Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red 2005
Despite its origin in Washington State, Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red almost supports an
encyclopedia article on French wine grapes, since it features 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30%
Syrah, 24% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, with 1% each of Carmenere and Malbec. But then
Tamarack adds that 2% dash of Columbia Valley Sangiovese (an Italian grape they proudly
offer in another wine as a full varietal). The mix proves, if anything, the range of grape
production—all promising superb quality—now associated with regions like Walla Walla,
Rattlesnake Hills, Wahluke Slope, and the Columbia Valley AVA (a larger umbrella region).
Both the Syrah and the Sangiovese highlight Eastern Washington's expansion from the area's
traditional Bordeaux varieties.
Who knew one wine would offer so much fodder for vinous erudition? Of course it is all unnecessary, since the $20 Firehouse Red is a wonderful drinking wine. Even wine philosophers like me can be caught (at certain off guard moments) using adjectives like “delicious,” and “smooth,” especially when enjoying the wine with a great meal (catfish jambalaya in this case) and that wonderful other person (you know who you are).
The blend reflects its three major grapes superbly. You get the aromatic sophistication and dignified weight of the Cabernet Sauvignon, the plumy mouthfeel of the Merlot and the spicy brightness of the Syrah. The wine is a dark ruby with purple around the edges. My nose recorded violet, chocolate and cassis, with a smoky edge. The fruit on the nose is so well integrated and ripe, it resists individual notes.
On the palate, sweet oak, vanilla, cocoa, red cherry, ripe plum and a mix of berries are complemented by a tinge of baking spice (cinnamon and nutmeg). Round tannins and a respectable level of acidity (is it that Sangiovese?) combine to promote the wine's friendly mouthfeel. This wine is at once sophisticated, then easy, then elegant, then sensuous, then gone. It has the feel of a well-made Bordeaux-blend with the added kick of that sassy Syrah. The grapes may be European, but make no mistake, this is a first-class American wine.
The winery is located in a former fire station in Walla Walla, hence the Firehouse name.
Verdict: A true success
The Native American Walla Walla tribe, who welcomed the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805, now share the Umatilla Indian Reservation with several related tribes.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman