Tuesday morning. I was finally acclimated to Pacific Standard Time, and feeling pretty relaxed. It’s a feeling I don’t think I have known in quite some time. Listening to my therapist, I was trying to give my wife her space, and not calling her obsessively every half-hour wondering if she was alright. And on her end it was damn-near radio silence, which under normal circumstances literally would have had me climbing the proverbial walls.
Yet I was ready to hit the streets, stopping at my favorite roadside breakfast destination, I-HOP, along the way. At least it was until my stop there. Nothing like lukewarm French Toast topped with frozen berries to really disappoint the #$%& out of you.
Moving on, I hit the highway, stopping in Prosser for coffee before visiting a few tasting rooms. They have this little group of tasting rooms called the Winery Village, with street names like Merlot Drive and Cabernet Court.
First up was Milbrandt, home of my good friends Butch and Jerry Milbrandt. Being their first visitor of the day, I opted to try some of their higher-end offerings, most of which we (TPS) won’t see this side of the Mississippi.
Milbrandt Grenache Wahluke Slope 2010. Grade=Outstanding. Incredible white pepper notes amidst dark cherry and plum aromas and flavors. A great way to start my day.
Milbrandt Tempranillo Wahluke Slope 2010. Grade=Outstanding. Impressive red with firm tannins, dark cherry fruit and loads of dried herbs and spices.
Milbrandt Merlot The Estates 2010. Grade=Outstanding. Blue-fruited to the core, sexy, velvety tannins really dress up this red.
Milbrandt Mosaic Wahluke Slope 2010. Grade=Outstanding. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. A robust, powerful red.
Milbrandt Petite Sirah Wahluke Slope 2010. Grade=Outstanding. The first straight Petite Sirah I think I have had from Washington State. Really, really good. Inky purple in color, velvety smooth across the palate and loads of blueberry and blackberry jam.
Right next door, was a winery I’ve never tried before but was always looking for their product – Gamache Vintners.
Gamache Viognier Columbia Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Stunning wine! Tropical fruit nuances coupled with vibrant acidity and fresh white flowers in the nose really sing.
Gamache Riesling Columbia Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Crisp, dry white wine with nice notes of lime zest, mint and white grapefruit.
Gamache Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2010. Grade=Outstanding. Blueberry, black cherry and dark plums mix it up with oak spices, cocoa and a touch of hickory.
Gamache Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009. Grade=Outstanding+. Dense, full-bodied red with smoky black fruits, black pepper and sage.
Gamache Syrah Columbia Valley 2008. Grade=Amazing. Dark and brooding, this muscular red shines with notes of dark red and blue fruits, exotic spices, root beer and saffron.
Gamache Nicolas Blend Columbia Valley 2008. Grade=Outstanding+. Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. A juicy, full-bodied red blend influenced by Right Bank Bordeaux. Reminding me of Chateau Ausone – voluptuous presence, brilliant minerality and loads of wild berry fruits.
I had to drop in on the folks at Airfield Estate, and as it just so happened, Mike Miller, the owner of Airfield Estates was around, and offered myself and a group of fellow oenophiles from Puerto Rico on a private tour:
Airfield Dry Riesling Yakima Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Very dry style. Clean and crisp with lemon zest, orange peel, white peach and mineral.
Airfield Sauvignon Blanc Yakima Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. I’d hazard to say this is one of the best SBs from Washington State – lemon, cilantro, jalapeño skin and grapefruit notes.
Airfield Pinot Gris Yakima Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Like eating a super ripe pear right off the tree. Fresh and fruity. Very nice.
Airfield Flygirl White Yakima Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Pinot Gris, Viognier, Semillon and Marsanne. A delicious, vibrant white, floral with supple notes of stone fruit and citrus.
Airfield Ruby Rosé Yakima Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. 100% Sangiovese. Pretty red raspberry and mulberry notes, a touch of strawberry and rhubarb. Dry with the perfect amount of acidity for pairing with food or drinking on its own.
Airfield Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Yakima Valley 2011. Grade=Outstanding. Ripe, rich red fruits with touches of dark plum, pepper, charcoal and cocoa.
