inaugural “anchor tenants” include two stellar wineries: Bartholomew Winery and Palencia Wine Co.
Bartholomew owner Bart Fawbush moved from Seattle to Kennewick as “a leap of faith made easier because we’re in wine country.” He notes that “we like to have fun with different varieties,” and that includes his 2014 Carmenere with black cherry and white pepper aromatics and flavors; and the 2015 Tannat with red berry fruit and slightly chalky tannins.
Next door, Victor Palencia continues to amaze with a wide selection of flat-out delicious wines. His 2017 Sauvignon Blanc has elements of lemongrass, minerality, and mouthwatering crispness; and the 2015 Monarcha Sangiovese is a “super-Tuscan style with the structure of a Cabernet and great acidity.”
The town of Prosser, located about 30 miles west of the Tri-Cities, has agricultural roots that serve as a natural offshoot to today’s vineyards and 30 wineries that call the area home.
Here you can take a wine class or sample wines at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center or visit Vintner’s Village. You can also wine-and-dine at a number of within walking-distance wineries.
Milbrandt Vineyards’ Tasting Room Manager Shelly Smith will treat you to a number of excellent wines that can be accompanied by a meat-and-cheese plate and enjoyed on the winery patio. The 2016 Evergreen Vineyard Riesling and 2012 The Estates Merlot are not-to-be-missed choices.
At Thurston Wolfe, husband-and-wife Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman have been producing amazing wines for over three decades. Their just-released 2017 Albariño is outstanding, and the 2015 Zinfandel and Zinfandel-based blends are also delicious.
To wrap up your day, consider dinner at the Bunnell Family Cellar’s Wine O’Clock restaurant. This wine bar and bistro features a well-polished staff, remarkable food and wine pairings, and an overall first-class atmosphere that is sure to be the highlight of your visit.