Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Beringer Private Reserve 2001, and inside the blend

The Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve of Beringer Vineyards is nowadays one of the more classic reds of Napa Valley. It was first made in 1977, back then by the legendary winemaker Myron Nightingale, from 1984 by Ed Sbragia and since 2007 by Laurie Hook.

For the first ten vintages, it was almost always a one hundred per cent Cabernet Sauvignon from valley floor och gently sloped vineyards, such as Home Ranch Vineyard and Chabot Vineyard in St Helena and State Lane Vineyard in Yountville. From mid 1980s, grapes were mostly sourced from mountain vineyard sites in Howell Mountain, predominantly Bancroft Ranch and Tre Colline Vineyard (now called Steinhauer Ranch), and later on from Rancho del Oso (until 2008). Also, small amounts of Cabernet Franc were blended into this reserve bottling.
A week ago, I made a vertical tasting of the Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve from 1982 to 2004. A few things stood out. First, the quality is overall very high and also very even over the vintages. Secondly, the wine keeps its primary fruit qualities quite long – at least for a decade. Thirdly, the structure has increased notably since the introduction of mountain vineyard grapes in the blend. It’s therefore logic to believe that the young vintages of the last decade will keep longer, and also improve over the years to come in the cellars, than the older vintages.
Every vintage, Beringer are bottling the components of the blend separately. This gives us consumers a great and rare opportunity to taste the personalities of all base wines of the final blend. The unique vineyard selections are only sold at the winery. Over the years, I’ve been tasting a lot of these wines, and although they taste very good, the final blend is always the most complete and elegant wine.

2001 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon / 96 p
This vintage has always been one of my personal favorites in the lineup of vintages of the Private Reserve, and in the big vertical tasting I did now, this was one of my favorites. The blend was 95 per cent of Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5 per cent of Cabernet Franc (all from Steinhauer Ranch). For the Cabernet Sauvignon, 44 per cent came from Steinhauer Ranch, 17 per cent from Rancho del Oso, 17 per cent from Marston Vineyard, 13 per cent from Home Ranch, 3 per cent from Bancroft Ranch, and only one per cent from the Chabot Vineyard. In total, 69 per cent of the grapes came from poor volcanic soils up on Howell Mountain. This has been the trend since the 1990 vintage, and therefore the younger vintages of Private Reserve are more structured, and slower to mature.
Today, it’s still very young and dense with loads of extremely pure primary aromas, cassis is most predominant. Of all vintages we tasted, this was one of the more slow to evolve in the glass, a good sign that gives promises of a long life. On the palate, it’s young and firm with huge tannins (typical from mountain fruit in a great vintage), and compared to its older siblings, oak bitterness and oak tannins are present. With some more time in the bottle, they will disappear. For sure this is a great but still very young wine, and as the 1985, 1990 and 1991 vintages, this wine will be a classic in the future. Just give it some more time.
Drink it 2012-2026.

2001 Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon / 94 p
This is the most historical vineyard of Beringer, initially planted in 1875 close to the winery in St Helena. The vineyard covers 46 hectares, with Cabernet Sauvignon as the most important variety, and on this gentle slope with alluvial soils, the wine tends to be lush and silky, with full and ripe fruit flavors. Still, in this young vintage, the tannic structure is still quite firm and therefore decanting or even a few more years of bottle age is recommended. On the nose, it’s richer and slightly sweeter that the wine from Steinhauer Ranch, and also the note of cassis is more intense. It’s really a textbook Napa Valley cabernet, and it’s delicious. Still, it doesn’t have all the dimensions the blend has, a touch of a more astringent mountain wine would make the difference.
Drink it 2012-2021.

2001 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon / 94-95 p
Steinhauer Ranch, until 1999 known as Tre Colline Vineyard, is situated in Howell Mountain at 540 meters altitude. In the poor volcanic soil, the vines struggle for water which results in small tight clusters with thick skinned grapes and loads of tannins. Together with the Bancroft Ranch vineyard, and the Rancho del Oso (belonging to O’Shaughnessy and no longer part of the Beringer Private Reserve program), it’s the vineyard that gives the backbone and longevity to the blend. As expected, this wine is very dark, more deeply colored than the wine from the Home Ranch vineyard, also with a more youthful and closed nose. Even so, you’ll notice the depths and concentration, loads of black currants and dark cherries, and also some fine notes of lead pencil. To be so young, it shows a great finesse, but it really needs a lot of air. Give it at least one, or rather two hours in a decanter. Or keep your fingers off the cork for some years.
Drink it 2014-2026.

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