Tasting the Legends of Napa: Beringer Private Reserve

March 24, 2010

As part of my job as a wine buyer I get invited to a lot of tasting events. Normally the ones I gravitate towards involve esoteric French country wines, but I was intrigued as Beringer Private Reserve (especially the Cabernet) is one of the most iconic California wines. I came to the tasting with an open mind and ended up having to reconsider my (numerous) preconceived notions about Napa wines.

Before we sat down for a formal tasting of the Cabernet, a glass of the 2007 Private Reserve Chardonnay was offered. Normally when I think of Napa Chardonnay, I'm expecting a buttery and oaky concoction, lacking in acidity. The Beringer, however, was balanced and elegant. It tasted like Chardonnay rather than just oak. It's the best Napa Chardonnay I've had in a long time.

On to the Cabernet. We started by tasting a 1979 (!) Cab. I thought it was fading; it was dominated by olive flavors, a bit too acidic, and lacking in fruit. What made it interesting, however, was that 1979 was considered to be a disastrous vintage in Napa, so to taste a 21 year-old wine that was still drinkable was definitely an impressive achievement. The 1995 and 2001 were showing very well; both of these elegant, restrained reds demonstrated that there is a world of Napa Cabernets beyond those showing nothing but oak, alcohol, and tannin.

The Cabernet portion of the event ended by tasting the components that made up the 2006 Private Reserve: 4 wines, each from a different vineyard that contributed to the final blend. I ended up mixing and matching my portions to make my own blend of Private Reserve based on my favorites. (Sadly, no one from Beringer offered to bottle this new blend.)

To finish we enjoyed a glass of Nightingale, a Sauternes-like dessert wine that is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. And like Sauternes, it is a revelation with blue cheese.

So while we are always looking for the newest, trendiest, hottest wine, it's important to realize that the classics never go out of style.

(Special thanks to wine writer Linda Murphy, who guided us through the tasting. I appreciated her comments on the vintage variations, winemakers, vineyards, and history of Private Reserve and Napa in general.)

Jameson Fink is a wine buyer at a bustling grocery store in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. He moved to Seattle from Chicago (where he dabbled in the restaurant and wine industries) five years ago to pursue a full-time career in wine. He’d rather be drinking Champagne and eating popcorn right now.



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