Cayuse: Unique Terroir or Flawed Wine? Lab Analysis Tells All

By Kori ~ November 8th, 2010.

Before we delve into the lab analysis, let me give you some background information in case you are not familiar with Cayuse and the great debate that rages between Cayuse lovers and Cayuse skeptics. Cayuse Vineyards, founded in 1997 by French-born Christophe Baron, is often thought of as a Washington winery. While Cayuse does have a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla (though it is rarely, if ever, open), the Cayuse winery and vineyards are located near Milton-Freewater, Oregon, in an area known as The Rocks. Viticulturally-trained in Champagne and Burgundy, Baron first visited the Walla Walla area in 1993. A few years later he had plans to buy land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and plant a vineyard when he stumbled upon a field full of softball-sized stones near Walla Walla that reminded him of the cobblestone vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France. He changed course, bought the stone-filled farmland, and planted his first vineyard. While he makes a few other wines, Baron’s focus is on Syrah. Cayuse produces about 3,000 cases per year of their vineyard-designated, biodynamically-farmed wines. The wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list, which has a very long waiting list. Cayuse regularly receives high scores and accolades from wine critics. At the same time, though, Cayuse also has many detractors who do not care for their wines.

Cayuse wines have very good fruit, but it’s hard to get through to the fruit when you taste the wines because of all of the “funk”, and that’s where the differences of opinion come into play. Cayuse lovers will say it’s unique terroir, an Oregon Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and if you don’t like the wines, you don’t have a sophisticated palate. On the other hand, Cayuse skeptics say the wines have serious faults and what you are smelling and tasting is the result of those faults. It’s been an ongoing debate for years, but the lovers have tended to prevail because most of the well-known wine critics have been in their corner.

For several years, both John (Dad) and I have been in the Cayuse skeptics’ camp and have been criticized for it. However, I did considerable research on wine faults when I was studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam and have tasted wines from all over the world. John has tasted wine for over 40 years. We both have a pretty good idea of what we like in a wine and what we don’t like as well as what’s good and what is not good. We’re not easily fooled by a wine whose proponents call it a product of unique terroir when, in our educated opinion, it is basically a flawed wine. As Lloyd Bentsen famously said to Dan Quayle, who had defended his inexperience as similar to that of John F. Kennedy, in their Vice Presidential debate, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.” Well, we know Châteauneuf-du-Pape and, believe me, Cayuse is no Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Nor is it a Côte-Rôtie, Cornas, or Hermitage either.

In recent years, we at Wine Peeps have reviewed as many Washington State wines as anyone; and I have contended all along that the Cayuse wines I’ve tasted all have had faults (which is why we have written about very few), some bottles showing more pronounced sensory defects than others. While other Cayuse critics have suspected brettanomyces might be the culprit, I thought one of the first bottles we tasted showed signs of volatile acidity, and another bottle showed signs of one of the volatile sulfur compounds like mercaptans. John had taken Amy Mumma’s Wine Faults short course in the CWU World Wine Program and thought I was correct, but how would we ever know for sure?

We love Washington wines and believe they are some of the best in the world. The Walla Walla Valley AVA and especially The Rocks area south of the Washington/Oregon state line have prospered in no small part due to the efforts of Christophe Baron at Cayuse. However, it has always been curious to me that other wines produced from grapes in The Rocks, some literally within a stone’s throw, do not taste at all like Cayuse. Those wines made me suspect that the differences are not terroir but rather winemaking. Talking to a number of respected winemakers and vineyard managers who are in a position to know confirmed our suspicions that there might be problems with Cayuse wines.

Recently, Paul Gregutt, author of Washington Wines and Wineries and a contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine reviewing Pacific Northwest wines, posted on his blog about his review of the 2007 Cayuse wines, and waxed eloquently as usual about Christophe, his unique terroir, and his wines, painting them as an “outrider”, with the implication once again that it takes a special palate to appreciate this special wine.

“When a Cayuse wine is placed in the midst of a blind tasting it will often show poorly. I have seen this happen in a group of extremely knowledgeable wine professionals. Plop any of the Cayuse syrahs into a syrah tasting and see what happens. Odds are, unless someone in the group spots them (either by bottle size or scent) as what they are, they will not be applauded.” –Paul Gregutt on

John commented, interpreting that as meaning:

“If you don’t know it’s Cayuse, you probably won’t like it. But if you do know it’s Cayuse, you know you are supposed to like it.”

Naturally, Paul disagreed.

In another comment to Paul’s post, a reader said:

“…there were too many flaws for me to recognize any terroir.”

Paul responded:

“I see terroir rather than flaws. I suppose a lab analysis would be the most scientific way to resolve that debate.”

Voila! What a great idea, Paul. So we set up an account at the renowned ETS Laboratories in St. Helena, California, one of the most advanced wine analysis labs in the world and ordered samples kits and labels in case we needed them. Then we looked in our cellars and found a 2004 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah and a 2005 Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape to put in our private tastings lineup.

As regular Wine Peeps readers know, usually several times a week, the Wine Peeps team gets together for dinner and we have a private tasting with two wines blind. The setup for these dinners is slightly different from our monthly tasting dinners. Periodically, we sack up pairs of wines we have acquired that we would like to blind taste against each other. We label the pairs with a letter (A, B, C, etc.) to keep them together and also indicate on the sacks if they are red or white wines. After sacking up anywhere from six to ten pairs, we put them away. By the time we pull them out of the cabinet for one of our family dinners, we have usually forgotten what the wines are. Depending on the meal that is being prepared, we grab either a red or white pair. These tastings are considered double-blind.

On Monday evening, October 25th, the two wines that we tasted with dinner turned out to be the 2004 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah and 2005 Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It did not take long for all four of us to suspect that Wine #2 was a Cayuse wine. Paul Gregutt is correct, it is an “outrider” but not in a good way for us. The wine had aromas of pickle brine, almost to the point of being vinegary, as well as olives, cooked cabbage, and burnt matches. On the palate, it was hard to get to the fruit because of the flavors of canned corn, rotten vegetables, and decomposed greens. With our steak dinner, the wine seemed very bitter and even had a formaldehyde taste. We all agreed that we thought it was flawed and that we should submit the wine to ETS for analysis. By the way, we greatly preferred Wine #1 (which turned out to be the Beaucastel) to Wine #2 (which was the Cayuse as we suspected). The Beaucastel was an excellent wine.

After dinner, we poured the remaining wine into the lab bottles and labeled the samples for submission to ETS. We requested three tests on the Cayuse, a standard chemistry panel, a sulfides panel, and an ethylphenols panel. [Note: The samples sent to ETS are identified with a sample number so ETS did not, and still does not (unless they read this post) know the identity of the wine they tested.]

Within two days, we had the results, posted online and emailed to us. Then we had a follow-up call with a representative at ETS to discuss the results. The evidence was clear. The Cayuse was a flawed wine. It had volatile acidity slightly above the normal sensory threshold but at a level a massive Syrah can support, but the worst result from the chemistry panel was that it had a high pH level, which made it more susceptible to bacterial attack. The most damning result, however, came from the sulfides panel. Published literature and ETS studies say that low levels of dimethyl sulfide can contribute roundness, fruitiness, or complexity; however, at levels greater than 50 ug/L, it may contribute vegetative, cooked cabbage, or sulfide smells to wines. According to the ETS representative, this wine had the highest dimethyl sulfide level he had ever seen (312 ug/L), more than 10 times the normal sensory threshold (17-25 ug/L), which accounts for the canned corn, rotten vegetables, and decomposed greens flavors. And, those dimethyl sulfide levels and resulting unpleasant sensory characteristics will only increase with wine age, according to ETS. A layman’s analogy for the effects of dimethyl sulfide in wine would be like salt in food. If you add a little salt to your food while you are cooking, it enhances the flavor, but if you dump in the whole salt shaker, all you will taste is salt.

In case you are wondering what might cause an extremely high dimethyl sulfide level, ETS lists “Possible Causes of Sulfide Problems in Wine” in their Volatile Sulfide Analysis Technical Bulletin:

  • residues from vineyard spray programs
  • high turbidity
  • yeast strains
  • must nitrogen deficiencies
  • other nutritional deficiencies
  • high fermentation temperatures
  • fermentor size and shape
  • inadequate aeration during fermentation
  • gross lees contact and extended lees contact

In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I must mention that we have only lab tested this one bottle of Cayuse; however, it had the same unmistakable aromas and flavors as every other bottle of Cayuse wine that we’ve tasted through the years. Lab tests like we had performed at ETS Labs are very expensive, costing over four times what we actually paid for the bottle in the first place, but we believe it was worth it in order to either validate our professional opinion that the wine was flawed [which it did] or to admit that they are technically good, but we just don’t like the flavor profile of Cayuse wines.

