Magazine article Sunset

Yakima Valley Barbecue

Magazine article Sunset

Yakima Valley Barbecue

Article excerpt

Winery owners celebrate their Merlot and their bountiful region with an easygoing dinner built around wine, lamb, and early-summer produce

Gentle June breezes, hinting of hot, dry days to come, float seductive scents through Yakima Valley. And at Chinook Wines, in the southeast end of the valley outside Prosser, Washington, the tang of sage-brush from Horse Heaven Hills is also in the air, along with the musky perfume of young wine grapes.

Winery owners Kay Simon and Clay Mackey entertain at the winery and live nearby. For them, this season is a time of celebration. After two years in the barrel and six months in the bottle, their signature Merlot is ready for release. Yakima Valley's hot days, cool nights, extra sunshine (about 2 hours a day more in summer than California gets), loamy soil, and - maybe - the latitude it shares with Burgundy and Bordeaux in France unite to produce fine varietal grapes. Wines made from them consistently receive domestic and international recognition. Valley conditions also have established the region's reputation as Washington's fruit and vegetable basket. In addition to grapes, about 100 other commercial crops grow here, including apples, asparagus, cherries, hops, mint, peaches, and peppers.

When Simon and Mackey invite family, friends, and their grape growers to the first official tasting of their Merlot - noted for its smooth, early drinkability and its aging potential - they serve dinner outdoors.

The winery is the perfect setting: tall evergreens shade the white clapboard wine-tasting cottage, the generous lawn where winery visitors picnic, the wine storage building, and the red barn where the wine is made.

The menu Simon and Mackey prepare reflects the bounty of the Northwest. To emphasize the purpose of the gathering, the winery's Merlot is blended into many of the dishes.

From Mackey's perspective, "long, warm days are meant for barbecuing." He butterflies a leg of lamb from Ellensburg, bathes it in a Chinook Merlot marinade, then grills it.

While guests mingle around the barbecue, they nibble on tender asparagus spears, so fresh they have the just-cut herbaceous scent.

When the lamb comes off the grill, the buffet is ready. Simon, the wine-maker and a talented cook and gardener, has made salad with baby lettuce leaves gathered from two raised beds just a few steps from the house and the big red barn. Bing cherries, from the orchard thriving beside the wine-tasting cottage, are also part of the salad.

Lentils for the make-ahead casserole come from the Palouse region to the northeast - a world source for this legume. Nutty white Cougar Gold cheese, also made in the Palouse, tops the curried lentils and famous Walla Walla sweet onions.

Simon's hazelnut-laden biscotti also contain Merlot; more of the red wine is sipped with the cookies and used for dunking them.

The dinner that Kay Simon and Clay Mackey present with their Merlot tasting may vary a little from year to year, but the focus is always on lamb and early-summer produce. The foods in this menu for 8 to 10 are available throughout the West - even if the ingredients don't come from your own backyard.

Most of the preparation can be started a day ahead. About an hour or less before serving, put the lentil casserole in the oven to bake or reheat, grill the butterflied lamb leg, and mix the salad.

Asparagus and Mustard Vinaigrette

4 pounds asparagus Mustard vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Snap off and discard tough ends of asparagus. In a 6- to 8-quart pan, bring about 3 quarts water to a boil over high heat. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, until just tender when pierced, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and immediately immerse in ice water. When cool, drain well. (If making ahead, cover and chill up to 1 day.) Arrange spears on a platter and offer vinaigrette for dipping. Serves 8 to 10.

Per serving: 121 cal. (82 percent from fat); 3 g protein; 11 g fat (1. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.