This is the time that I consider the real start of the year. We’ve languished through the death throes of Winter’s chilly grasp. Nothing of importance happens in January and February (okay, there’s this big football game, but that’s it.) Finally in March you start to see some action. Baseball spring training is in full swing, culminating in opening day today. My addiction to baseball is well known to most of you readers. The Major Wino Fantasy Baseball League is ready to go, and I’m anxiously awaiting the first pitch of the season, which is in countdown as I write this.

The other thing that picks up in March is the wine business. Tasting rooms that have been closed all winter start opening back up. We start to see wine events more often as well. Yesterday was my first winemaker dinner of the year, featuring the wines of Robert Smasne Cellars.

One of the hobbies of residents of the Tri-Cities is complaining about the Tri-Cities. One of the most common complaints revolves around the dearth of quality restaurants in the area. Most of the top restaurants in Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco are chains, so there really isn’t much of a culinary identity for the area. There are a few notable exceptions, and one of these is Katya’s Bistro and Wine Bar, located in Richland. Chef Fabricio Mengarelli helms a kitchen that is producing some of the best food in the Tri-Cities. The restaurant is one of the few names that will come up repeatedly when you ask residents for their favorite eating establishments.

Smasne Block 3 Syrah

Last nights dinner featured one of Eastern Washington’s top wineries, Robert Smasne Cellars. Smasne makes wine for a number of Washington wineries, and has one of the most accomplished resumes in the state. He has worked with some of Washington’s top winemakers during the course of his career. Now he has become one of the Northwest’s top winemakers.

When I came to Washington for the Wine Bloggers’ Conference that was held in Walla Walla last year, Smasne’s wines were some of the ones that most stood out for me. Both the Robert Smasne Cellars and Skylite wines were among my favorites from the trip. I tasted a lot of wines during that trip, and a large percentage of them faded into the unreachable recesses of my memory, but Robert’s wines stood out to me. They had a subtlety and elegance that can sometimes be missing in areas that normally feature big, fruity wines. The wines that we tasted last night were certainly no exception. My favorites of the night were the 2007 Block 3 Syrah (which I’ve mentioned before on the blog), and the yet to be released Robert O. Smasne Reserve. The Reserve was definitely the heavy hitter of the night, and will feature a price tag to match ($115.) Although the Reserve is in a tough price point, one of the other guests seated at my table was salivating at the chance to pit it against Opus One in a blind tasting. It really is a remarkable wine.

Along with some great food and wine, we were treated to a big announcement from Robert. Smasne has been without a tasting room presence on the East Side of Washington since he moved his tasting room from Prosser to Woodinville a few years ago. Last night he announced that he will be setting up shop in the Southridge area of Kennewick. This area is showing signs of becoming a hub for food and wine in the area, with the addition of Picazo717 and now Robert Smasne.

Smasne said that he doesn’t just want to new tasting room to be another opportunity to sell wine, although I’m sure that’s an important factor in the decision, but he wants it to be an opportunity to provide some quality wine education to the area. He is planning on conducting educational events in the location. The tasting room also won’t suffer from a lack of wine, as several of Smasne’s labels will be featured.

Although there is still plenty of material for Tri-Cities complainers, there are signs of a shift taking place. The addition of even more quality wines being represented in the area and some high quality restaurant additions are certainly moves in the right direction. Smasne’s wines seem to be a great fit for the Tri-Cities, as they offer high quality, and are generally in at a pretty reasonable price point. Hopefully the new tasting room will be a catalyst to the continuing growth of the Tri-Cities wine world.