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A Syrah Good for the Long Run

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 18, 2008 9:54am ET

Usually, when I buy a case or half-case of wine, I drink a bottle or two from the stash in the first year to get a handle on the wine, then open the rest when I expect they have reached maturity.

Somehow I managed to keep my hands off the half-case of Cayuse Syrah En Cerise 2000 I had bought when it came out, so I had all six bottles to pour for guests last week when my wife and I celebrated our 40th anniversary with 30 friends and family. I think I drank the backup bottle about a year after rating the wine (94 points) and thought, "well, damn, this has a long ways to go. Hands off, buster."

Our 40th anniversary wine selections.  

It pleased me mightily that not only did the wine connoisseurs in the crowd recognize what a terrific wine it was, but folks who usually grab a bottle of something in the supermarket for dinner were exclaiming over this one. For the record, all I told those assembled was that I had chosen some wines from the regions I write about (Washington, Oregon and Australia), wines that I had bought for my own cellar and now had reached a good stage to drink. I didn't give it any special buildup.

They liked the aperitif wines, both from Oregon (Argyle Brut 2001 in magnum and A to Z Pinot Gris 2006). With the first-course salad, we had Pewsey Vale Riesling Contours 1998 from Australia. The dry, vibrant wine had picked up a waxy flavor to go with its original lime and mineral qualities, and it had gained some richness of texture. With it, banquet chef Matt White at The Little Nell, where we did the event, served tart greens and ricotta freshly made by the hotel's chef, Ryan Hardy. A few strawberries, Marcona almonds and a drizzle of balsamic sauce made it a great dish and the salad (see below with wine) did no harm at all to the wine.

But the wine that caused the biggest buzz was the red. The dish, braised shoulder of lamb atop risotto with peas and pancetta, did great things for the Syrah. It had developed into a gorgeous wine, much more delicate than what it seemed originally. Here's my tasting note from 2002: "Glorious stuff, rich, ripe, deep and powerful, a dynamic mouthful of dark berry, cherry and plum fruit mated with peppery, exotic spice notes and a distinctive mineral character that doesn't quit. Drink now through 2010."

Ryan Hardy's strawberry, Marcona almond and ricotta salad.  

All those flavors were there, and some ineffable extras, but the big deal for me was the refinement the wine had added over the years. Or maybe it had just subtracted the fat. Either way, it had fulfilled its promise, and from young vines no less. It was only Cayuse's third vintage.

An electric buzz went through the crowd when they tasted it. Novices and experts loved it, contradicting conventional wisdom that you don't serve complex, mature wines to newbies. It drives me nuts when I hear people say they'll open a certain bottle when they have someone to dinner who will appreciate it. Don't wait. Serve the best wines you have to anyone sharing the table who wants them. How else will they know how good wine can be?

Jared Wagner
Maple Valley, WA —  July 18, 2008 2:00pm ET
Harvey,Congrats on your 40th anniversary. My wife and I celebrated our 5th last weekend! Good to hear that older Cayuse wines are maturing nicely as mant Cayuse detractors seem to complain about how they will age. I think people just need to realize that Christophe is as talented a winemaker as there is in the world today. I'll pop a 1999 Cayuse Syrah this weekend and report back how it shaped up!
Patrick Mcdonough
wyckoff, n.j. —  July 18, 2008 2:15pm ET
harvey, planning a family trip to mount rainier in august. hoping to visit some wineries while we are there any suggestions?
Derek Jensen
Calgary, AB —  July 18, 2008 3:23pm ET
Harvey, excellent point at the end of the blog! So what would you rate (unofficially) the Cayuse now compared to the last time you last tasted it? Also would you change the drinking range past 2010, does it have the legs for a longer run?
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  July 18, 2008 3:57pm ET
Congrats, 40 years, you're a lucky man, or just plain good! You also must have friend is high places. CO law doesn't allow byob at restaurants. They can cater to a non alcohol serving location and you can byob, but not to the restaurant. I know, I've tried. Guess I've only "got friends in lowly places" (HWJr).
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 18, 2008 5:31pm ET
Jared, I think those who are disappointed in how Cayuse reds age expect them to remain as fat and rich as they were when young, but they actually get leaner and show more finesse.

Derek, I'd rate the Cayuse around 94-95, and I wouldn't want to age it beyond 2010. It seems to be there now, and we are talking about young vines.

Patrick, if you're going to be around Mount Rainier, you will be in Seattle. There are plenty of great wineries to visit there (the vineyards are all east of the Cascade Range), many of them in and around Woodinville.

and Sandy, ssshhhh....Colorado law is strict, but it was a private event in a private room and we made special arrangements to transfer the wines properly.
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  July 19, 2008 2:40am ET
I visited WW in Oct 05. There was a little shop in the town square, sign said Cayuse. Followed by, Sorry our current vintage is sold out. Something to that effect. Though disappointed I also thought how great it would be to have that type of following. Never did get to try it. Maybe this yr's trip I will have better luck.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 19, 2008 6:58pm ET
Cayuse's downtown tasting room is gone, but it might be possible to visit the "studio" (Christophe doesn't call it anything so prosaic as a "winery") next to one of his vineyards, by appointment. Email him through his website to see what's possible.

Another Walla Walla winery worth visiting is Cougar Crest.
Michael Vickery
Texas —  July 20, 2008 10:17am ET
Harvey, congratulations to you and your bride.A Votre Sante!
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  July 21, 2008 2:52am ET
I spy Rosa Regale there as well! This is one of our favorite wines, particularly with flourless chocolate cake and fresh raspberries. We visited Banfi last Fall and have enjoyed this sweet sparkler ever since. Well chosen!
Christopher Hills
Seattle, WA —  July 21, 2008 1:28pm ET
Harvey,my wife and I had our only bottle at Campagne in Seattle for her birthday recently. It was, as you noted above, more refined now and we really enjoyed it. I've been storing away Cayuse for a few years now and that was the first one I'd opened. It's now time to get to the Cailloux and Coccinelle... Thanks for your great notes on their wines, they're what prompted me to open the bottle and it was everything you said it would be.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 21, 2008 6:40pm ET
Rosa Regale was the wine we used for the toast (and for dessert, which was panna cotta with strawberries and rhubarb). It's imported by a friend who was in attendance.

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