The popularity of Christophe Baron and his Cayuse wines has been an invaluable asset to the Washington wine industry and especially to the Walla Walla Valley AVA, even though Cayuse is actually an Oregon winery. Walla Walla Fall Release weekend was built on the back of Cayuse’s Fall Release, though Christophe has now moved his release date to April. I’m sure that the successful promotion of his wines has made many landowners in The Rocks very wealthy. Nothing we’ve learned should diminish the potential of vineyards in the area, as long as good vineyard and winemaking practices are followed.

You may be thinking that panning Cayuse is political suicide in Washington wine circles, and maybe it is. But we believe that the truth is more important than politics, and that’s what we endeavor to provide at Wine Peeps. As many can attest, if you make good, fault-free wine, which many, many wineries do here in Washington, we’ll tout you from the rooftops. But if you don’t, we won’t make excuses for you just to stay in line with the popular opinion. Our readers, wine consumers, deserve nothing less.

Filed under: American Wine, Oregon Wine, Shiraz/Syrah, Washington State Wine, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Vivek | November 8th, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Great great article Kori!

  2. Fishdrink | November 8th, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Interesting to say the least. I recently had an opportunity to try their wine in Las Vegas at the New World Wine Experience put on by Wine Spectator. My thoughts were the same, this is flawed wine, and I love Syrah. A little “earthiness” is good, and little funk can be good, but in this case, I was not impressed and certainly questioning all those believers that this is great wine. Thanks for clearing this up and putting some evidence to support your view. I think I’ll stick to Corliss, Abeja, just to name a few!

  3. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Vivek and Fishdrink,
    Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your kind words. Cheers!

  4. tegan | November 8th, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I find it odd that you fail to report the numbers of the va, and pH. Although you give the sulfide numbers.

  5. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Since the VA and pH numbers were not the overriding issue, I didn’t see the necessity to report them. However, since you asked, here they are: VA = 0.86 g/L, pH = 4.06.

  6. Matthew | November 8th, 2010 at 8:45 am

    I think some people just like the flawed wines, and I think it’s probably an “acquired taste” just as sour beers (lambics and the like) are also somewhat of an acquired taste for most beer drinkers.

    Unfortunately, this acquired taste has an expensive price tag associated with it. I wonder, would it be possible to take a fairly decent $30 bottle of Syrah and ADD essence of Cayuse? Could you add the required dimethyl sulfide to the wine to get to those high levels and then enjoy the special “terroir” that this chemistry experiment created?

  7. tegan | November 8th, 2010 at 9:01 am

    “but the worst result from the chemistry panel was that it had a high pH level”
    Those numbers are not out of the norm for syrah.
    I am curious, what do you consider normal?
    Please remember that wine is a agricultural product, not something produced in a lab. We should encourage more people to follow in Christophe’s footsteps and farm vineyards and make wines that reflect those vineyards.

  8. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Interesting idea though probably not practical. :) Cheers!

  9. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 9:18 am

    First of all, I am not a winemaker nor a chemist and do not claim to be. What I reported in the post is the information provided to me by ETS. The representative from ETS pointed out to us that the pH was high and said that, as a result, the wine had no protection from bacterial growth. Other sources also indicate that 4.06 is a high pH. In Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, she writes, “Wines whose pH is between 3.2 and 3.5 not only tend to taste refreshingly rather than piercingly acid, they are also more resistant to harmful bacteria, age better, and have a clearer, brighter colour. Wines with pH values higher than this tend to taste flat, look dull, and are more susceptible to bacterial attack.”

    However, as I said in the post, the most damning result is the outrageously high level of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) which is most definitely a flaw and accounts for the unpleasant sensory characteristics.

  10. Darren | November 8th, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I do love the fact the “flaws” you mention are exactly what draws people to Cayuse wines. Drink what you like!

  11. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 9:59 am

    You are exactly right. Everyone should drink what they like. However, to those Cayuse lovers who will continue drinking Cayuse, just know that what you like is extremely high DMS, not unique terroir. One of the things that has made Cayuse so polarizing is the attitude of Cayuse lovers towards Cayuse skeptics that if you don’t like it, you don’t have a sophisticated palate.

  12. Darren | November 8th, 2010 at 10:11 am

    It’s fine and dandy to trash a wine if you don’t like it…but to lump every Cayuse fan in the “if you don’t like it, you don’t have a soph palate” is comical. You are hanging out with the wrong Cayuse cretins!

  13. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 10:15 am

    My apologies. I should have said “some” Cayuse lovers have that attitude. Cheers!

  14. Kevin Pogue | November 8th, 2010 at 10:30 am

    This is not news. Almost everyone (at least here in Walla2) knows that Cayuse wines have a high pH, almost everyone can tell they are vinified in a more reductive environment than many wines (hence the sulfur) – and if they are prone to bacterial attack, why haven’t they been attacked? I’ve had 12 year old Cayuse wines that tasted fantastic. Flawed? Is a wine flawed whenever it is made in style not dictated by an authority? As Darren said, drink what you like! This all strikes me as “sour” (high pH, sulfury, flawed) grapes. Just think of all of those poor, duped consumers and critics, unknowingly drinking this “flawed” wine…. And by the way, I’ve drank dozens of bottles of Cayuse (many of them 5+ years old) and have NEVER tasted the flavors you mention. Hard to imagine all those snobs and critics lining up to buy or praise a wine that tastes like “rotten vegetables, cooked cabbage, and vinegar” – that’s because it DOESN’T – at least not to most of us. Personally, I do get the olives, but also dark fruit, pepper, bacon, and yes asphalt (the sulfur) – and I LOVE it. If Cayuse makes “flawed” wine I hope more folks get on the flawed wine bandwagon or at least think twice before they let a lab dictate how they make their wine – this business need more individuality, not less.

  15. Michael | November 8th, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Amen to your 9:59 am post, Kori. Presumptivem behavior is most offensive and it may well turn off newcomers to the wonderful sensory experience of wine.

  16. Seth | November 8th, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Kevin, well said. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve had flawed wines…but the Cayuse ‘funk’ is great and not in my opinion a flawed wine. Not to mention that everyone one of his wines separates itself from the others; no 2 are the same. If winemakers could just build a flawed wine as you say Cayuse’s are, all of them would. They can’t, and that is why they are so coveted.

  17. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Good to hear from you. It is not just my opinion that the wine is flawed; it is the scientific conclusion of one of the most well-respected wine analysis laboratories in the world. I am simply reporting their lab analysis results. However, as I said earlier, if you love it, go ahead and drink it.

    Thanks so much.

    While you said, “not in my opinion a flawed wine”, I must remind you that I am not simply stating opinion here. According to lab analysis, it is a flawed wine. But, if you like it, by all means, drink and enjoy.


  18. Seth | November 8th, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Then why isn’t everyone making 98 and 99pt lab guaranteed ‘flawed’ wines?

  19. Heath | November 8th, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I must say; I fall on the skeptic side. I had my first bottle of Bionic Frog several months ago for a special occasion at Canlis and my first thought was I don’t get what all the fuss is about for $330.00 I was very disappointed.

  20. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 11:00 am

    The next time you visit with a winemaker who uses grapes from The Rocks, why don’t you ask him/her that question.

  21. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Thanks for sharing your Cayuse experience. Cheers!

  22. Paul Gregutt | November 8th, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Kori, I applaud you for quoting me correctly and for spending the $$ to have the wine tested. However, I have never said or implied that those who do not like Cayuse are in any way inferior or deficient as far as their ability to taste. These are clearly polarizing wines. However, I do not agree that the test you describe damns them as flawed, except under an extremely narrow definition. I have taken the courses on flawed wines – more than once – and believe me I taste flawed wines all the time. The flavors in Cayuse – both new and well-aged bottles – are different. If it was simply a matter of a certain flaw, there is no way that a wide array of professional critics would continue to praise these wines. You also ignore the biodynamic aspect of the viticulture which is also highly controversial but which, in my view, accounts for the fact that Christophe’s wines are more fully evocative of the “good funk” than others from the Rocks. It just makes no sense that truly flawed wines would get the reviews, the scores, and the legions of admirers that Cayuse has in spades. And I am happy to say that I have given my second-ever 100 point score to a Cayuse wine.

  23. Heath | November 8th, 2010 at 11:25 am

    As an admitted wine novice and new wine lover please explain to me how such a polarizing wine can garner a 100 pt score? That doesn’t seem possible to me, but I would like to get an education on why.

  24. Paul Gregutt | November 8th, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Heath, I gave it 100 points because I felt it was a perfect expression of place, grape, and vigneron. It’s not my job to waffle, nor to worry about who does or does not agree with me. In my view the wine I scored 100 points deserved every one of them. And the other Cayuse wines scored extremely well. All posted on the Wine Enthusiast website if you want the particulars.

