WSET Celebratory Wine Review: 2007 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah

6 02 2012

When people ask me what kind of wine I like, I'm going to pull out this pic.

Ever since I found out that I passed my WSET Advanced course last week, I’ve been wanting to break open something truly special to celebrate.  However, sickness intervened, so rather than crack a $100+ bottle and write stuff like “smells like nothing” and “my throat hurts” in a review, I decided to wait until the congestion clouds had cleared.  This weekend I pronounced myself fit to taste and rummaged through my cellar to find a suitable victory bottle, and as soon as I came to this one, I stopped thinking about any other.  However, it’s a bottle built for the long haul, so I was faced with the quandary that every wine lover about to pull the cork on an expensive bottle has had to face:  should I open the wine now so I can try it, or will I be undercutting its long-term potential by having it too early?  After getting some savvy advice from the amazingly-informed wine community on Twitter (thanks, @peterzachar and @nwtomlee!), I turned to Cayuse’s website for the final verdict.  On their FAQ page, there was a question that said:  “How soon can I open my wines?”  Cayuse’s answer?  “A Latin saying insists, ‘There are four reasons for drinking wine: the arrival of a friend; one’s present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason.'”  I opened the wine.

I picked the Cayuse because I thought it would be everything that I enjoy about red wine.  My favourite red grape is Syrah; my current top obsession for red wine regions is Washington State; I think it’s uncontroversial to say that Cayuse is Washington State’s predominant producer of Syrah.  The winery was created by a Frenchman, Christophe Baron, who was born into an ancestral lineage of winemaking in France’s Champagne region.  Instead of staying at home and taking over the family business, he travelled the world seeking out opportunities and experiences in wine.  He was ultimately going to purchase land and make wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, but one day in 1996 he was driving along a highway in southeast Washington State near Walla Walla when he passed by a plot of farmland covered with huge, round, softball-sized stones, exactly like the ones he remembered seeing in France’s Southern Rhone Valley (particularly in Chateauneuf-de-Pape, where the rocks, called galets, are the most distinctive part of the region’s soils).  On the spot, he made plans to buy the land and grow wine grapes on it.  That land turned into the Cailloux Vineyard (“cailloux” means “stones” in French), was planted with Syrah, and a decade later ended up in this bottle.  If that’s not a compelling back story, I don’t know what is.

Why it's called the Cailloux Vineyard -- the rocks that started it all.

Since I first read about Washington State wine, I’ve wanted to try a bottle of Cayuse.  However, production is so limited and the wine so popular and acclaimed that each vintage’s allocation is almost entirely scooped up by members of the winery’s mailing list.  (I’ve been on the waiting list to get ONTO the mailing list for a year and a half.  No dice yet.)  I have seen a single bottle of Cayuse make it to Calgary’s retail shelves:  this one.  Since everything I’d read about it suggested that it was a wine built to last at least a couple decades, I decided to decant it ahead of dinner on Saturday night to let it open up, something I almost never do but that I thought might be necessary in this case.  At 11:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, I put 3/4 of the bottle into my decanter (OK, flower vase), saving the last quarter for Sunday.  What follows is my actual notes chronicling the next 48 hours.  Running wine diary, go!

11:00 a.m., Saturday Feb. 4/12:  Decanted the wine.  Now we wait.

2:00 p.m.:  First taste.  Surprisingly transparent ruby colour, but glass-staining and dense.  INSANELY aromatic:  I can smell it with my nose 6 inches above the rim of my glass.  A floral note (violets?), chlorine, tar, rocks — not a ton of fruit yet.  Alive on the palate with juicy acidity and deft tannins; full, yet weightless.  Dark:  blackberry, pavement, bacon.  But still just scratching the surface of itself.

4:00 p.m.:  Not a ton of change — more black fruit, a bit of iodine, but still quiet.

5:00 p.m.:  Poured into water pitcher and then back into decanter for a little more air, then cooled to serving temperature.

6:30 p.m.:  Dinner time!  The wine is opening, but still tight (after 7.5 hours!).  Add black tea, mineral, smoke, and currant to the flavour profile.  The tannins are so ingrained in the wine that they barely seem there, though the alcohol shows up on the tail end.  The finish lasts forever.  Starting to turn more red (plum, cherry) than black as it hits its stride.  Has a sort of timeless, ethereal quality to it.

7:00 p.m.:  I poured my next glass through a Vinturi aerator to enhance the level of air contact with the wine.  Not sure if this is a cardinal sin for a wine over $100, but here we are.  Red fruits now jump out of the glass, as well as a blood/rare steak kind of aroma.  Some wines tail off at the finish; this one just keeps exploding…makes me not want to swallow.  Clean, pure, complex, haunting, and remarkably deep.

Epilogue — Sunday, Feb. 5/12, 6:00 p.m.:  The next day, the last quarter of the bottle goes into the glass and it all comes together, 30+ hours later:  luxuriously soft fruit, surrounded by savoury, gamy, primal flavours, all on an iron spine.  I timed the finish and it went on for over 6 minutes.  What can I say?  It’s my favourite.  And still WILL be better in 5 years.

Cork Rating: 2.5/10 (I can't lie -- the cork was kind of a downer. Not exactly a killer first impression of a pricy bottle.)

Did I open the Cayuse too early to see the best it had to offer?  Probably.  But I can’t think I could have possibly gotten more joy out of a bottle of wine, monitoring it every couple hours, seeing it change, marvelling at its growth.  There is no other drink on Earth that could have re-created that experience.  Cayuse emphatically shows that Syrah makes some of the world’s greatest wines and that Washington is an unparalleled area of opportunity in the New World, and it makes me more thankful than ever that I’ve had the chance to get enough formal education in wine to appreciate the wonder of what I just tasted.  I also own a bottle of the 2008 Cayuse Cailloux Syrah (which is not seeing the light of day for quite some time), but I’m making it my new mission to get another bottle of the ’07 Cailloux from SOMEWHERE, just so I can see for myself what it will become when it grows up.  If you come across one in Alberta, please, please e-mail me.  And make sure to grab one for yourself.  Wow.

96 points

$100 to $110 CDN



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