Friday, March 12, 2021

Italian Grapes of the Yakima Valley with Sleeping Dog Wines

This month our Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) friends partnered with the Yakima Valley in Washington state to showcase a variety of wines grown throughout the region and some suggested pairings.  

The Region ~ Yakima Valley

Yakima Valley is a land rich in agriculture known for it’s abundance of fruits and wine grapes. Vines have been in existence in the Yakima Valley since 1869, originally planted by French winemaker Charles Schanno.  The vines originated from the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company.  Modern winemaking in the Yakima really took off though in the early 20th century by an attorney of Seattle, William Bridgman, when he planted his own cuttings in 1917 that are still in existence today!  Along with Bridgman, many other families during the earlier decades including Upland Vineyards, Kiona Vineyards, Red Willow Vineyards and others are what helped lay the groundwork for what exists today.

Yakima Valley wine country in Washington
Copyright of Yakima Valley Wine country

The Yakima Valley boomed in the 80’s with new wineries and vineyards popping up throughout the region.  The Yakima Valley appellation (AVA) established in 1983 grows the largest variety of grapes in Washington state covering over 17,000 acres of vines.  Today there exists over 150 wineries that make up over half of Washington state’s wine production.  Through hard work, persistence and collaboration with Washington State University’s Irrigated Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the wineries of Yakima Valley have made quite a name for themselves in not only Washington state’s wine industry, but the wine industry as a whole.

The Winery ~ Sleeping Dog Wines

Sleeping Dog Wines is located in Benton City, Washington in the lower Yakima Valley.  It’s a small production winery averaging about 300 cases annually.   Larry Oates, owner and winemaker, started his hobby in winemaking in 1992 and has been commercially producing since 2002 starting with Merlot, Syrah and Malbec with his wife Joyce and their “sleeping dog” Jett.  Larry’s approach is to allow the grapes to express themselves.  He holds onto the bottles for about 6-10 years before release as he feels this shows the best expression of the grapes, hence the name of the vineyards as he believes to “let the sleeping dogs lie”.  

Sleeping Dog Wines Jett
Jett the dog of Sleeping Dog wines ~ Courtesy of Sleeping Dog Wines

Larry Oates Sleeping Dog Wines
Courtesy of Sleeping Dog Wines ~ Larry and Joyce Oates with Stari Grad in Croatia
The Wines

Due to the limited production of these wines I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Larry Oates and sample a few of his wines made from Italian grapes plus a Carmenere.  Larry sources the grapes from his neighbor Bob Buoy at Buoy Vineyards with south facing slopes over the Yakima River.  Sleeping Dog’s signature style are robust wines showing intense berries and I couldn’t agree more, especially with the Montepulciano and Carmenere.      

Italian grapes at Sleeping Dog Wines
2012 Sleeping Dog Wines Dolcetto: Made of 94% Dolcetto and 3% Montepulciano and Merlot respectively, these grapes are grown in the neighboring vineyard, Buoy Vineyard.  Another client of Buoy Vineyards was going to purchase the grapes from this small block, but it didn’t pan out so Larry decided to work with the grapes.  American oak chips are used during the primary fermentation.  The wine is aged in stainless steel with French and Hungarian oak staves.  The Montepulciano and Merlot grapes were blended in 1 month prior to bottling.  Garnet in color this wine shows aromas of red cherry in addition to showing up on the palette.  Dry, medium bodied with good acidity and smooth tannin, the wine is balanced showing a hint of vanilla.  Only 51 cases are produced.  ABV 14.1% ABV SRP $28

2014 Sleeping Dog Wines Montepulciano: According to Larry this was the first Montepulciano planted in Washington.  The vines were planted in 2006.  Made from 100% Montepulciano also grown in the Buoy Vineyard.  American oak beans were used during primary fermentation.  This wine was also aged in stainless steel with French and Hungarian oak staves.  Dark ruby red in color.  An intense nose of dark fruits.  Blackberry, black cherry and plums on the palette.  A hearty wine with high acidity.  Only 106 cases produced.  Luckily I received 2 bottles of this wine so I’d like to see how this wine does with time in the bottle as it seems to have aging potential.  ABV 14.4% SRP $34