  25. Kevin Pogue | November 8th, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Terroir is not purely physical, it’s cultural as well. There are many vineyards in “the rocks” but none, to my knowledge, that are farmed like Cayuse. At the Cayuse vineyards, the grapes are trellised very low to the ground and the surface is regularly raked to keep the basalt cobblestones on the surface where they radiate infrared to the low-hanging clusters and more efficiently transmit heat to the soil (I have the numbers to show this). If you plant a vineyard in “the rocks” and grow grass between the rows, as many do, these thermal effects are absent. Also Christophe crops at different levels, and uses different clones and rootstocks, and irrigates differently than most of his neighbors. All of these farming practices must be taken into consideration when evaluating terroir. Having said that, on at least two separate occasions, I have tasted (blind) barrel samples of wine grown in “the rocks” by other producers and commented to them on it’s Cayuse-like qualities (having no idea where it was sourced).

  26. Kenton Erwin | November 8th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Hmmm. I appreciate your going to the trouble of testing and reporting on this issue. Kudos to you for being willing to call out what you think and found. We can all agree that almost certainly, that one Cayuse bottle was flawed, in the generally-accepted sense.
    So far, I have opened only a few bottles of my Cauyse, but I also have never had a bottle which sports the flaws you named. Surely Christophe has improved his winemaking skills over time; perhaps the newer wines are less likely to bear these flaws? I think that, as corrupted as the professional wine critique business is, it is not very likely that repeated flawed bottles would produce 96-100 scores from the likes of Parker and Spectator.

    That said, a 4.06pH is shockingly high (I’m a winemaker) and would require a huge SO2 dose for stability.

    For the poster who opened a Frog and didn’t understand the fuss: How old was your bottle? This stuff is so big and tannic that if you try to taste it from barrel it will kill you. It is not to be drunk even in the first five years, IMHO. As with Leonettis, I think the Cayuse wines need to lay down a very long time.

  27. Heath | November 8th, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    It was a 2004.

  28. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Thank you for weighing in on the discussion. I do respect you and your opinions. However, I do not believe that a DMS level more than 10 times the normal sensory threshold can be termed to be a flaw only under “an extremely narrow definition”. Obviously, the wine is very polarizing, but the number of admirers it has does not mean that the wine is not flawed.

    Thank you for sharing your comments on terroir. It is very interesting. However, the sensory characteristics exhibited by the Cayuse wine are clearly a result of an outrageously high DMS level which is a flaw. While the DMS may be a result of Christophe’s intentional farming practices and you and many others like the wine, it does not diminish the fact that it is a flaw.

  29. Chris | November 8th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Kori and Peeps, Interesting article and conclusions. I’ve only ever tasted one Cayuse wine, a 1999 Syrah that tasted no different than many other WA syrahs I have tasted, so I don’t have a dog in the fight of opinion, flaw vs. terroir.

    I guess one thing does stand out is that you make a point again and again that Cayuse is in Oregon as if that is relevant. Since it doesn’t matter to this dicussion, why keep mentioning it?

  30. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    While we only lab-tested the one bottle of Cayuse, it had similar sensory characteristics to all of the Cayuse wines that we have tasted. I have not had any of his 2007’s though so I cannot speak to whether his newest releases exhibit these flaws.

  31. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I didn’t mean to belabor the point that Cayuse is located in OR; I just wanted to explain where it is within the Walla Walla Valley AVA. There can be some confusion at times with the state line running through the AVA.

  32. Brian White | November 8th, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Boy what a discussion!

    I for one bought Cayuse wines for 3 years and as of this year got kicked off the list since I have not bought in 2 years. More than fair for someone else to get a chance, but I just could not justify the price vs. wine that I was able to bring home!

    I will tell you that the first wine I ever had was the 2005 En Cerise with a minimum score of 94… did not taste like a 94 point wine….now of course that is subjective and obviously my palate is different than Harvey Steiman’s.

    Anyhow I have come to find that the “funk” is not for me and that is OK! I will say that I was very underwhelmed by the wine and to me buying Cayuse at first was almost an exercise in “point chasing.” I have come along ways in my wine journey since then in part because of understanding more about good and bad wines. This journey includes blogs like this one and I applaud Kori for bringing this issue to light.

    It’s funny that to some extent she is taking heat for pointing out that a wine is manipulated in such a way that it is out of the norm. Is that not the debate of high WS and WA scores!

    Great post! Looking forward to great wines from Betz, Ross Andrew, Quilceda Creek, and so many other great WA State wineries with the money I would have spent on Cayuse!

  33. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks, I needed that. Cheers!

  34. Paul Zitarelli | November 8th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Kori – I see I’m already late to the party, but I’d like to weigh in, since we have had several conversations about Cayuse over the years.

    I consider myself a natural skeptic and wondered, before ever tasting Cayuse, if this was an emperor-has-no-clothes phenomenon. Then I tasted the wines. As you know, I found them immensely compelling and aromatically fascinating. And despite the results of the ETS analysis, I still can’t get behind the conclusion that Cayuse produces flawed wines.

    Part of this comes from my view of ETS. While they provide a commendable service, they too are a for-profit business, and it is in their best interest to identify as many “flaws” and “faults” as possible (so that they can sell their analysis and remedy services). To recognize them as the final arbiter of a “flawed” or “clean” wine is, in my opinion, giving them too much weight.

    I would say the evidence is most clear about one thing: the level of dimethyl sulfide is well above regularly perceptible levels (although it’s worth noting the ETS disclaimer that “sensory thresholds for volatile sulfur compounds vary depending on the type of wine and interactions with other wine aromas”). And in the same way that brett, VA, and even new oak have their fans and detractors, it seems that dimethyl sulfides are appealing to some and repellant to others. For me, it enhances the terroir-specific aromas already present in the wine.

    Now I suspect that we could argue for hours about whether there is a terroir-specific aroma profile from the Rocks. From my experience, I have seen similar aromas in wines from other producers using fruit from this area: specifically Balboa’s Sayulita and Buty’s Rediviva of the Stones (both of which source from LeFore Vineyard), Trust’s Walla Walla Valley Syrah (which uses Old Stones Vineyard fruit), K Vintner’s The Boy Grenache (from Christophe’s Armada Vineyard), and Reynvaan’s wines (for which Christophe has served as a consultant).

    I certainly hope you don’t lump me into a) the group that calls non-Cayuse lovers out for having unsophisticated palates; or b) the group that has criticized you for your Cayuse skepticism over the years. I have tasted with you enough to understand the sophistication of your palate and to respect your right to dislike something that others like. Reasonable people can disagree, especially about something as ethereal as sensory experience.

  35. Vanessa | November 8th, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Great post, Kori. I applaud you for going against the grain of a high scoring wine that you(and others) had consistent suspicions about and reporting on it. It’s interesting how marketing plays such a large role in the value of wine and people stop paying attention to what’s in the bottle and just buy the label. Cheers and keep up the good work!

  36. Henry Laufenberg | November 8th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Hey thanks for this analysis. If anything it validates neither side but pull the debate into a narrower, less-esoteric and more rational frame. I love that the terms are now “yes sulphide but” as opposed to “you aren’t sophisiticated enough to get it.”

    High sulphide wines of any type are not for me — if they are for you when built around the right set of other aspect then abondanza!

  37. Brian White | November 8th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Just to add to the discussion on scores. I will never doubt a fellow wine lovers personal perception of a particular wine or for that matter winery.

    That said, the following a is a book I read recently about Robert Parker and it was very illustrating of the point I was trying to talk about.

    We could go further on the merits of blind tasting versus not and also trips to the particular regions for “barrel tastings” and other “activities” and how they relate to already reported scores.

    I saw that that Paul Zitarelli posted and one of the things I love about his review of wines is the “lack” of of a score and an offer to try a wine to expand your palate! I think that is a great way to learn and try different wines!

    I for instance bought Cayuse initially because of its reputation. I did not open my first bottle until some 2+ years later and honestly was underwhelmed. I tried another couple of bottles over time and finally tried the 2007 En Cerise Syrah before I had to make my final decision to buy or be “removed” from the list for lack of buying wine.

    In the end I just could not justify the price versus the wine I could bring home or for that matter the wine my palate “likes!”

  38. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Paul Z,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective. Obviously, I already know that we have different opinions about Cayuse. However, I think that you are in dangerous territory when you question the integrity of ETS. We did a lot of research on labs when we thought about doing this. It was clear that ETS is one of the most well-respected wine analysis labs in the world. We got nothing but glowing reviews about their competence and integrity.

    I am glad that you acknowledge that “the level of dimethyl sulfide is well above regularly perceptible levels”. However, I respectfully disagree with your dismissal of those levels as being an indication of a flaw. As I said in the post, low levels of DMS can contribute roundness, fruitiness, or complexity. But at levels greater than 50 ug/L (the Cayuse was 312 ug/L), it is clearly a flaw. As I’ve said to other commenters, if you like it, that’s fine. But just because you like it, that does not mean that it is not flawed.

  39. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Vanessa, Henry, and Brian,
    Thanks so much for your comments and support. Cheers!

