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06.24.2005

1980 Beringer Vineyards Private Reserve "Lemmon-Chabot Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

beringer.bottle.jpg The only way to start a story about Beringer Winery is: Once Upon A Time, there were two brothers, Frederick and Jacob Beringer. They grew up in Mainz in the Rhine Valley of Germany, and both emigrated to the United States in the late 1800's. Within a few years they had explored as far west as they could get, and recognized the terrain of Napa as being suited for grape growing. In 1876 they founded the Beringer Brothers Winery, which is now the oldest operating winery in Napa Valley. Jacob had worked in the cellars in Germany, and Frederick had little interest in wine, but was industrious and ambitious, and the two of them managed to in rather short order build a highly functional winery and begin construction on a mansion that still houses the winery today just north of downtown St. Helena.

Fast forward 125 years.

Beringer today gets a bad rap as a winery, both for being a perpetrator of White Zinfandel, the pink fluid every wine snob loves to hate, and for being a big mega-corporate winery. Both of those accusations are true, and I hardly find myself buying Beringer wines these days, but starting in 1977 Beringer began a "private reserve" program under which they produced each year a small quantity of very high quality, single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. That program still exists today, and the winery produces a Chardonnay as well as a Cabernet, and generally they tend to receive decent marks from the critics.

This wine comes from the vineyard which inspired that private reserve program and continues to play a part in it even today. The Lemmon-Chabot vineyard, known today just as the Chabot Vineyard, is a gently sloping vineyard on the east side of the Napa valley near St. Helena. In addition to being famous for its production of superb Cabernet, it is also well known for its soils of widely varying types, but all containing a high concentration of obsidian, a black volcanic glass used by Native Americans to fashion cutting tools and arrowheads. The obsidian has a tendency to reflect heat back towards the surface, albeit unevenly, so the vineyard retains heat in varying degrees, making it necessary sometimes to pick the grapes in six or seven different passes through the vineyard, as each vine ripens differently across the different soil types and in different areas of warmth.

Not much winemaking information is available on older vintages like this, but the back label of the bottle indicated that this wine saw 18 months of French oak before bottling, and was a low 13.5% alcohol.

Tasting Notes:
A medium blood red color in the glass, this wine has a savory nose of smoked meats and stewed prunes, rich and musty aromas that led me initially to worry that the wine was past its prime. In the mouth however it was glorious and pure with surprisingly supple and strong flavors of cherry, leather, and flinty minerals wrapped in the barest hints of silky tannins that buoyed up these flavors and sent them cascading into a finish that lasted minutes. This wine is a perfect rejoinder to anyone who seriously asks whether California Cabernet can age well. Outstanding.

Food Pairing:
I've always had a conundrum with pairing seriously aged wines with food. On the one hand, they sometimes marry perfectly, but on the other, their subtle complexities are often best enjoyed on their own. But I always offer a suggested pairing to every wine I review, so I'm not about to beg off on this one. I'd love to drink another bottle of this wine with a perfect beef daube.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

Current Price: ~$160

It is possible to purchase this wine on the Internet.

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