much ado about Cayuse

Have you heard of Cayuse? They make (intensively?) polarizing wines. In fact, there was a big hoo-ha in the internets over whether or not a Cayuse wine was flawed or just, well, different. Here is a link to an article that stirred up a hornet’s nest of anxiety in any number of wine chat boards in 2010: bedlam

(As a scientist, I cannot agree to conclusions formed by  tasting a single bottle of wine; the point of the link is simply to illustrate the fierce opinions that these wines induce in otherwise normal, happy people.)

Cayuse lineup

Cayuse wines are probably quite different than that which you regularly drink*. They carry flavors often described as vegetal, briny, olive, sweaty, meaty, bloody, and iodine, to name a few. In my limited experience, these ‘funky’ flavors are also accompanied by really gorgeous, intense, and delicious fruit, which makes the whole package unusual and also quite tasty. Again, my experiences are limited. I have tasted probably 5-6 bottles opened by friends and I’ve been to exactly one of their release weekends where you barrel sample the lineup (reds only: 7 Syrahs, 2 Cabernet blends, and 1 Grenache.  The Viognier and Rose I did not recall tasting).

These wines are HOT in the wine community. Winery price is $60-$75, but they sell for $200 or more per bottle on the secondary market.  Being so popular, when you make it onto the mailing list, you are only allocated 1 wine to start. And that wine is not chosen by you – it is chosen by the winery. This is how I came to own Armada Syrah in the first place. (A funny thing about the Cayuse Mailing list: you pay for your wine 1.5 years IN ADVANCE. I received the 2007 Armada in 2011 at the release party.)

Fast forward to last Saturday night. A basketball game that shall remain forever squashed in my memory (The Horror! And at home, too!) required some serious alcoholic sustenance to make it through the second half, so we opened a 2007 Armada to soothe our tired, Carolina-blue souls. It didn’t help things.

Cayuse Armada Syrah 2007

Cayuse Armada Syrah 2007

In fact, I thought it might be corked. I am not at all sensitive to cork taint – ask anyone in my tasting group. I am super sensitive to alcohol levels and Volatile Acidity flaws, but TCA has to be severe in order for me to pinpoint it. I usually can tell that a wine is not right, but I spend a lot of time swirling and sniffing and then it usually takes the person next to me saying “Corked” before I can recognize faintly the smell of wet cardboard. Since on Saturday I was drinking with two people also unable to identify cork taint, we were all left nonplussed by the bottle. It smelled fine, with some plummy olive and brine, but the palate was frankly bereft of fruit. All we could taste was broccoli, pepper, and cigarette smoke.

Being the true pioneer (nerd) that I am, I took the bottle to a professional for a second opinion today. I really thought it might be corked, since I was hard pressed to identify any fruit flavor in the palate, and cork taint would still be evident after 48 hours open. Jason at Pike & Western tasted it for me and said, “Nope, not corked. Just kinda doesn’t taste very good.”

And there you have it. Armada Syrah is just not for me. Or Jason, apparently. So who wants my extra bottles?

*unless you are a super wine nerd, which is totally cool by me


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