Many years ago when I was around 20 years old, I enjoyed a glass of Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the 1992 vintage and to this day I remember how velvety and elegant it was. And how special Yes, it was also a time when I was also enjoying a glass or two of their sweet White Zin (not my proudest moment, but as most young wine drinkers…we tended to go towards the sweeter wines in the beginning, seen more recently in the overwhelming popularity of Moscato that has made a remarkable re-entry into the wine world.) That Reserve Cab was one of those wines that made me say wow….this is why I will love wine for the rest of my life.
Through the years Beringer has made a lot of different wines, with a lot of different styles, but the Private Reserve to this day is still a lovely, luscious California Cabernet. I had a chance to try the latest release of the Reserve, along with a few other special Beringer wines, over the lunch at Capital Grille with Beringer winemaker Laurie Hook, a member of the Beringer family since the 1980’s, having worked under legendary Napa and now Sonoma winemaker Ed Sbragia, today owner of Sbragia Family Winery in Healdsburg. I was a guest of the winery for lunch.
Laurie had the unique opportunity to work under Ed for many years at Beringer, and today is only the 7th head winemaker the winery has ever had…impressive for their 100+ year history. Laurie grew up with a love of chemistry, but also an interest in getting her hands dirty and never being afraid of hard work. A love of history and a winemaking legacy, her ancestors had owned a small Chateau in France, along with the interest in chemistry made learning that you could actually make a living making wine a no-brainer for this Sacramento native.
After studying at U.C. Davis, often working summers and harvest in Napa and Sonoma, and a brief stint as an enologist in Australia, Laurie started working as enologist at Beringer in 1986, having proved her value and skill even though she was a woman, something that was still talked about at the time in the wine making world. Immediately she found her home, the home she has kept for the past 25+ years with constant collaboration and admiration for those who work with her and around her. Laurie quickly gives recognition and props to her vineyard managers and assistant winemakers, even to the field workers and cellar hands, knowing it takes an army to create the ideal glass of wine.
Though Beringer is quite large, producing hundreds of thousands of bottles a year, quality within the price point is still a focus, with the goal to create the best glass of wine possible within each price break. This is especially evident in their Private Reserve line. The Private Reserve Chardonnay is made from grapes grown on their Gamble Ranch estate in Oakville with cool nights, warm days and morning fog that helps the fruit maintain their acidity while developing their juicy flavors. Barrel fermented then aged for an additional 9 months in predominantly new French oak the wine is filled with layers of ripe pear, pineapple and citrus flavors with honeysuckle and hazelnut aromas with an elegant creaminess, without being overly oaked. Fresh, lush and thoroughly enjoyable. The wine retails for around $37 a bottle, a great price point for the quality and flavor of one of California’s most loved varieties.
The other most loved, clearly for California, is classic California Cabernet Sauvignon and the Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was first produced by the winery in the mid 1970’s when then winemaker Myron Nightingale and his assistant winemaker Ed Sbragia created a single vineyard Cab they knew was better than most they were making from their estates. Keeping the wine separate from the rest, aging it for 2 years on its own in French oak and eventually bottle aging it for a bit didn’t change, or soften, the intense, complex and incredibly delicious flavors of the wine. They knew they had something special and entered it into the Orange County Wine Fair in 1981 – and their 1977 Beringer Reserve won the gold medal, and marked the first production of this wine that went on to be the #1 Wine of the Year in Wine Spectator for their 1986 and has consistently been an award winning wine since its inception.
The latest release, the 2009, is sourced from the best lots of Beringer estate vineyards scattered throughout Napa Valley, including fruit from St. Helena, Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain as well as a bit from Knights Valley, Beringer’s prized Sonoma County vineyard. Aged 22 months in 100% new French oak and then another 9 months in bottle before release, this is an intense yet balanced Cab with that same velvety texture on the finish. Silky, ripe fruit flavors of black cherry, plum and blackberry wrap around the palate with dark chocolate and coffee notes lingering throughout and just a touch of leather and toasted oak notes. The wine retails for $140 with about 5000 cases produced annually. Both wines can be found at fine wine stores throughout Dallas or via their website.