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Thursday, October 02, 2008

These Wines are ‘My Sine Qua Non’


I’m not going to feign any insight to Robert Parker’s feelings about Manfred Krankl’s wines. I don’t claim to have the most intimate or exhaustive experience w/ the famed ‘cult of cults’ from Ventura, California either….but hey, I’m a geek, and I’d have to be completely oblivious to ignore the ‘Sine Qua Non effect’ that began w/ a few enthusiastic reviews, and now has steamrolled into the stuff that wine legend is made of.

The wines themselves are a bit polarizing, yet the few I’ve been fortunate enough to taste had a singular zeal that left a formidable imprint on my palate. The somewhat reclusive Krankl, perhaps a modern day ‘Easy Rider’ caricature in style, has seeped his creativity, irreverence and brilliance into his ever-changing labels, vintage names and, of course, wine. I doubt I or several other interested parties will ever have the opportunity to interact with the man, the myth, the legend, so I’ll simply compile the sound bits, commentaries and interviews into my distant puzzle, which may or may not elucidate any actual truth to what this enigmatic man is all about.

While all I know of SQN is a few lucky bottles & some sparse news clips, I’ve still been touched by the icon’s ripple effect that continues to send seismic shockwaves through the epicenter of wine geekdom. It’s tough to taste the actual wine when you are so engrossed in its surrounding hype and mystique, but wine has blessed me w/ the ability to focus, and I’ve discerned how texturally superlative and unique the wines can be.

So, understanding the nature of the American wine system that has become riddled w/ ratings, hype, mailing lists and scarcity, I also realize that there has to be something special at the foundation of all that gets out of control, and the wines from Cayuse reveal just that to me.

You all know I have a fondness for Rhone varietals, and Cayuse’s Viognier, Syrah and now, Grenache more than fit that template for success (perhaps, a la Sine Qua Non). Throw in some unlikely heroes in the shape of Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo and a downright funkadelic Cabernet Sauvignon (like none other from the state of Washington that I’ve tasted) and you’ve got yourself some potent fuel that’s begging to ignite into something lethal.

A ‘freak’ of a Frenchman playing in a rocky desert sets the table for a lithium injected schism that has lit my taste buds afire every single time I’ve popped a Cayuse cork. Personally, the fact that so many practically loathe the wines only makes them all the more endearing to me, though outside the realm of wine boards I’ve been hard-pressed to find a palate that didn’t begin salivating like Pavlov’s pup once I poured a bit of Christophe Baron’s juice into their glass.

Oddly enough, an evening at Laurence Feraud’s home (of famed Domaine du Pegau) involved a blind tasting of a Syrah that I initially pegged as a Cayuse… then wavered to the for mentioned Sine Qua Non, vintage ’96 (which happened to be correct, and complete luck…considering I’d never tasted it before). Why did I make those guesses? Simply because they are the two most singular, distinctive New World Syrah producers that I’ve ever tasted; so much so that I definitively said ‘the wine couldn’t possibly have been anything else!’

While I’ve felt that Cayuse was ‘my Sine Qua Non’ for quite some time, this diatribe has purely been inspired from nothing other than tasting a Cayuse…and a merely ‘solid’ Cayuse to boot…not one of my favorite bottlings by a long-shot (I consistently find the Chamberlin Vineyard to be more impressive than the Cailloux, if a hair shy of the ‘Bionic Frong’ in its exuberance). If even the more pedestrian Cayuse (oxymoron) can inspire such panting, raving and….egads, cult-like frothing, then there has to be something otherworldly about these wines. Even if they are otherworldly vile to some, they are, indeed- different….so different, that I want to know more. Not only about the wine, the funky labels and the terroir, but the guy behind them and the others that share the same zest for his juice…hell, even those that abhor the wines…it’s worth talking about, it’s worth writing about…it’s downright, Sine Qua Non-ish.

I’ll leave you w/ my scribbles on the bottle popped, a Cailloux ’05:

An undoubtedly singular, almost telltale nose of dried beef jerky, tanned leather, pepper, crushed plum and caramelized blueberries erupt from the glass. The scents left me anticipating an overt breadth to the palate, which simply didn’t come, as a brisk lightness propels the silky textured, spice rack infused mouthful to a stylish, lingering finish. As the wine airs, it reveals a darker, mocha-hint to the flavors, but has a surreal stony undertoe that chomps away, 94 points.
Perhaps every geek out there has a 'Sine Qua Non' of their own?

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