  40. walt | November 8th, 2010 at 3:01 pm


    Thanks for having the courage to share your findings. Certainly your analysis will not resonate with all readers and drinkers but that is why it is so valuable. And the argument which goes: ‘how can it be flawed if it gets great scores’? is silly to the point of absurdity. Wine scores are opinions and nothing more.

    And I’m sure it will be argued that you ‘stored the wine incorrectly, the cork had a problem, transporation problems…’

    Remember, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The ETS data you have provided is neither right nor wrong, but a statement of historical fact. I am curious what others will find when they attempt to verify your findings with other analyses. And in fairness, this should be done to give strength to the validity conclusions.

    One more thing, be prepared to support your findings with documentation, of the avo’iding litigation’ kind.


  41. Chris Wallace | November 8th, 2010 at 3:10 pm


    Congratulations on both an excellent article and some good responses to some tough commenters.

    I too applaud you and your father going to the expense of paying for the lab test. I think that there is a dichotomy in your article that needs to be made clear (again) to your readers and commentors: You offer two seperate conclusions; first that Cayuse wines don’t particularly appeal to you and second, that independent lab tests showed “scientific” flaws. Those two points stand each on their own and cannot be attacked. You are entitled to your opinion and the lab reported their scientific finding. I used quotes around scientific because a scientific flaw may not neccessarily be displeasing to a taster. Brett, is a great example; technically a flaw but one that many tasters believe adds complexity.

    I don’t think that Cayuse is a big charade (and I don’t mean to impune that you were suggesting that). Though many critcs and consumers feel otherwise, you did not care for Cayuse wines and at least part of the reason for that was you suspected the wines were flawed. You put out the money to test your hypothesis and then wrote about it objectively and fairly. The blogoshere is better for articles like yours.

  42. Paul Zitarelli | November 8th, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Kori – I was not endeavoring to cast any doubt as to the competence nor the integrity of ETS. I have no doubt that their labs provide accurate, honest results.

    I was only attempting to point out that they, like all businesses, have profit motives, and while I trust them to tell me the level of DMS in a wine, I don’t consider them the final arbiter of what constitutes a flaw versus a stylistic choice.

    To me, high levels of DMS that come from vinification in an oxygen-poor environment are in a gray area with acidification, watering-back, chaptalization, seeking out VA or brett, choice of barrel regimen, and a host of other stylistic winemaking choices.

    The fact here is the 312 ug/L of DMS. I respect your opinion, and the opinion of ETS, that this level represents a flawed wine. I just don’t share it.

    Regardless, I think you have done the wine community a service by bringing these issues to the fore. It’s fascinating to see a frank, open conversation about what constitutes wine faults and flaws.

  43. Kevin Pogue | November 8th, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    No matter what you say, I still insist a “flaw” is in the palate of the beholder. I had dinner in August with the head of ETS and a slew of master sommeliers. Based on conversations at that dinner I am convinced that ETS is more of a threat (by far) to terroir and self-expression, and more of an advocate of standardization (which I abhor) than Robert Parker will ever be. Sure, they use science to determine the concentrations of wine components, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve “scientifically determined” the wine to be “flawed”. It just means that the results of their tests showed values of certain components that someone or some group of people consider to be outside the normal or acceptable range for that component. I would argue that most advances in art occur when someone pushes the envelope – I seem to recall that someone once told Mozart that he had “too many notes”, and the original expressionist painters faced torrents of critics. Just because you or ETS says the wine is “flawed” doesn’t (or shouldn’t) carry any more weight than me telling someone I think their dog is ugly. I’ve participated in tastings several times where Cayuse wines were in the mix. Most people loved them, but occasionally someone (like you) would make a comment such as “wine isn’t supposed to taste like this”. I like to think I don’t have a rigid set of criteria that define what a wine is “supposed” to taste like. I like to celebrate the diversity.

  44. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you for your comments. I especially appreciate your making the following point which has been lost on some of the other commenters: “Remember, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The ETS data you have provided is neither right nor wrong, but a statement of historical fact.” As to further analysis of Cayuse wines, I encourage others to have it tested on their dime; I’ve already spent mine.

  45. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I appreciate your kind words. I could not have summed up the situation better than you did: “You offer two separate conclusions; first that Cayuse wines don’t particularly appeal to you and second, that independent lab tests showed ‘scientific’ flaws. Those two points stand each on their own and cannot be attacked. You are entitled to your opinion and the lab reported their scientific finding.” Thanks!

