Wine Advocate honors Tamarack Releases
With an incredibly in-depth article about Washington State's unique and rich grape growing history, and the state of current wines, vintners and growers, David Schildknecht from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate delivered a powerful thumbs up for many of us. Here's what he had to say about Tamarack:
At the risk of embarrassment, I must admit that the establishment of veteran Ron Coleman – whose right-hand, winemaker Danny Gordon, has been with him practically since the winery opened in 1998 – was so unfamiliar to me that I had merely requested he send a couple of wines for one of my massive March blind tasting sessions. After tasting nearly two hundred wines solely by number, I was anxious to peel the brown bag back from two standouts, both of which proved to be from Tamarack. It was one of those very rare occasions when I was running ahead of schedule and had more than an hour to kill before my next appointment, which was dinner.
“Hey, isn’t this winery one of the many in the old Air Field facilities across the highway?” I asked my fellow-tasters – three critics and distinguished veterans of the Washington scene – assuming, correctly, that one or more of them would have Coleman’s number. He was there, so we postponed dinner and I got a head start enjoying a vast array of wines and lore, returning in July for further tasting, including a vertical of Tamarack’s Cabernet blend.
The affable and astute Coleman has cultivated what are clearly close relationships with some of Washington’s finest grape growers and is crafting wines not only stylistically elegant, distinctly delicious and (where single-vineyard, as some are each year) manifestly site-specific, but profoundly cellar-worthy and generously-priced. Customers also benefit from his willingness – even after his wines have typically enjoyed 22 months’ elevage – to give them a year or more in bottle prior to release.
What follows are David's reviews of numerous Tamarack Cellars releases.
1999 Cabernet Sauvignon (96 points)
Comprised of fruit from DuBrul and Sagemoor’s Bacchus vineyards, Coleman’s 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon reflects its long, relatively cool, and ultra-even growing season with, as he puts it, “a beautiful, beautiful fall, sunny to the end” in an outrageously buoyant, vibrant expression of still fresh (and ultimately still infectiously juicy) red currant and cherry fruit topped by billowing bittersweet iris perfume and a pungent alliance of black tea smokiness, sealing wax, mint, and pungently high-toned citrus oils. On the palate this is like an intricately-woven flying carpet of floral, herbal, fruit, and mineral skeins, with rich suggestions of praline, hazelnut paste and cocoa complementing a persistent sense of brightness. If you can’t find nuance and complexity here, stop trying. “This was the vintage that made me into a winemaker,” remarks Danny Gordon, an allusion not just to tooth-cutting but to lifelong inspiration. “It was my first year, and I thought ‘this is the way it’s always going to be,’” notes Coleman wryly of both the 1999 growing season and this wine. Hey, nobody gets that lucky, Ron! Instead, you get cursed with forever having to try to outdo what is one of the finest Washington State red wines in my experience. Silken; persistently juicy and vibrant; satisfying on every possible level, I’d have trouble keeping my corkscrew from an unopened bottle, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t hold up to a few more years in the cellar.
2007 Sagemoor Vineyard Reserve (93 points)
Lightly-cooked dark cherry and cassis, licorice, sealing wax, and what turned out to be, for this winery, a relatively rare impression of caramelized, maple syrup-like resin from oak scent the Tamarack 2007 Sagemoor Vineyard Reserve, then persist on a rich, polished and expansive palate that preserves more than enough primary juiciness to – along with subtle salinity – call forth salivation and the near-compulsive urge to take another sip. This seamless beauty – its Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 28% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc – ought to merit following for at least 6-8 years.
2008 Sagemoor Vineyard Reserve (93 points)
Tamarack’s 2008 Sagemoor Vineyard Reserve is like a concentrate of shrimp shells steeped in fresh cherry, so lusciously ripe, infectiously juicy, saliva-inducingly saline, and mysteriously iodine-tinged is its polished palate presence. With a nose nearly as alluring as its deeply-rich, resonant, mouthwateringly persistent finish, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 25% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc has energy and concentration to spare for at least the next half dozen years.
2009 Sangiovese (90 points)
From vines at Candy Mountain Vineyard (near Red Mountain) with an assist from Blue Mountain Vineyard in Walla Walla, Tamarack’s 2009 Sangiovese mingles bitter dark coffee with fresh cherry and tomato on a polished palate, a saline soy-like and meat stock savor serving for saliva-inducement while notes of iodine and stone add further complexity in a vivacious and juicy finish. “I’m happy to make Chianti, not Brunello – you know what I mean by that,” says its author modestly. This will doubtless remain delightful for another 3-5 years. “Look,” adds Coleman by way of explaining the excellent value on display here, “I don’t use any new barriques, and I’m not going for real low yields, so I can keep the price down.”
2008 Seven Hills Vineyard Reserve (91 points)
Coleman’s 2008 Seven Hills Vineyard Reserve offers enticing allusions to floral perfume that I would not have anticipated given that its Cabernet Sauvignon is assisted only by 5% each of Carmenere and Merlot. Cassis and mint offer more familiar points of reference on the nose, and migrate to a polished, pure and persistent richness of flavor, with hints of iodine adding a note of intrigue in the finish. This hasn’t the energy, poise, or complexity of the best Tamarack wines I tasted but neither is it short on allure. I would expect it to be best enjoyed over the next 2-3 years.
2009 Syrah (91 points)
“We’re still trying to figure out what we want to do with Syrah in Washington,” remarks Coleman apropos his 2009 Syrah – featuring a large measure of fruit from Ciel du Cheval with major support from Bacchus Vineyard – though it’s clear to me that this wine demonstrates one of numerous exciting stylistic possibilities. In classic Washington fashion, it displays rich, pure cherry and cassis fruit as well as considerably alcoholic weight, but at the same time energy and a finishing ping, not to mention saline savor that leaves you reaching reflexively for the next sip. As for the almost inevitable animal dimension of this cepage, that comes out here as highest-class, saliva-inducing sirloin juices with just a hint of invigorating char. This fine value should prove superbly useful at table – especially with red meat dishes – and may well achieve further complexity over the next half dozen or more years.
2009 Tapteil Vineyard Reserve (92 points)
The first of its kind, and featuring 25% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with its Cabernet Sauvignon, Coleman’s 2009 Tapteil Vineyard Reserve suggests chocolate-covered cherries on the nose as well as on its broad palate, which is also marked by just a bit of tannic chew beneath its surface polish. Creme de cassis, mint, coconut, and bittersweet floral essences add high-toned, exotic allure, while hints of humus and dark tobacco add intriguing depth. This long-finishing blend surely harbors more than a decade’s worth of potential, even if it will never approach the effortless elegance, textural refinement or seductive perfume of the corresponding DuBrul bottling.
2005 Cabernet Franc (92 points)
The Tamarack 2005 Cabernet Franc is infectiously juicy and its fresh expression of blackberry and cassis, with pungent and piquant accents of blond Virginia tobacco, iodine, mint, and juniper add allure and intrigue both on the nose and on a polished, seamless palate. This finishes with mouthwatering persistence – irresistibly calling forth the next sip and making me wish I could have taken it to the dinner table. I can’t imagine it bringing any less than 2-3 more years of reward.
2008 Cabernet Franc (91 points)
Tamarack’s 2008 Cabernet Franc Wahluke Slope is 100% varietal and overwhelmingly from Weinbau Vineyard (with single-digit assists from Tapteil and Ciel du Cheval). Mint chocolate, black raspberry, and bittersweet flowers captivate the nose; then deliver wafting inner-mouth perfume on a polished, buoyant palate. Savory red meat suggestions provide a mouthwatering allure that carries through to a sappily-persistent finish. This fine value ought to serve as a wonderful table companion for at least 3-5 years.
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (91 points)
Picked in the aftermath of a spring frost from which some vines took three years to fully recover, the Tamarack 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon mingles fresh and distilled evocations of cherry and purple plum with salted nuts, black tea, and prominent piquancy of fruit pit. The combination of juiciness and salinity in this wine’s long finish offers both intrigue and mouthwatering savor. “If you could make a good wine in 2004, it showed you really knew how to make wine,” remarks Coleman, “because it took a lot of making.” Clearly he passed that test with flying colors, and this is likely to retain its virtues for at least another couple of years.
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (92 points)
“This was the best-looking fruit I’d ever seen come in,” says Coleman of Tamarack’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, his seventh vintage, “though only the vines that managed to produce in 2004 despite the frost were able to do so again.” An old block at Bacchus Vineyard with Tamarack since 1999 allegedly played the starring role here, though DuBrul, Tapteil, and Seven Hills have also contributed. There is a lean, clean red meatiness here that I would have picked as being from Syrah, allied to fresh, sappy cassis and cherry, all tinged with salt and iodine for a complex and mouthwatering finish. Even more remarkable is a sense of lift that perfectly complements ethereal suggestions of herb and berry distillates. While I would not want to press my luck if I were lucky enough to own bottles of this beauty, they probably won’t expire over the next couple of years.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (92 points)
The alkaline, saline, and iodine-like notes that are intriguing and stimulating features of so many Tamarack reds can be found in spades in a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon whose sources include fruit from Weinbau and Ciel du Cheval as well as the vineyards previously participant in Coleman’s cuvee. There is a purity and freshness of cassis and cherry fruit here allied to mid-palate lift that bespeak the special virtues of which Bordelais grapes from Washington are capable. Further accents of black tea and bittersweet floral perfume add to the allure of a splendidly sustained, succulent, saliva-stimulating finish. This ought to be tremendously rewarding to follow for at least the next half dozen years.
