Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red 2011
By Shawn Luke
Tamarack Cellars was founded in 1998 by Ron and Jamie Coleman, with Ron serving as the winemaker. According to their website, Tamarack produces approximately 20,000 cases of wine each year with a focus on reds made from Bordeaux grapes. There are other releases, including Syrah and Sangiovese as well as some special club-only wines. When I visited in September 2012, there was an impressive tasting lineup that was anchored by their 2009 Ciel du Cheval Syrah and the 2007 Dubrul single-vineyard blend, both of which displayed immense complexity along with site and varietal characteristics. Another favorite was the 2010 Cabernet Franc. Since that was my first time to try Tamarack’s wines, I came away thoroughly impressed with the quality of their entire lineup and the unbelievable price points. Others have clearly taken notice, especially in regards to the single-vineyard wines (which retail for $50, well below other bottles from the same sites), with Paul Gregutt of Wine Enthusiast delivering high praise for the 2008 collection. Even the score “stingy” David Schildknecht dropped some seriously good scores on the 2008 and 2009 single-vineyard wines he tasted. Clearly, Ron took advantage of the contacts from his prior job as a wine wholesaler to procure grapes from several of the most prestigious sites in Washington and he knows what to do with them.
Tamarack’s tasting room and winery are located out by the Walla Walla Airport (on the former WWII air base) and show a “no-frills” presentation. Evidently they are too busy focusing on making high-quality wines with those high-quality grapes. The winery is actually located in the former firehouse, which probably provided the inspiration for the name of Tamarack’s entry-level wine, the Firehouse Red. Prior vintages have been consistently received well and the current 2011 release lives up to those standards. The 2011 is a blend of 26% Merlot, 24% Syrah, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Sangiovese, 5% Malbec, 3% Zinfandel, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Carmenere, 1% Grenache, and 1% Counoise. With that kind of make-up you would could assume that this is a “sweep the floor” mishmash of extras. While I’m not sure whether that is actually the case or not, there is one very telling piece of evidence that I uncovered in looking at the wine’s technical data. There were 11,500 cases of the 2011 Firehouse made. Considering that 2011 was a decidedly cooler vintage throughout Washington, it’s likely that they fell short of the 20,000 case mark in 2011. So, it’s clear that well over half of the winery’s production is dedicated to this bottling. There must be a very sharp razor in discerning what goes into the (much) more limited production varietal and single-vineyard bottles, leaving a lot of really good juice for the Firehouse Red.
The 2011 is darkly colored with a bright fuschia-purple color and some deep ruby at the margin. The nose is very bright with vibrant, slightly rich blue and purple fruits and a subtle white pepper aspect. The displayed a medium-light body with a floating presence on the palate. Actually there was an almost dancing quality and a really juicy presence from the ample acidity. However, there was enough mass to keep it in balance with the purple and deep blue fruits singing. The finish showed a continuation of the bright purple and blue fruits with more of the pleasing acidic aspect providing lift. The tannins were easy and smooth with acidity continuing to show more than tannin over the moderately lengthy finish. This wine is well-made, presenting some really good juice at a tremendous value. In fact, this was such a “happy” wine that the bottle disappeared long before there was an opportunity to see the evolution over time. So my recommendation is to drink up and enjoy. 89 – 13.8% alcohol. Suggested retail is $16. Tasted on May 25, 2012.