  46. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Paul Z,
    I think I understand the point you are trying to make. However, you write: “The fact here is the 312 ug/L of DMS. I respect your opinion, and the opinion of ETS, that this level represents a flawed wine. I just don’t share it.” My contention is that the fact that the wine has 312 ug/L of DMS makes it a fact that the wine is flawed. I have read numerous documents from reputable sources that would concur that such a high level of DMS is, in fact, a flaw. Since you question the validity of the ETS documentation, please show me somewhere in credible literature that indicates that 312 ug/L of DMS is just fine.

  47. Seth | November 8th, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Kevin and Paul hit the nail on the head.

  48. Cabfrancophile | November 8th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I think it should be sufficient to state that the level of DMS is well above sensory threshold for just about any normal person. Flaw? Depends on the person. You could likely find a wine greater than 3 sigma beyond the mean in quantity of fruity esters. Is that wine flawed? Or just atypical?

    The point here is that there is a very strong sensory component to this wine that clearly will affect enjoyment. The effect could be positive, or it could be negative. And the meta-statement is that critics react strongly to wines that are atypical in a way they like. But this could just as easily be something another person does not like.

    The take home message is that taste is highly individual.

  49. Ben | November 8th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Isn’t the 1947 Cheval Blanc considered flawed with its high VA level? Also I believe its alcohol level was higher than normal for the time but science has adjusted today to consider it normal. Now it is considered one of the greatest wines of all time. Maybe science will change again and in the end the only thing that matters is you either like it or you don’t.

  50. James | November 8th, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    wow……this is one of the most bias articles I have ever read. This is the 1st article I have ever read from your blog so I am coming to this from a totally objective standpoint in the sense of not reading anything else that you have ever posted.

    This whole write up REEKS of your ego being bruised that you were accused of not having a “sophisticated” palate. So much so, that you went to the extent of getting a wine tested to try and prove your point, from the way I’m understanding it, that you A. have a sophisticated palate and B everyone who is drinking Cayuse basically has an “unsophisticated” palate, in the fact that they can’t tell that the wine is “flawed” in your opinion.

    First of all, the simple fact that you took 1 bottle of wine out of (aprox numbers here, 3000 wines produced per year X’S 9 vintages x’s 9 different bottling’s that Cayuse makes which equals 243,000 bottles of wine!!) and you take the one example as the exact representation of Cayuse as a whole??? TALK ABOUT STACKING THE DECK! Anybody that knows anything about Walla Walla knows that there was a huge freeze in the Valley that year and the simple fact that Cayuse was able to produce any wine that year is astounding. And anyone who has tasted every vintage of Cayuse (which I have, through the generosity of many friends) know it’s the funkiest wine out of any vintage that Cayuse has produced.

    So the only way to prove your “theory” that Cayuse is a “flawed” wine would take many steps. First of all you would need to show what exactly what constitutes a “non flawed” wine. Because from what you are saying if there is ANY flaws in a wine it is deemed flawed as a whole.

    2. you would have to have every vintage of Cayuse analyzed of a particular varietal and have the statistical data showed side by side to show a consistent “flaw” in each wine.

    3. you would need to provide your personal list of wines that you believe to be “non flawed” wines that your sophisticated palate had reveled and put them through the testing you have referenced, and none of them could have any of the “flaws” you describe at all. Or your palate would indeed be “flawed”.

    ‘m venturing to guess the wines that you would “like” and consider to be “no flawed” would have just as many “so called” flaws as Cayuse (this is my opinion, haha)

    At the end of the day you are missing the whole point of wine! DRINK WHAT YOU LIKE AND DON’T LET OTHERS DEFINE WHAT YOU ENJOY! I’m not saying there aren’t people out there who drink Cayuse that are score chasers or crowd followers. But the people that have drank it and love it and have had the opportunity to have each vintage and compare it to other wines from around the world and think it stands up to all comers, are drinking it because they like it!! And they cannot be dismissed by the simple fact that YOU, and YOUR PERSONAL opinion of this wine defines it as flawed. You are accusing the people that drink Cayuse as having an “unsophisticated” palate because they can’t recognize the flaws as you see them. In the end you are ruining your entire argument by basically doing the same thing that has been done to you. (by a select few people that I would venture to guess don’t understand wine if they are saying “if you don’t like Cayuse you don’t have a sophisticated palate)

    I’m sorry that you don’t like or don’t get this particular wine….but geez……drink what you like and don’t waste your time trying to prove that you are the ONE person or ONE of a small group of people that knows the TRUTH. Continuing to say you agree that people should drink Cayuse if they like it but know it’s a “flawed” wine reeks of arrogantS……it almost smells of formaldehyde…..haha