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Originally published Friday, August 16, 2013 at 11:28 AM

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In the Yakima Valley, random wine sampling is a good way to go

Naches to Benton City clocks in at 76 miles. That’s like saying you’re going window-shopping between Seattle and Anacortes.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Portteus rocks! They're cabs are superb, especially the Old Vine. MORE
What is meant by "think of it as Yakima Valley's mustache"? I've google the... MORE

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A DAY wine tasting in the Yakima Valley is not a plan. Naches to Benton City clocks in at 76 miles. That’s like saying you’re going window-shopping between Seattle and Anacortes. Whether to see one small slice of the whole or pick off the buffet, consider letting randomness determine the course.

We start at Two Mountain Winery, because I pay attention when I hear the same name from a handful of people in as many days. Run by the Rawn brothers of Zillah, Two Mountain uses primarily estate-grown grapes from the surrounding Rattlesnake Hills. The Rawns’ bottles show plenty of subtle, earthy, herbal character and a theme: balance. The zingy cab franc is a knockout of fruit and spice, but the lemberger makes me wish for a Weber and some ground round. It has all the spice and pepper of syrah, but not the usual thickness. The wineries of these hills are worth one day alone, and in August Two Mountain will have “Dinner & a Movie” nights — making a case for a return visit.

Nearby, relatively speaking, Portteus jumps out from the map. I used to enjoy selling the winery’s reds in restaurants. When they’re on, like the current cabernet, I like the way they handle acidity and tannin. Lighter in body and in alcohol, generally, they play nice with food. Tasting-room guests might get treated to a dose of philosophy — about winemaking or maybe something else. The general vibe of quirk here endears. A visiting wine know-it-all is giving a history lesson of Washington wine, and his vine trivia determines our next target.

Near Sunnyside, Snipes Mountain gained official AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation in 2009. Think of it as Yakima Valley’s mustache. Wineries using grapes from this AVA include some pedigreed names — Betz and DeLille among them. Wine grapes have grown here for close to 100 years, and Upland Vineyards contributes grapes to many of the fine wines coming from Snipes. Upland also has a pedigree to rule them all: Part of its land is considered Vineyard Zero for the Washington state wine industry. Upland Estates’ own wines show off the power and complexity capable from red grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, grenache and mourvèdre.

Upland Estates has the only tasting room in the AVA, so we make an excuse to enjoy another great Washington crop, an IPA at Snipes Mountain Brewery. Man cannot live on wine alone. (And the drive between wineries eggs on a wicked thirst.)

An hour later we’re headed for Prosser, having heard the old guy at the next table garble a winery name we decipher on the map as Pontin Del Roza.

In Prosser, the Pontin family of Pontin Del Roza has farmed for decades, raising turkey, wheat and potatoes as well as grapes for Welch’s and wine. Italian in origin, Pontin Del Roza bottles single-varietal Dolcetto and Sangiovese wines. Dolcetto is particularly beautiful. The color of blueberry jam, it tastes like the color purple. I stand by that description even though I don’t know quite what I mean.

After 40 miles, we’re tired and must sleep, which means the cherry on the end of the Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, will have to wait for the sequel. A wrong turn trying to find the Prosser Best Western submits a peek-a-boo view of Chinook Wines, just off the road. Maybe one more stop.

Maggie Savarino is a Seattle-based freelance writer.

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