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Cabernet Still Excels in Washington State
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 3, 2015
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Tamarack Cellars, Columbia Valley (Washington State) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($36):  I remember the early days of Washington wine, when prevailing opinion held that Merlot would be the state’s signature wine.  I preferred the Cabernets, at least until Syrah came along in the 1990s and fascinated me for a bit.  In fact, Washington boasts excellent red wines from all three varieties, both varietally-labeled wines from each of the grapes and blends of the three varieties, with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and you-name-it included for interest.

I revisited my early thinking about red varieties in Washington recently when I tasted several Washington reds blind.  My favorite wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon, but not the Cabernet Sauvignon blended 25 percent with Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  It was a classic Cabernet Sauvignon blend with Cabernet Franc (8 percent) and Merlot (6 percent).  The wine was Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.

What attracted me to this wine was its freshness of flavor, its commanding structure, and the manner in which both elements work together in the mouth.  The wine is purple-hued and obviously very youthful.  Its intense fresh-fruit aromas and flavors are likewise youthful and fresh -- black currants with strawberry and cherry, not at all jammy or baked.  In the mouth, these fruity flavors, along with a hint of cocoa and spice, are concentrated and satisfying, but they’re not the only thing going on in the wine.  There’s the structure, too: nearly full-bodied, with the depth of strong acidity and the linearity of firm, well-integrated tannin, elements that shape the flavors and bring them energy and persistence.  On the finish, the concentrated fresh fruit notes speak up again. 

I tasted this wine over the course of a meal -- chicken scallopine, tomatoes, baked potatoes, and spicy swiss chard -- and its concentrated fruit and firm structure continued to impress me.

Tamarack Cellars is a fairly small, unprepossessing winery in Walla Walla founded in 1998.  Its best-selling red wine is Firehouse Red (the winery occupies an old firehouse), an eclectic blend that combines nearly equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot with eight other varieties.  Tamarack Cellars’ most limited wines are single-vineyard wines from some of Washington’s most celebrated growers. 

This 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from top vineyards in Columbia Valley (Bacchus and Dionysus), Red Mountain (Ciel de Cheval and Taptiel), Walla Walla (Seven Hills) and Wahluke Slope (Weinbau).  Winemaking involved fairly innovative techniques such as skin contact of 24 to 72 hours pre-fermentation followed by pressing off the skins and fermentation in barrels.  The individual vineyard lots were blended after at least one year of aging.  Altogether, the juice/wine was in French oak for 22 months; 65 percent of the oak was new.  Describing this production regime, I can almost taste the wine again, particularly the richness of fruit expression from the cold soak of the skins and juice, and the classic tannin structure imparted by the new French oak.

Not only do I recommend this Cabernet Sauvignon, but also I recommend exploring the dozen other red wines of Tamarack Cellars.

91 Points