Tri-Cities and Prosser Areas: A Haven for Washington Wine Enthusiasts
This article originally appeared, in part, in the June, 2018 issue of Bellingham Alive Magazine
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 VisitTri-Cities.com there are over 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 first place to start may not be at 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 information and tours of the facility, 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 advance 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 with impeccable service 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 fire pit and Columbia River views, and, of course, complimentary tastings of Washington wines every evening.
The Lodge is just minutes away from shopping, fine restaurants, and a number of other amenities; but if you’d rather have less hustle and bustle, consider a stroll along the river, a dip in the hotel’s open-air swimming pool, or a visit to the in-house, soon-to-be-open Vine Wine & Craft Bar.
For lunch, the deceptively named Frost Me Sweet bakery and bistro in Richland seems to be every local’s favorite hangout and to-go boxes of desserts are practically de rigueur.
In addition to some amazing paninis – including the chicken and artichoke and candied beef options, to name a few – the menu features at least 20 cupcakes and decadent dessert options that change daily. A must-try is the Tall, Dark & Delicious Cheesecake, where the cheesecake is sandwiched between two layers of chocolate brownie cake with fudge filling.
Other lunch and dinner menu items include burgers, seafood, specialty tacos, and scratch-made soups, and a well-represented list of Washington wines, naturally, is also available.
A reservation at a Tri-Cities winery tasting room with a full-service restaurant is another great way to maximize your dining enjoyment.
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 dark, plummy 2014 Tempranillo that pairs perfectly with several items on the appetizer menu including Albondigas (pork and lamb meatballs with tzatziki and naan) and the Spanish-style clams with smoky, spicy house-made chorizo.
An entrée of beef tenderloin in a rosemary demi-glace is another truly amazing choice and it makes a nice match with a glass of full-bodied 2015 Mourvèdre and its mouth-watering, red cherry flavors.
At nearby J. Bookwalter Winery, be sure to visit Fiction @ J. Bookwalter Restaurant. The food and wine pairings here 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, sourced 100-percent from Connor Lee Vineyards and co-fermented with 24-percent Viognier. From there, move on to the melt-in-your-mouth Short Ribs and the 2015 Readers Merlot with beautiful red fruit and slightly spicy accents.
Also exceptional is the juicy, cooked-to-perfection Wagyu Bavette Steak. A pairing with Foster’s Protagonist 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is sublime. It’s a big, muscular, Napa Valley-like Cab with a mouthful of dark, inky fruit and a dense, ultra-long finish that is meant to be sipped and savored.
“About 75-percent of our customers are from the Tri-Cities,” notes Foster, “because they know this is one of the best places in town. But in some respects, it’s still a hidden gem.”
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, boutique shops, and public art.
Any developer knows that anchor tenants are key to establishing a project and attracting future business. The inaugural “anchor wineries” at Columbia Gardens include two stellar choices: Bartholomew Winery and Palencia Wine Company.
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.
Other notable wines at Bartholomew include the 2014 Reciprocity (a 50/50 Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon blend) with great body and tannic structure and nuances of pepper, spice and caramel; and the 2013 Souzão, a remarkable, perfectly balanced, brandy-fortified wine with a lengthy finish of blueberries and cassis.
Next door, Victor Palencia continues to amaze with the new headquarters for his Monarcha label that features a wide selection of flat-out delicious wines. Palencia has a history of working in the vineyards, which he says is a big plus because “everything is specifically sourced from a vineyard for the wines we make.”
That includes his Rosebud Vineyard-sourced 2015 Monarcha Sangiovese, a “super-Tuscan style with the structure of a Cabernet and great acidity,” and a 2017 Monarcha Sauvignon Blanc from Frenchman Hills that displays elements of lemongrass, minerality, and mouth-watering crispness. The wine also carries a pleasant, slate-like/wet stone quality that makes it a natural to pair with shellfish.
Other Monarcha wines that will put a smile on your face: the 2017 Albariño with weighty, ruby red grapefruit and stone fruit flavors; the 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé, deceptively pale pink in color with big candied cherry and watermelon flavors and great acidity; and the 2013 Merlot, with intense black currant fruit framed with a soft finish.
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. The Center is a great stopping point to learn about wines, taste through a few selections from one of the State’s growing regions or purchase a bottle or two to take with you.
At Prosser’s Vintner’s Village you have the option to wine, dine or both 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 sipped while at the tasting bar or accompanied by a meat-and-cheese plate and enjoyed on the winery patio.
The 2016 Evergreen Vineyard Riesling is sourced from the state’s Ancient Lakes region and makes an excellent starter wine with white peach and Fuji apple flavors and a steely, laser-sharp finish.
Milbrandt’s newly-released 2017 Rosé is blend of Syrah and Tempranillo that’s brimming with cranberry and strawberry fruit along with an ambrosia-like finish; while the 2015 The Estates Evergreen Chardonnay carries lovely butterscotch aromatics, baked apple and tropical fruit flavors, and a finish of caramel and toffee.
Another recently released, not-to-be-missed choice is the 2012 The Estates Merlot. Savory herbs start you off, while rich, plummy fruit predominates the mid-palate and ends in a velvety-soft finish with a dusting of cocoa powder.
At nearby Thurston Wolfe, husband-and-wife Dr. Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman have been producing amazing wines for over three decades. Their just-released 2017 Albariño, with vibrant pineapple and apricot flavors and linen-crisp acidity is outstanding; and their 2017 PGV Pinot Gris/Viognier is another beautifully balanced white wine blend that gets out the door for only about $15.
Thurston Wolfe also has a long history of producing top-quality Zinfandel and Zinfandel-based blends and their current tasting room menu features several of these wines without exception.
The 2016 Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red combines Zin with Petite Sirah and Lemberger to produce a delicious blend dominated by bright, red currant fruit and elements of spice; and the 2015 Zinfandel is a knockout, with notes of caramel, dried plum, and ultra-dark dried cherry that are packed into a tasty, full-bodied mouthful of flavors.
Then to wrap up your day, consider dinner at the Bunnell Family Cellar 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.
The restaurant is an extension of the tasting room that features three distinctive labels and an outstanding selection of library wines from which to choose. It’s a dining experience that comes highly recommended, and could very well be the culinary highlight of your visit to Prosser.