Beringer Vineyards

Finding history, quality, and perspective in one of Napa’s oldest—and biggest—wineries.


Those of my ilk tend to perpetuate certain notions. For example, the idea that smaller or newer is better, as if merely being either bestows some magical ability. It's a symptom of our society, with its 24-hour news cycle and instantaneous social declarations. It’s also a symptom of a wider problem, that of the irrelevant critic, remaining relevant through generally unverifiable claims.
It's easier to make a splash by calling attention to the latest high-dollar, low-production wine that few have tried (or will ever try) than to remind people of wines that have been out there for years, grinding away through good and bad times. Take Beringer for example: It's old, corporate, and big, therefore not worthy of attention, according to the geeks. But in fact, its scale allows Beringer to create good wines quite easily, offer them at reasonable prices, and distribute them widely.
The voices that form the accepted opinions on wine tend to live on the coasts, where obscure and rare wines abound. For everyone else, envy seems to be the recommended course of action. Better to long after the unattainable than to just break down and buy something like a wine from Beringer. The truth is, of course, that Beringer has always produced an impressive array of wines that satisfy consumers from the lowest to the highest ends of the spectrum.

Red grape image via Shutterstock 
During my recent trip to Napa I visited Beringer not only because they are one of the great historic houses of the valley, with production dating back to 1876, but because they continue to offer great products. Beringer is not, however, only about wine; it also serves as an embassy of sorts, one of the welcoming doorways through which wine lovers of all types stride on their way to a better understanding and appreciation of wine, the Napa Valley, and how the two are entwined.
For me the story is relatively simple. I am familiar with the Napa Valley and with Beringer, though there is always something new to learn. Today, that would be the Modern Heritage Collection, a tasting room and website-only line of wines from Beringer that draws on some of the historic vineyards of Napa. And then there is the move into a burgeoning category of Bordeaux blends with the Quantum red blend, which is mostly made with Bordeaux varietals—grapes they know well here—with a small addition of Petite Sirah for that little something special.
But new wines were not the only thing I came to taste. I also wanted to revisit the wonderfully consistent Private Reserve Cabernet, which has proven to be a winner all the way back to 1981, my first vintage with the wine—and one that was still drinking well in 2007 when I finished off my last bottle. The wine I tasted during this visit, the 2009, is still available for under $100 a bottle; it’s a mighty fine wine, and at that price a pretty good deal. So next time you think of Beringer, stop for a moment and remember: a winery this big can afford to make world class wine like this, and can afford to sell it for a fair price. 
I’m not demanding you go out and try the wines of Beringer. I’m saying you probably should. Not every wine is great, of course, but at the top there are some mighty attractive wines to be had. It’s easy to dismiss Beringer and other wineries of their ilk, but to do so is to risk missing out, not only on some fun wines, but also on some (literally) valuable perspective: perspective on what a winery can and should be producing, how they can and should be pricing their wines, and last but not least, how they preserve the history of the Napa Valley, something newer wineries often have no interest in doing. If you disagree, please have a glass of perspective. Might I recommend the Private Reserve?

Vanilla cream with toasted nut meat and floral nuances top mocha-inflected, huge, creamy blueberry and black cherry fruit on the imposing, upright and intense fruit-driven nose. There’s plenty of lightly toasty, smoky oak nuance as well, but they sit in the background. This shows impressive pinpoint focus on the palate and is very smooth and opulent without being weighty. There’s a great firmness to this without any tannins poking out of the deep, slightly earth-tinged, creamy dark fruit that shows hints of coffee and tobacco on the palate. The tannins do pop out of the creamy fruit on the back end, along with spice and a little hint of tartness, revealing the firmness of the acid. This is just a seductive wine with super fine depth and exceptional polish. 94 points

Corn silk, almond caramel, dried apricots, dried white cherry and white chocolate drive from the glass topped with an intriguing touch of caper. Rich and downright unctuous on the palate with lovely botrytis spice topping creamy, luxuriously deep apricot fruit. This is packed with botrytis character that leads to a long, spicy finish, ending on a fine bitter apricot pit note. There is a significant amount of VA here, enough to be off-putting to some. But the wine still packs in layers of flavor and impressive richness. 93 points

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Beringer Vineyards

Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Steinhauer Ranch (2009)
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Beringer Vineyards Nightingale Private Reserve (2007)
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Beringer Chardonnay California Founder's Estate (2011)
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Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley (2010)
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Beringer Quantum Proprietary Blend Wine (2010)
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Beringer Pinot Noir Napa Valley Los Carneros Stanly Ranch (2011)
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Beringer Vineyards Knights Valley 'Beringer Blanc' Sonoma County (2010)
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  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,004

    It's easy to scoff at the big, now-corporate wineries like Beringer, Beaulieu, Mondavi and the like, but what you say is true. What's unfortunate is that many of them have diluted the brand by extending it into lesser wines carrying the same or confusingly similar labels and appellation designations. In fairness, some of those have represented good values, too, and once or twice made available some grapes from heritage sites that otherwise would disappear. (BV Maestro Series grenache from South Hart Vineyard comes to mind.) Your point about coastal insularity--if we want something out of the way, no problem--is well taken. For folks who travel to Indiana or Kansas, finding things like Beringer Private Reserve or Mondavi Reserve on the wine list or at a shop can be a godsend, even if snobs may scoff at folks for whom those wines are the alpha and omega of their wine world.

    Apr 29, 2013 at 3:25 PM

  • Snooth User: marstiger
    364819 2

    Per Foxall's comments above - I am in a large metropolitan area. But some of the best little mom and pop restaurants do not have great wine lists. So again finding a Beringer Private Reserve means I will have a nice meal. So thank you for reminding us that the old guard wineries can still have a pleasant set of choices.

    Apr 29, 2013 at 4:43 PM

  • I concur with the comments above. It has been many years since I have been to Napa, but I have very fond memories of wine tasting at Beringer's Rhine House. At that time, they had their Reserve tasting room upstairs, so you got a chance to get a close look at the stained glass windows in the stairway. The Reserve tasting definitely changed our minds about the brand.

    Apr 29, 2013 at 8:58 PM

  • Snooth User: Tiakittie
    1041141 89

    Visiting Beringer is at the Top of my Napa Valley bucket list! Their Knight's Valley Cabernet was my first intro to Napa wines and remains a watermark for me!! I will drink anything Beringer you put in front of me (include the California Collection...which is an excellent example of entry-level priced wine at a better than entry quality!!), and to heck with the wine snobs who froo-froo me for "going commercial"! Thanks for the reminder that not all good wine has to be obscure or French!!

    Apr 30, 2013 at 5:51 PM

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