2015 Sleeping Dog Wines Carmenere: These vines were planted in 2006 along with the Montepulciano.  Made from 100% Carmenere.  Similar to the Montepulciano, American oak beans were used during primary fermentation and it was aged in stainless steel with French and Hungarian oak staves.  Dark ruby with a hint of purple.  Green bell pepper and white pepper on the nose.  A full-bodied wine with good acidity with moderate tannin.  Full of flavor with a lengthy finish.  Only 81 cases produced.  ABV 13.9% SRP $35

The pairing: Life has been a little crazy as of late so I did take the lazy route this week, but who doesn’t love pizza and wine?  To be honest it was a fun weekday night sampling these wines with some delicious sausage and ricotta pizza.  My pairing of the three was the Dolcetto. 

Sausage ricotta pizza paired with Sleeping Dog Wines

Join my fellow food and wines lovers as they share some great pairings highlighting these wines of the Yakima Valley.  Catch us live on Twitter at #WinePW this Saturday @ 11am EST.

  • Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Cam shares “Yakima Valley’s Sin Banderas Rhone Roses Compliment Dishes with Asian Flair” and “Mediterranean-Inspired Dishes Paired with Yakima Valley Wines from Dineen Vineyards”
  • Linda at My Full Wine Glass invites us to “Meet Kerry Shiels: A Yakima Valley winemaker with Vision”
  • Terri of Our Good Life shares 2 posts “Fortuity…Taking Advantage of Life’s Great Wines!”, and “Two Mountain Rose and Fennel Wild Mushroom Tarts”
  • Payal at Keep The Peas shares “Yakima Valley Wines FTW!”
  • Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm is cooking up “Smoked Beef Brisket with Canvasback Cabernet”
  • Rupal the Syrah Queen gives us "Yakima Valley - Red Willow Vineyards Producing Some of Washington's Finest Syrahs"
  • Jane of Always Ravenous makes our mouths water with “Filet Mignon paired with Washington Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon”
  • Martin with ENOFYLZ WineBlog is giving us “a Taste of Washington State’s Yakima Valley”
  • David at Cooking Chat has 2 posts for us also “Lamb Ragu Pasta with Red Wine from Dineen Vineyards” and “Sin Banderas Rosé with Corned Beef & More Yakima Valley Wine Pairings”
  • Nicole of Somm’s Table shares "Big, Beautiful Reds from Yakima Valley and Tasty, Meaty Fare"
  • Gwendolyn the Wine Predator explores “Washington Syrah: Hedges, L’Ecole, VanArnam with Lamb Stew”
  • Susannah at Avvinare gives us “Malbec from VanArnam Vineyard in Yakima Valley”
  • Lori at Exploring the Wine Glass shares “Tasting the Soul of Wine in the Heart of Yakima Valley”
  • Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles with "Yakima Valley AVA – Blends of friendship and history with wines from Eight Bells and Pearl and Stone Co."

    *These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.


    1. Pizza and wine is my guilty pleasure. And the better the wine the bigger the pleasure!

    2. Nothing better than pizza and wine. That Montepulciano catches my attention for sure.

    3. How exciting that this was the first Montepulciano grown in the state! I look forward to hearing how the wine ages!
      Pizza seems like the perfect pairing, you have me craving it now.

    4. Nothing better than Dolcetto and Pizza. As the mom of two young boys you deserve a break. I love the attention to detail in your notes about how these wines were made and I love that he was a home winemaker who founded a winery. Could be in my future, Larry gives me hope. And of course, I'm all over the Italian aspect of the winery.

    5. Wow, that is very small production! I thought at first it was that many barrels but cases! How cool that your were matched with an Italian winery from the region too. I hope more wineries experiment with Italian grapes!

    6. The pizza looks incredible and I must admit... I love the name and the label!

    7. Not going to lie, I love a pizza night! No shame. How cool to know that they hold back their wines a few years. I feel like it's rare to see wineries in the US do that.

    8. How appropriate to match you with this winery! Almost every time I'm about to open a red, I wonder if I can pair it with pizza - again. Just so good, easy, and goes with everything!

    9. Thanks for the introduction to this winery Jen! It's great to see wine being made from Italian grapes in WA. And you can't go wrong with these wines and pizza!