Part 2: Tri-Cities. Read Part 1 here.
While the Red Mountain AVA is the second smallest AVA in Washington state – the terroir is some of the best in the nation – producing wine that has claimed a rare 100 pt. rating on the Robert Parker Scale. The AVA features a south-facing slope, which makes it warmer than surrounding areas, along with diurnal temperatures (cool nights) due to its higher elevation (1500’) and desert conditions. Because of the dry summers, there is little concern about mildew related issues. It is further north than Napa, so it gets a full 2 hours more sunlight during the summer months. The soil is a gravelly loam, high in calcium and alkalinity – thanks to the Missoula Floods of the last Ice Age. A surprising fact about the Red Mountain AVA is that it is neither red nor mountainous, with elevations ranging from 500 – 1500 feet. Red Mountain is an anticline of the Yakima fold belt, a series of geologic folds that define several viticultural regions in the area. However, the area has an abundance of cheatgrass – which turns reddish in the springtime – hence the name.
The Red Mountain AVA (located just slightly west of the Tri-Cities) is known mostly for its big, bold reds – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. On this trip, we focused a little bit more on some non-traditional grapes and blends. Goose Ridge Winery gave us some great examples!
In the early 1900s, M.L. Monson arrived in the Yakima Valley from North Dakota and began what he hoped would be a family farm for many generations. The current company president, Bill Monson, carries forth the value of farming for the next generation! His Goose Ridge Winery produces wine under five different labels: Goose Ridge Estate, g3, Tall Sage, Stonecap, and Cascadian Outfitters. All of the grapes for all five labels come from the 2,200-acre estate vineyard.
Settled in on their cozy tasting room patio, we started with not wine, but cider! They make their cider from fruit sourced from the estate or other local orchards. Michael loved the Apple Spiced Pecan cider – it was like pecan pie in a glass! My favorite was the Peach Cider – tart and crisp with delicious peach flavor from locally-sourced fruit. It would be an excellent cider for the coming cold weather nights – to remind us of summer days ahead.
Moving on to wine, we started with the Sauvignon Blanc, a zesty light-bodied white wine with citrus, pear, and peach notes, and a little ginger and honey in the nose. The acidity gives this wine a brightness that would pair well with spicy foods such as Thai cuisine.
Our next wine was the 2018 GRV White Blend. The unusual blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier creates a wine that has a creamy mouth-feel with delightful light spicy notes. What a great wine on such a lovely day, perfect for sitting under a tree on the patio!
Next, we stopped at Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard, high on a hill with sweeping views of Horse Heaven Hills and Rattlesnake Mountain. We took our seats at beautiful wrought-iron café tables on the Tuscan-inspired terrace. Keeping with our theme of regional white wines, we loved the Signature Albariño! The vast majority of Albariño grapes are grown in Spain and Portugal and have recently been introduced to the United States. Terra Blanca’s Albariño is grown on a colder east-facing slope, and the wine delivers refreshing stone fruit and citrus tastes with the minerality notes of wet gravel. It would pair beautifully with seafood dishes, such as scallops, fish tacos, or shrimp cocktail. For us, it also paired well with the beautiful views. Rattlesnake Mountain has some fame as the tallest tree-free mountain west of the Mississippi. That is a little difficult to fact-check, but I can attest to its treelessness
For lunch, Michael ordered the Grilled Chicken Panini, served with red pepper mayo, bacon, tomato, and smoked gouda. He loved the red pepper mayo! Along with that, he had the 2017 Arch Terrace Malbec (his current favorite red). The full-bodied red had notes of dark fruit and sweet tobacco. I much enjoyed the Cabernet Burger, with bacon, gorgonzola cheese aioli, greens, spring mix greens, and cabernet sauce. And of course, I paired it with the 2015 Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon. Perfect!
Frichette Winery was our next stop. Owners Greg and Shae Frichette met and married in Southern California. They had family in both South Carolina and Washington, so they flipped a coin to choose a new home! Luckily for the Washington wine scene, the couple chose Washington. After a bit of research and a lot of support from friends, they decided to try their hand at winemaking. A real stand-out in the wines we tasted at Frichette was the Artz Semillon, with the grapes sourced from the Artz Vineyard on Red Mountain. Shea refers fondly to this as the full-bodied white wine for red wine drinkers. With notes of melon, pear, and chamomile this is a great patio wine for the summer. But it would also work great in colder months at the dining room table with salmon or any of the white meats.
Another of their excellent wines is the 2017 Red Mountain Merlot. The Red Mountain AVA is heaven for Merlot grapes, and this wine showed that off remarkably. Shea says that theirs is the best Merlot in the area! We can’t attest to that as we haven’t (yet) tasted all the Merlot from Red Mountain, but this was excellent. With tastes of red and black fruits, sage, and it was well structured and fruit-forward.
A grape you won’t find a lot of on Red Mountain, or anywhere in the United States, is Carménère. Originally from the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, today, most of Carménère is farmed in Chile. I’m glad it is making an appearance here – and expect it will become more common as people try it. It is fruity, medium-bodied, and has well-balanced acidity and tannins, with notes of blackberry, fig, green pepper, and chocolate. We enjoyed it very much and would pair it with hamburgers or tacos.
Our last stop was the beautiful Kiona Vineyards and Winery. Family patriarch John Williams was the first to plant on Red Mountain in 1961. Currently, the third generation of the Williams family is part of the mission, and at Kiona, the mission is all about the vineyards. Kiona is made up of five separate state vineyards spread out over Red Mountain. All of their wine is estate grown, plus they have enough left of such high-quality grapes that they sell to over 60 of Washington top wineries. Tyler Williams is the Kiona winemaker who takes that amazing fruit and works his magic on it. Tyler has a degree in Biology and a Master’s in Enology and lots of experience worldwide in places such as Bordeaux, Sicily, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
We loved their Estate Red Mountain Sangiovese. This medium-bodied red has notes of black cherry, plum, cinnamon, and clove. The wide diurnal swings of temperature help produce a wine that has lots of well-structured acidity, and that just begs for food! It pairs wonderfully with pasta and red sauce – but is also extremely versatile.
One more lovely surprise for our visit: ice wine! For an area known for its sweltering summers – the surprise is that it can get down to 17 F or colder toward the end of October. Ice wine is made by leaving the grapes on the vine until they are frozen – then picking at night and crushing while still frozen. This produces a lot less juice (which is why it tends to be expensive) and a lot more sweetness. Kiona makes ice wine (when the weather cooperates) from Chenin Blanc grapes which are planted in a depression where the cold air settles. The wine has a light sweetness and is just delicious. This dessert wine was a perfect way to say goodbye on this trip to the Tri-Cities. But since there is still a lot of Merlot (and more) to taste, we will be back!
Editorial disclosure: lodging, beverages, and food generously provided