- Rating: 95 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $40 for Public Tasting, $75 for Private Tasting
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: No for Public Tasting, Yes for Private Tasting
St Helena, CA 94574
It’s fitting that Beringer was my very first winery membership. Although the brand has been bought/sold a few times, it is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley (established in 1876). Over the past 140+ years, it’s been responsible for many “firsts” in Napa as well as the US Wine Industry at large, and has grown into a true powerhouse. I had been to several Napa wineries before, but this was the first one that really left me in awe and raised my expectations for quality wine. If you are like me, your first foray into wine came from the shelves of Trader Joes and other grocery store chains. One of those $7 bottles I brought home was Beringer, so when I first saw that there was a tasting for $40, I thought to myself that they were crazy. Little did I know.
While large producers like Beringer and Robert Mondavi may produce and sell large amounts of ~$7-$20 wine, they also produce some fantastic top quality wines because of all the land and capital they have access to. Imagine if you had enough grapes to produce 1,000,000 bottles of wine and could save your best grapes for 1,000 bottles - how good do you think those 1,000 bottles could be? Answer: Really good…
When arriving at their winery just north of St. Helena, my first impression was that it was actually a campus. And sure enough, there are multiple buildings that house different tasting menus. We arrived a bit earlier, so we took some time to wander through the beautiful back gardens that also had some vines planted. Back toward the entrance you drove through, you’ll find the Rhine House: a building from the 1800s that still has its original stained glass windows, a rustic but polished interior that matches the house, and the ethos of the founder carved/painted around the ceiling of the main room.
If you arrive at the Rhine House without a reservation, your tasting will be at the bar downstairs. However, you can contact the Wine Club Coordinator (Carlos Valdivia) who can arrange a 10AM tasting for you and your group in the old dining room upstairs. The experience upstairs is wonderful and they even take you through the wines as a blind tasting. I also happened to meet Mike Krzyzewski when he was visiting with the Duke Assistant coaches and their families - we were both tasting in separate rooms upstairs. And though he went to and coached at West Point, which is where I grew up, I was maybe more excited to meet Mark Beringer who was with him (Beringer’s current winemaker).
Ok, enough reminiscing from me. Here is what you can expect between the two tastings at the Beringer Rhine House:
Downstairs Reserve Tasting ($40) - Pick (3)
- 2016 Private Reserve Chardonnay
- 2014 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2015 Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2014 Bancroft Ranch (Howell Mountain) Merlot
- 2014 One of their Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons
Upstairs Blind Tasting ($75)
- 2015 Private Reserve Chardonnay ($48)
- All of the winemakers tools come out in this one. Great acidity, malolactic fermentation (MLF) to give it a rich creaminess, spices and a nuttiness from the wood aging, and ripe fruit.
- 2014 Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($70)
- Full body, ripe fruit and tannins with sweet tobacco in there. At half the price of the Private Reserve, you are getting something nearly as big and rich that is ready to drink now.
- 2014 Bancroft Ranch (Howell Mountain) Merlot ($80)
- Good structure for a merlot as ripe as this is. Blue fruits and enough tannins/weight to trick you into thinking that this could be a Cabernet Sauvignon. A distinctive version of Napa Merlot
- 2013 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($170)
- Black fruit, graphite, and baking spices from the wood. This wine is massive with seemingly endless waves of velvety tannins. I really feel like you need to lay this down for another 5-10 years to round it out
- 2014 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($170)
- Not quite as huge as the 2013, there is a bit more nuance and freshness to the wine, making it more approachable earlier in its life. Similar tasting notes as the 2013, drink this while waiting for that vintage to come around
For those that like oaked Chardonnays but want less butter and more complexity, the Private Reserve is my go-to. Well balanced between the intensity and high acidity plus the hints of nut from the barrel aging is really captivating. The Private Reserves need more time for aging as the tannins are still a bit aggressive but the potential is obvious and the fruit+weight on the palate feel sooo good. If you are an impatient drinker like me, the Bancroft Ranch Merlot and Knights Valley Cab are ready right now and can be almost as pleasurable as the Private Reserves in good vintages.
The theme of Beringer’s wines is personality with power and every wine displays that with no apologies. If you are a new world style drinker (want more fruit than terroir in your wine), you need to try Beringer’s Reserve tasting. For those looking to expand their palate and knowledge with respect to the different terroir of the Napa valley, it’s hard to beat their Single Vineyard wine tasting. Their single vineyard wines are produced using similar methods with the same or similar clones; the differences that you taste are the different characteristics of the Mountain American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that they come from. Cheers!
Rating: 95 out of 100