Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 magnum and 2004

It’s easy to forget about the classic wines of such a dynamic appellation as Napa Valley. Every time a visit Napa Valley and enter the wine shops, I’m surprised over how many new wines, wineries and labels there are to be found. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the evolution. The sad thing is that in this focus on new wines, the classic wines seem to fall into the shadows of newer and more hyped wines.
Among the true classics of Napa Valley, the Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Beringer is always one of my favorites. I guess the size of Beringer make some consumers believe that their wines are mass produced, and that the quality of their premium wines isn’t as high as the wines from smaller family owned estates. The Private Reserve, however, is a true great wine with a track record that shows how well Napa Valley cabernets can age.

1992 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon / 94-95
This wine, tasted from magnum, is made of 97 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, almost half of it from Howell Mountain, and the balance of Cabernet Franc. It’s been kept in new French oak barrels for its 22-24 months. The wine was decanted half an hour before it was poured, which normally is needed for rich and great wines like this, and it was tasted blindly next to a great magnum of 1985 Château Léoville-Barton (also blind tasted). I knew the wine, but most of the very skilled sommeliers around the table put their guess on a warmer vintage of Bordeaux, like 1990. This showed me, again, how graceful fine Californian cabernets age. The color is still dark och surprisingly youthful, and the nose was also relatively young with only small notes of cedar, tobacco and dark chocolate that revealed some age. The oak is very well integrated. On the palate the wine is still rich, but also very elegant, and although the tannins now still are present but on the more fine side, the mineral notes reveals the volcanic soils of the Howell Mountain vineyards. It’s a damn good wine, the kind of wine you should pour to any Francophile who claims that California wines are too rich, fruit driven or high in alcohol. Drink it now, over the next 8-12 years.

2004 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon / 92
Since late 90s, the source of grapes has changes slightly. The State Lane Vineyard in Yountville is now owned by the Kapcsándy family (who makes great wines from it) and is not used anymore, and the proportion of mountain fruit, predominately from Steinhauer Ranch up at Howell Mountain, is now greater. The effect is that the wines now are more structured, and therefore also a bit more complex. This wine offers a young and rich dark fruit with hints of sweetness, quite intense in a modern style, but even if the fruit is warm and ripe, there is the kind of finesse I like in wines that are made in a slightly more classic style. The alcohol reaches 14.4 percent, and it is well integrated. Tasted blind, my guess first went to Oakville and Mondavi Reserve or even Opus One, but with the mineral notes and youthful tannic structure, I went to mountain vineyards. At this stage, the acidity is fresh, tannins firm but fine, and still the oak flavors is a bit smoky. Decanted a good hour before serving makes the wine delicious already today, but with the knowledge of the track record of this wine, I would wait. Drink it 2012-2024.

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