At first smell, all I could think was “hey, this doesn’t smell American at all!” Unlike every other Washington syrah I’ve smelled, this wine gives me flashbacks to the Red Baron wine bar in Paris where I spent two lovely evenings drinking my way through obscure French wine regions just a few months ago.
Surprisingly, the nose is brutally thin, very mineral, with a very faint hint of the warmer Washingtonian climate almost totally obscured by what I can only imagine is old world winemaking: instead of plush, Australian raspberry jam, what you get is cold, austere, frankly barnyardy (but not Brett-y) funk edged with dirt. It’s quite a shock, especially as I had expected something quite different: Cayuse are a tiny, boutique, mailing-list-only producer, and even if the winemaker is French, I had just assumed that this would be a big, lush syrah something like the (amazingly delicious) John Duval-produced Sequel syrah, which is apparently from Walla Walla as well, just as this wine is – and yet this Cayus wine is utterly different from Duval’s.
It’s when you finally treat yourself to a sip of this that the New World components become apparently: there’s a fullness, a thickness that I wouldn’t associate with traditional Rhône wine that’s a thrilling counterpart to the austerity of the nose. Flavors are mostly in the realm of cured tobacco, black fruits, dried cherries, and just a hint of sourness to keep it all in check; there’s also a kind of burnt sugar sweetness that isn’t sugar, just sweetness that’s delightful as well. The finish does stay around for a while, reminding me somehow of Victorian toiletries (and I mean that in a good way: it’s like a once-popular floral scent that went out of fashion shortly before your grandparents got married), with a wonderful wood-coffee smoothness that leaves you very, very happy that you got to drink some of this wine.
Date tasted: December 2008