There's a tried-and-true saying in the wine industry that states, "Great wine is made in the vineyard."
I'm going to nitpick this as an oversimplification on a couple of counts, both of which I think do a disservice to winemakers.
First, not all vintages are perfect. In fact, some, such as Washington's 2011 harvest, can be downright challenging. In such cases, we have to rely on a winemaker's talents to coax flavors from grapes, achieve balance, and keep their wines as consistent as possible with years past.
Second, great grapes in the vineyard don't automatically assure great wines ... although they should. There are plenty of variables and room for error during the fermentation and aging processes. Winemakers can never afford to be careless, even when they're given a superior product with which to work.
That said, let me offer up a Washington winery, Soos Creek Wine Cellars, that scores on both counts: Great grapes and great red wines.
Based in Kent, winemaker David Larson started his winery nearly 25 years ago while still working at Boeing. Today, he's running the winery full-time, but his focus on acquiring grapes from the best vineyards has always been unwavering.
Noting some of his fruit sources, Bellingham's Margarita Jones of Elliott Bay Distributing sums it up nicely: "David Larson pulls from a list of who's who (vineyards) in Washington: Champoux, Ciel du Cheval, Slide Mountain, Elephant Mountain, DuBrul, Dineen, Lewis, Sagemoor, Klipsun and The Benches." Wow.
Here are my thoughts on some of Larson's finished products that you'll find at such local venues as the Community Food Co-op and at Seifert and Jones Wine Merchants:
2010 Artist Series No. 10 Red Wine (about $30) - Cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot comprise this Eurocentric blend that begs for a pairing with something beefy. It features plenty of dark berries up front, a spritz of acidity at the mid-palate and a crush of dried herbs on the finish.
2010 Ciel du Cheval Red Wine (about $35) - Red currant, pekoe tea, hints of chocolate and that unmistakable Red Mountain minerality round out this stunning effort. There's also some beautiful, understated blueberry fruit throughout to make this wine a pure pleasure to taste.
2010 Champoux Vineyard Red Wine (about $40) - At 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, this could be, and should be, labeled as such because this is quintessential Washington cabernet. Luscious blackberry fruit, a touch of herbaceousness and a hint of dried cherry on the extreme finish all add up to a truly remarkable wine. This is a sensory delight that's absolutely worth every penny.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.