RICHLAND, Wash. -- For more than 30 years, Rob Griffin has astonished Washington wine lovers with one consistently superb wine after another.
Griffin arrived from Northern California in 1977 to take over winemaking for Preston Wine Cellars in Pasco.
In 1983, he and wife Deborah Barnard launched their eponymous label as a side project, just before Griffin took the helm at the nascent Hogue Cellars in the Yakima Valley.
By 1991, the couple turned their full attention to Barnard Griffin and have since grown the Richland winery to more than 70,000 cases, making it one of the state's largest family-owned producers.
In 2006, Wine Press Northwest honored Barnard Griffin by naming it the Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year, and the wines before and since have validated that selection.
In January, its ros of Sangiovese won a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for the fifth consecutive year.
And in early June, Barnard Griffin's 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon won best in show at the Washington State Wine Competition in Yakima. It's a $17 red wine that often can be found at grocery and liquor stores for a few dollars less.
How does he manage to craft such a great bottle of wine for such a low price?
"Price is not an indicator of quality in wine, so if you think you're getting a better bottle if you pay $60, it ain't necessarily so," Griffin said. "Stylistically, we make our Tulip cab to be very much together and ready to drink when we release it."
The wine, known as the "Tulip cab" because of the label that distinguishes it from the reserve-level wines, should not be difficult to find, as 6,500 cases were produced and Barnard Griffin is widely distributed throughout Washington and neighboring states.
Washington's Columbia Valley provides a perfect climate for growing world-class Cabernet Sauvignon, Griffin said. It often is ready to be uncorked as soon as it is released vs. waiting years to mature. This certainly is true in his award-winning cab, which is less than 2 years old and has been released for just a few months.
Griffin makes no fewer than three bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, all at varying price points.
Here are our recent reviews of these wines.
Barnard Griffin 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $17: Last fall, the 2007 vintage of this wine earned a rare Double Platinum from Wine Press Northwest. Well, its little brother is coming of age. While not a big wine, there's lots of complexity, starting in the nose of boysenberry, black currants, vanilla bean, pink peppercorns and cedar. Black cherry and more boysenberry and vanilla flavors make for a dang smooth wine that's supported by blueberry acidity, late tannins and lingering black fruit in the finish.
Barnard Griffin 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $40: Griffin describes this as "deftly balanced," and there's no disputing the coalescence of grapes from acclaimed Sagemoor and Alder Ridge vineyards. Classic Cab hints of cassis are joined by raspberry jam, boysenberry, brown sugar and chocolate cake. That same black fruit gathers blackberry for density on the palate, which brings integration, supple tannins and a wonderfully long finish of currant jam.
Barnard Griffin 2005 Sagemoor Vineyard Partners Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $60: Griffin's continued success with his consumer-minded Tulip label allows him projects such as this: a collaboration with this famed vineyard north of Pasco. This wine had a decadent life of 30 months in barrel, and ushers in aromas of black cherry, mint chocolate chip ice cream, violets and shoe cream. Smooth and seamless only begin to describe what awaits on the palate with boysenberry, cranberry and cherry flavors. There's blackberry, mocha and tobacco in the midpalate, which stretches into a finish of peppermint green tea.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.