2018 Cayuse Vineyards, Grenache, Armada Vineyard “God Only Knows” Walla Walla Valley.
The amazing 2018 God Only Knows Grenache from Cayuse’s legendary winemaker Christophe Barron, who’s roots are from the Champagne region in France, is an absolute rock star wine and one of the most unique Grenache based wines in the world. This vintage with its deep purple/garnet hue, fruit density and a raw earthy sex appeal is close to perfection, but not over worked and with loads of umami with a sultry spicy edginess. Some Grenache fans, and maybe rightly so, compare Barron’s Grenache to Chateau Rayas, standing head and shoulders above all the rest in its own style, especially as it has such depth and truly distinct singular character, unlike almost any other wine made from this varietal. This vintage has layers of black raspberry, brambly huckleberry, creme de cassis, tree picked plum, pomegranate and kirsch all accented by a array of spices, dried flowers, minty herbs, leathery notes and woodsy elements that all make this wine incredibly compelling, along with the year’s bright acidity, stony/savory expression and cool toned mineral charm. The bouquet perks up as the wine unfolds in the glass, fading the more rustic edginess and allowing the inner beauty of this taut God Only Knows Grenache to shine though its youthful intensity with peony florals, anise, cinnamon and sweet smoke coming through. Barron, who originally came to America to make Oregon Pinot but ended up turning to Rhone and Bordeaux grapes, has an amazing touch for Syrah and Grenache, as this bottling proves. He makes riveting wines, that combine power, sensuality and texture, again proven majestically in this wine and of course in his epic Bionic Frog Syrah, the flagship Cailloux Vineyard Syrah and the awesome Flying Pig, which I also tasted recently, made from a right bank collection of grapes led by Cabernet Franc, think Cheval Blanc! I was lucky to taste with Christophe before he got famous and was blown away by his En Cerise Vineyard Syrah in the early 2000s, a wine I compared to Chapoutier’s Le Meal ‘Ermitage in presence, it was an experience I didn’t soon forget and his current set of wines are even more memorable and monumental! Barron has also gone back to his roots and crafts a small lot grower producer style Champagne, it is also creating a lot of buzz.
The creation of Cayuse, more than twenty years ago now, as well reported and told by the winery, is an almost mythical story, about how a brash, young French Vigneron who visited the then little-known town called Walla Walla, and fell in love with a few acres of seemingly useless, stone-covered farmland. This district, the Rocks, that sits between Oregon and Washington has become an iconic sites in the new world. While the nay-sayers nayed, as Cayuse continues, Christophe Baron deftly turned that field of stones into this acclaimed and remarkable area into one of the most coveted in the world. And borrowing again from the winery, the rest, as they say, is history. Cayuse Vineyards, is like the Pacific Northwest’s Sine Quo Non and one of their top cult wines along with the famed Leonetti. The Armada Vineyard, as Barron notes, at 1815 vines per acre, this 7-acre vineyard, planted back in 2001, was the highest vine density planting in the Walla Walla Valley at the time. The notable Cayuse wines from this vineyard wines include their Armada Vineyard Syrah, this outrageous God Only Knows Grenache and the rare Edith Grenache Rosé, which I’ve never even seen. Currently, Cayuse farms five vineyards spread over 47 acres in the Walla Walla Valley, all of which are planted in stony soils. This rock terroir and rugged terrain is what first caught Christophe’s attention in 1996 and led him away from making his home in the Willamette Valley. The resulting conditions here are tough and the vines are highly stressed, meaning that vineyards average a low yield, of about only two tons per acre, helping explain the deep flavors and concentration in this wines. The winemaking is traditional minimal intervention, with this God Only Knows Grenache typically seeing 100% whole cluster fermentation in concrete and it is aged mainly in well seasoned French oak, normally using a combination of neutral puncheons and foudre, with a little bit of it getting elevage in concrete eggs. This is brilliant and gripping stuff, I am grateful I got to taste the latest set of Cayuse at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, I only wish I could afford these bottles! In recent years I’ve managed to score some of Barron’s other label bottlings under his Horsepower and No Girls labels, which are tasty in their own right, but the Cayuse still take it to the next level, they are bucket list wines.
($150 to 180 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive