Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Best 9 from 09, by Illahe winemaker Michael Lundeen. Part 1

Photo Credit: David Owen

Well, detailed below is the first installment of my compilation of best
bottles from 2009. I’m calling it my “best 9 from 09.” What became
clear to me as I considered and compiled the memory of these wines was that
not only were these wines which I found to be fantastic, but were enjoyed in
great company and in most cases the experience of the occasion was
fantastic as well. This served as a great reminder to share great (or even
modest!) wines with friends and loved ones, as the experience of one
certainly seems to enhance the other.

1 - 1998 Château Faugères, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru
This delicious bottle was gifted to me by my counterpart at Illahe Brad
Ford, and I am now, after having consumed said bottle, especially thankful
indeed. I brought the bottle with me on a bachelor party weekend last
summer for a good, old friend of mine, Mr. Brian Budke. In the crowd were
a number of serious food and wine nerds (in which company I would happily
place myself), so I was pleased to have such a grand feasting occasion to
pull out such a grand bottle. If memory serves, and it rarely does
anymore, the meal was a double-header of lamb chops and grilled, marinaded
steak. The meal was a rich tsunami of flavors to be sure, but the
Faugères rode high on the waves all the way through. A profound challenge
in the face of Merlot haters, this 85% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Cab Sauv
blend was glorious. The dark fruits, though wonderfully mellowed, were
still alive and perfectly harmonized with any spice and oak contributions.
The palate was quite full but seamless and long. I remember the wine was
in very good company thanks to some deep cellar raiding on the part of Mr.
Budke and one Mr. Kurt Heilemann in the form of a Rioja Reserva and another
aged Bordeaux. However, on that occasion, none could touch the Château
Faugères. Not a trace of astringecy left after the nearly ten years in
bottle, it was as if the wine had been waiting all its life for that meal.

2 - 2003 Castello di Verduno, Barbaresco, Rabajà
Castello di Verduno is a small family producer in Italy’s Piedmont
region, with holdings in both Barolo and Barbaresco. Their methods are
quite traditional, that is no small oak “barriques” for wine ageing,
only large ovaline and botti which could be anywhere from two-hundred to
several thousand gallons. With that said, the winemaker Mario Andrion is
young and educated in modern winemaking so the wines now benefit
beautifully from his blend of modernity and tradition. Mario is also a
good friend of mine and allowed me to come work a harvest with him in 2005.
It was then that I really fell in love with the wines of Piedmont, but
most especially Nebbiolo. Back to 2009. I received a case of Castello di
Verduno wines from Mario in trade for some winemaking supplies and I’ve
been parcelling the wines out as slowly as possible. Well, round comes by
birthday in September and I thought that was as good an occasion as any so
out comes the Barbaresco. Enjoyed it with my fiancée Desiree and good
friends Dave and Leslie as well as some excellent and very convincing
Piedmontese food at Alba Osteria in Portland. I was skeptical at first of
2003, since much of Europe was very hot that year and there were many
reports of overripe or otherwise unbalanced wines. Not the case here. It
had a gorgeous nose that only Nebbiolo can have, where very dark primordial
aromas of tar and leather mingle with seemingly misplaced delicate aromas
of flowers, especially roses. It was vibrant enough that the red and black
fruits rose up to take center stage after a few minutes in the glass.
Beautifully harmonious, the palate, undoubtedly aided by the warm vintage,
was plush and round with not a trace of astringency. My conclusion was
that the wine could probably have aged another year or two, but it was so
enjoyable that not only did I not care but the wine so overshadowed the
meal that I have no recollection of what I ate that evening! Despite the
small production, Castello di Verduno wines can be found here in the states
and are surprisingly well-distributed in the Portland area. Their Barolos
and Barbarescos, single vineyard and otherwise, can all be found and are
great bargains compared to the more famous producers from that esteemed

3 - 2003 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Anden Vineyard, Willamette Valley
So, the former Anden Vineyard is a bittersweet subject for many in the
Willamette Valley. One of the older vineyards around, it was until
recently owned and farmed by local legend Al MacDonald. Anden, and its
adjoined Seven Springs, have cranked out wonderful pinot noir for many
years which found its way in to many a notable single vineyard bottling.
When the property was leased in its entirety several years ago to one
entity, many esteemed wineries lost forever the rights to some of their
favorite fruit. St. Innocent is no exception to this misfortune, and
unless you want one hell of an earful on the subject, I don’t recommend
broaching the subject with winemaker Mark Vlossak! Fortunately, Mark has
much to be proud of regarding the many wines he made from the Anden/Seven
Springs property over the years, and this 2003 Anden is a shining example
in my book. So, I had occasion to mark some minor celebration with our
good friends Matt, Jean, and Amy Driscoll of WildAire Cellars, and we found
ourselves at the always pleasing Thistle in McMinnville. Thistle is one of
the new generation of farm-to-fork restaurants, run by the young duo of
Eric Bechard and Emily Howard. The dishes are always locally sourced, hand
crafted, and inspired. Well, I know St. Innocent to produce some powerful
pinot noirs that hold their own against food in their youth and then age
beautifully, so I embarked on a pairing of very tender steak and roast
vegetables with great results! The pinot was so plush, again thanks in my
opinion to a warm 2003 vintage, but balanced. The palate was still lively
while moderately full bodied, and reminded me that when done right pinot
noir is a nearly unmatched food wine. The cascading aromas of bramble,
violets, cherries, raspberries, oak, toast, leather and more was nearly
mesmerizing in its complexity. In a word, delicious! Only the vibrancy of
the fruits told me that the wine could have actually aged a little longer,
but again, it was too good to care, let alone have regrets! Anything St.
Innocent produces is recommended in my book, but if you can get your hands
on any of the Anden/Seven Springs bottlings, I think they are worth any
reasonable price you could pay.

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