washington wine(s) of the week!

Friday, May 25, 2012

There was a brief flutter in the news recently when Marty Clubb and Chris Figgins – two of the owners of Walla Walla’s SeVein vineyard development, trundled down to Napa seeking California buyers. The pitch was pretty simple. Napa vineyard land is running about $300,000 an acre. In Walla Walla, even the best land is a tenth of that.

No wine producing region in the world has done a better job of marketing its name – hence its wines – than Napa. But as a result of this success, demand for land has far outstripped supply. And when costs of production climb and climb, so must prices for finished wines. Not everyone in the Napa Valley is a gazillionaire who really doesn’t care about profits.

There is another side to this story, and it has to do with wine quality. Yes, I am the hometown cheerleader for Washington wines. But I also taste a lot of wines from California, and have visited wineries in Napa on many occasions. I have a pretty good idea of what $50 buys you in a Napa cab or merlot or blend. Those wines are at the extreme low end of the range for what might be perceived as high end Napa product. Here in Washington that’s nearing the top of the heap, with just a few exceptions.

The best flight of reds I’ve tasted this week came from Walla Walla’s Tamarack Cellars. Owner Ron Coleman describes his Vineyard Reserve portfolio as “a winery within a winery” – and the wines profiled here, all of them quite limited and just recently released, are worth any effort you must make to acquire. Trust me on this one!

Coleman is a wine industry veteran who arrived in Walla Walla relatively early on, and he’s made some canny business decisions. His Firehouse Red brings in the cash flow, while his much more limited reserves – available at the tasting room or online – set a standard that few in the industry can match.

The newest reserves were released a couple of weeks ago. I tasted them over a three-day period, finding them immediately delicious and built for both near-term and long-term enjoyment. Here are some snapshot reviews (full reviews and scores will be published in the Wine Enthusiast later this summer):

Tamarack Cellars 2008 DuBrul Vineyard Reserve Red Wine; $50
DuBrul is perhaps the single most sought-after vineyard in the entire Yakima valley, and at this price this Tamarack selection is an absolute steal. Killer juice – pomegranate, blueberry, black cherry and cassis – leads into a full-flavored wine that remains concise and perfectly defined.

Tamarack Cellars 2008 Seven Hills Vineyard Reserve Red Wine; $50
This is a generous mouthful of cabernet, with just small amounts of merlot and carmenère in the blend. Chewy, dusty, grainy, tannic, and thoroughly delicious, it has the deeply-flavored berry and cassis fruit to more than match the French oak.

Tamarack Cellars 2008 Sagemoor Vineyards Reserve Red Wine; $50
Half Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bacchus vineyard, and one quarter each Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the Weinbau vineyard, this polished and dense blend reveals the complexity of old vines. On day three it was drinking at its peak!

Tamarack Cellars 2008 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Reserve Red Wine; $50
Among a quartet of superb vineyard reserves from Tamarack, this Red Mountain selection is the most shuttered. Hints of well-rounded red fruits, excellent structure, and a gentle dusting of cocoa and baking spices all point to long term aging potential.

Two more, non-reserves, at half the price:

Tamarack Cellars 2010 Cabernet Franc; $28
This 100% varietal cabernet franc manages to be both muscular and elegant, with stylish, juicy boysenberry fruit set against a backdrop of earthy, granular, drying tannins.

Tamarack Cellars 2009 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Syrah; $28; 14.4%
Just 92 cases of this great Syrah, with concentrated raspberry and cassis fruit, swathed in coffee liqueur, dark chocolate, a hint of red licorice and dusty cocoa.

Tamarack Cellars


Hdchappy said...

Thanks for spotlighting this winery PG, because of this post we visited them yesterday and loved their wines. I must say I never would have given them a chance because I see their Firehouse Red all over glass pour lists in Seattle and mistakenly assumed they made cheaper mass production wines. Ooooops:)

PaulG said...

There are many small and medium wineries doing exceptional worko But it is only a scant few, who single-mindedly focus on high end wines and manage to attract big numbers from the most influential reviewers, who get branded as "cult" or "superstar" wineries. I hope this blog (and my newspaper and magazine and book writing) gives credit to the full spectrum of quality producers, not just the fortunate few. Thanks for writing - I'm delighted that you had a great visit at Tamarack.

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