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (91 points)
The Tamarack 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is scented with pungent black tea and cedar; cassis, boysenberry and black tea. Seamlessly ripe and infectiously juicy dark berry fruit lasts into a succulently-lingering, subtly smoky, and mouthwateringly salt-tinged finish. Like other wines in this series, a clue to its quality can be found in the roster of sites whose fruit informed it, which – since it is in this instance so large and star-studded – I offer for your inspection: Bacchus, Ciel du Cheval, Dionysus, DuBrul, Seven Hills, Tapteil, and Weinbau.
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (92 points)
The Tamarack 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon displays that uncanny and alluring combination of textural creaminess with vivacity of which Washington seems singularly capable, and which one certainly seeks in vain elsewhere among Cabernets. Carob, cocoa powder, pistachio and almond extracts, cassis and cherry dominate the show, with hints of fruit pit bitterness and skin tartness enhancing the stimulation derived from a long, luscious finish. The roster of diverse, celebrated sites that informed this blend – several of which are also subjects in most vintages of Tamarack single-vineyard bottlings – offers one clue to its quality. Look for at least a decade of pleasure from this fine value.
2008 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Reserve (92 points)
A Tamarack 2008 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Reserve (whose Cabernet Sauvignon is accompanied by 29% Merlot and 14% Cabernet Franc) opens with scents of dark tobacco, brown spices, toasted nuts, bittersweet, resinous herbs, and fresh dark berries, all of which acquire sap and grip on a polished palate, leading to a long, fascinatingly dynamic and persistently juicy finish. This ought to be worth following for the better part of a decade.
2009 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Reserve (94 points)
Half Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest equal measures Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the Tamarack 2009 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Reserve displays a strongly black tea-like combination of smokiness and tannic chew, allied to very ripe, lightly cooked cassis, elderberry, and (oddly enough but stimulatingly) rhubarb. Any tendency for this prime Red Mountain fruit to go overboard in sheer ripeness or to rear too formidable a tannic head is neutralized by the sheer energy and tart-edged primary juiciness that Coleman has managed to capture and that proudly proclaim “Advantage Washington!” Iodine, salt and stone add savory intrigue to a long, rich yet vibrant finish. Look for ten or a dozen years of impressive, persistently sensually-rewarding evolution.
2001 Du Brul Vineyard Reserve (90 points)
Leather, blond Virginia tobacco, floral essences, and strawberry distillate scent Tamarack’s 2001 DuBrul Vineyard Reserve – labeled with the Yakima Valley A.V.A. (Rattlesnake Hills was only registered in 2006) – then go on to fill the mouth with ethereal, delicate, faintly drying presence. While this needs to be enjoyed now, there is a great deal to savor, and despite the hint of drying out still finishes with haunting persistence.
2007 Du Brul Vineyard Reserve (92 points)
The Tamarack 2007 DuBrul Vineyard Reserve – its Cabernet Sauvignon supplemented by 31% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc – is dominated by ripe, lusciously juicy cherry (a fruit prominent in many of Coleman’s wines even when they proportionally favor Cabernet Sauvignon). Toasted pecan, bittersweet herbal extracts, and peat-like smokiness add interest to this seamlessly-rich, practically velvet-textured, and impressively persistent blend. It should be worth following for 6-8 years. “There might be other sites in the Rattlesnake Hills that have this much potential,” remarks Coleman, “but none that are being farmed the way Hugh Shiels does DuBrul.”
2009 Du Brul Vineyard Reserve (95 points)
The Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Tamarack 2009 DuBrul Vineyard Reserve incorporates 31% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc, which no doubt contribute essentially to the wafting sense of inner-mouth floral perfume conveyed in this silken-textured and uncannily buoyant beauty brimming with lusciously ripe cherry and cassis. The sense of lift goes all the way through to a soaring, saliva-stimulating and infectiously juicy finish to which peat-like smokiness and a hint of stone add intrigue. There is something welcome and wonderful about the way in which this wine’s richness is implicit, as if it were telling you “that goes without saying, so let’s concentrate on all the other things I am beside rich.” “We’ll try 40 different blends blind for each reserve bottling before we come up with the exact one that we want,” observes Coleman, “but with this wine, every time we ended up with almost exactly the same percentages.” I imagine a glorious decade or more run in store here. I’m chagrined to learn that this is the last vintage – at least for now – in which Coleman was able to purchase from DuBrul. I haven’t tasted a more exciting expression of this great site other than the owners’ own Cote Bonneville bottling.