If you enjoy visiting wineries like I do, you know that not every tasting room is conveniently located side-by-side in an industrial park or close to a major highway.
Steppe Cellars is one of those slightly out-of-the-way wineries. From exit 63 off Interstate 82 in Yakima Valley, you'll need to allow for an extra 15 minutes or so of driving time to get to the tasting room. It's a no-frills operation located off a gravel road in a Quonset hut on the far eastern reaches of the Rattlesnake Hills Appellation.
Once you get there, I think you'll be quite impressed with what Steppe winery has to offer. Winemaker Anke Freimuth-Wildman hails from Germany, and her wines have a decidedly European air about them.
They're characterized by restrained fruit flavors and good acidity levels that should complement your food pairings instead of overwhelming them. During a visit last month, winery co-owner Susan Garrison poured me a number of current releases that are all drinking nicely and won't cost you a small fortune. Here are my tasting notes on some of the wines I sampled:
2001 Riesling (about $12) - Juicy peach and pear flavors predominate, while a lingering honey-like finish is perfectly balanced by a big, but unobtrusive, dash of acidity.
2007 Semillon (about $14) - This wine reminded me of a fine French Sauterne without the sweetness. There's a whisper of butterscotch on the nose, understated green pear flavors, a bit of herbaceousness and a bone-dry finish.
Non-Vintage Big Sage Red (about $18) - This red wine blend changes each year, with the current composition 95 percent petit verdot and 5 percent tempranillo. Chocolate cherry aromas, notes of cedar and leather, and chewy tannins beg for a pairing with steak.
2008 Syrah (about $25) - Black cherry, bittersweet chocolate and a hint of spicy clove highlight this outstanding wine. My first food inclination was a grilled pork chop prepared with a cherry reduction sauce.
2008 Tempranillo/Grenache/Mourvèdre (about $28) - Complex and flavorful, with white pepper and floral aromas and a hit of cola berry on the palate. An ever-so-slight edginess accentuates the otherwise surprisingly soft finish.
2008 Artemesia (about $28) - This four varietal blend with a cabernet/merlot base really shines with raspberry and red currant flavors, a touch of black licorice and silky tannins.
Steppe Cellars' tasting room is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from April through October, but it's easy to make an appointment midweek, as I did, by simply phoning ahead. For more information, including distribution and ordering, visit steppecellars.com.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at www.danthewineguy.com.
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