the bionic frog at his most elegant

Sunday, April 07, 2013

It is a measure of the respect that Cayuse wines command that the first weekend in April – the only weekend in the year that Cayuse is open, and only then to mailing list members – is more or less referred to by one and all as Cayuse Weekend. It is the unofficial opening of wine touring in the Walla Walla valley, and many other wineries and tasting rooms roll out the red carpet to welcome visitors.

This year the weather was cool and blustery, but perfectly suitable for tasting young red wines, which is what was going down at The Box, as vigneron Christophe Baron calls his no-frills winery. There were eight wines being shown, three from 2010 and five from 2011. Both were cool and difficult vintages in different ways, and production at Cayuse was significantly down, as all the wines are entirely estate-grown. No Edith Rosé this year, no Flying Pig, no Camaspelo and no Impulsivo Tempranillo. What was on display was a breathtakingly elegant lineup of classy Syrahs, along with the much-loved God Only Knows Grenache, the excellent Widowmaker Cabernet, and a new blend called The Lovers.

My habit is to make preliminary notes and scores when these wines are first previewed, which gives me a good basis for comparison when I taste the finished, released versions at a later date. I will not publish such preliminary scores, but I can say that as a group these young wines showed very well. Here are my notes, published in the order that the wines were tasted:

Cayuse 2010 GOK Grenache
Tight, tart and compact, but with racy, spicy fruit and fine balance.

Cayuse 2011 Widowmaker Cabernet Sauvignon
No Camaspelo (apparently) in 2011 due to reduced crop.
Wonderful bouquet, crisp notes of mountain berry and plum. Hints of garrigue, with excellent balance and length.

Cayuse 2010 The Lovers 84% Cabernet Sauvignon/16% Syrah
A new cuvée, the blend a comfortable fit in between the Widowmaker and the big Syrahs. It catches the spice, earth and umami flavors of the Syrah, with the mass and structure and leafy green accents of Cabernet Sauvignon. Good muscle and balance. Cellar Selection.

Cayuse 2011 Cailloux Vineyard Syrah
Very dense and pure aromas of purple fruits, accented with Cayuse umami notes. An elegant and beautifully proportioned wine, with finishing hints of chocolate.

Cayuse 2011 En Chamberlin Vineyard Syrah
Tightly wound, with blueberry and pomegranate the most noticeable fruit scents and flavors. It has good grip and length, though not the biggest of the 2011 Syrahs.

Cayuse 2011 En Cerise Vineyard Syrah
Marvelous as always, with a bright cherry fruit core, accented with mixed fruit flavors of plum and berry, Provençal spices, coffee grounds and the classic Cayuse umami-soaked earthiness. Has both length and fullness throughout.

Cayuse 2011 Bionic Frog Syrah
Along with the En Cerise, the best of show in 2011 (so far). This is a subtle, elegant Frog, with immaculate fruit and flavors so precise they might have been laser-etched. The controlled power of this is more interesting than past vintages that seemed almost blowsy by comparison. Just a hint of reduction.

Cayuse 2010 Armada Vineyard Syrah
The roundest, smoothest, perhaps fullest in terms of mouthfeel of all the Syrahs – note that it’s a 2010. Excellent in every way, though without the pinpoint complexity that elevates some of the other scores.

The three wines from 2010, with an extra year of aging, showed a bit more fullness, while the wines from 2011 were tightly wound. But what a lovely vintage 2011 looks to be! I would suggest that the hallmark of this vintage, as beautifully expressed in all of these wines, is elegance and balance. Taken as a group, they are the most refined and subtle wines that I’ve ever tasted from Cayuse. Bravo!

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