Airfield Semillon Yakima Valley 2012. Grade=Very Good. [Note – this was right out of the tank. Not intended for its own bottling, used as a blending varietal.] Sad to say this doesn’t get its own bottling; it’s pretty good considering coming right out of the tank. Clean, sharp notes of lemon amidst melon, pear and mineral. Very pretty.
Airfield Marsanne Yakima Valley 2012. Grade=Very Good. [Note – this was right out of the tank. Not intended for its own bottling, used as a blending varietal.] Again, sorry this isn’t bottled solo; it’s supple and round, with hints of stone fruit, citrus and white flowers.
Airfield Aviator Red Yakima Valley 2010. Grade=Outstanding. This Bordeaux-styled red, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, is well-balanced with black cherries and black currants, hints of pepper, mocha and vanilla.
I decided to hit the road to Richland, where I was staying, and find somewhere along the way for lunch. Just before my exit, I noticed a sign for good friend John Bookwalter’s Winery and Bistro, and decided there would be the perfect spot for lunch.
It was quiet, just a few tables in the small JBistro, and immediately I opted for the Chicharrones Tacos – crispy pork belly, roasted tomatoes, smoked salsa verde and sour cream, and paired it up with John’s new rosé.
Bookwalter Scarlet Hexflame Rosé 2012. Grade=Outstanding+. This amazing saigneé of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah is bright, fiery and full of gorgeous red berry fruit, white cinnamon, allspice, vanilla bean and squash blossom.
Sitting down gave me a bit of time to think about a few things personally and professionally. I have had a lot of luck in my professional life, winding up with the wine business version of the New York Yankees, yet my personal life has been nothing if not tumultuous the past few years. I have to hand it to my wife – she is an amazing woman to have put up with all my bullshit these last 13+ years. I am as neurotic as they come, worrying about things beyond my control, frustrated by the most trivial of things, and finding just the right time to utter the wrong thing. Not to mention my Adult ADD. With all that she goes through with her own health issues, it’s no wonder she hasn’t offed me in my sleep.
After a fine repast, and some quiet contemplation, I wasn’t completely wined out yet, so I ventured next door to Barnard Griffin’s tasting room.
Barnard Griffin Viognier Columbia Valley 2012. Grade=Very Good. Supple stone fruit notes with hints of grapefruit and white flowers.
Barnard Griffin Pinot Gris Columbia Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Clean and taut with bright lemon, lime and green apple notes.
Barnard Griffin Reserve Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011. Grade=Outstanding. Creamy, rich Chardonnay, revealing lush notes of tropical fruits, baked apples and crème brulee.
Barnard Griffin Reserve Merlot Columbia Valley 2009. Grade=Amazing. A sexy, blue-fruited beast, with luscious hints of black cherry, mint, cocoa and pepper. Tethered with notes of charcoal, leather and pencil shavings.
Barnard Griffin Zinfandel Columbia Valley 2005. Grade=Outstanding. A very nice surprise! Red fruits, blueberry, graham cracker and chocolate silk pie.
Barnard Griffin Orange Muscat Columbia Valley 2011. Grade=Very Good. Not as sweet as I was expecting; nice acid, bright notes of citrus and mineral.
Barnard Griffin Syrah Port Columbia Valley 2010. Grade=Outstanding. Truly decadent. Black fruits, chocolate and oak spice.
Barnard Griffin Rapport Columbia Valley NV. Grade=Outstanding. A delicious, fortified wine with fragrant spices, vanilla, chocolate and baked black fruits.
The road to Richland wasn’t far, and I ended up getting there too early to check into my room. Fortunately, I found myself right next to a park along the Columbia River, and seeing how it was such a nice day, I decided to roam the banks of the Columbia River, taking pictures of carved tree sculptures, sea gulls, and the view across the river itself, as well as dropping in on a local art gallery.
It is very weird for me to travel, and to travel solo is even more so. I found myself strolling aimlessly around the park, trying really hard not to look like a pedophile (with all the kids running around). Funny how you have to be cognizant of things like that these days.
I was pretty wore out from all the wine tasting and driving, so I opted for takeout from a place called Tri-Teriyaki, that features Japanese, Korean and Mongolian cuisine. Nothing like a little Kim-chee and some Korean short ribs before hitting the sack.
Next time, rising and shining on my way to Walla Walla, and a little bit more self-reflection.