Bodegas Bernabe Navarro Beryna 2004 Tasting Notes
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Bodegas Bernabé Navarro Beryna 2004 Tasting Notes

The Monastrell grape (Mourvèdre in France and Mataro in California) provides the thick-skinned gamey punch behind the wines of the Levante on Spain's Southeastern Coast along the Mediterranean: Almansa, Jumilla, Valencia, Yecla and this wine's appellation of Alicante. As Mourvèdre the grape has seen something of a renaissance in France, California and Australia as a stiffener in Rhône wines and Rhône-type blends; the Australian GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre) blends are creating a tangible market niche. As Monastrell in Spain, however, the grape, though widely planted, is declining. As a late-budding and late-ripening variety, it still thrives in Alicante's sun-baked hills. Alicante differs from the other Levante appellations in that it stretches from the tourist-friendly coastal city of Alicante some 75 kilometers into Spain's arid center, the other appellations being virtually landlocked. The region produces wines in great quantity, but as with many quantity regions, you sometimes also get quality.

Since these grapes take their time to ripen, they frequently produce enough sugar to yield alcohol levels of up to 18 percent if fermented to dryness as the style demands; the Beryna presents a 14.5% level. Owners Olga Navarro and Rafael Bernabé have striven to stand out in quality terms from much of the bulk Monastrell-based wines vinified by the region's cooperatives. Made from 40 year old vines, the Beryna is barrel-aged 14 months in French oak, one-third new. The result is an excellent $16 blend of 60% Monastrell with 10% Syrah.

A nearly opaque ruby with purple edges, the wine doesn't shout as you think it might, giving some good toast and smoke on the nose with edges of chocolate and cacao, but only if you wait; the nose seems tight at first. The wait is worthwhile, as this is a wine you can nose for quite some time. It is too late to do this now, but it would have been an interesting experiment to nose it, move on to other things, then taste the wine the next day. The aroma gives a little toffee, and with practice roasted coffee beans with some roasted meat.

The Beryna is dry with polished tannins, as civilized on the palate as it is on the nose. The acidity is restrained without compromising the fruit: raspberry, blackberry, a thick but not jammy cassis with a touch of licorice, vanilla and baking spice. The fruit, spice, and a measured amount of the toast from the oak endure into a satisfying finish.

While the alcohol-level alone would dictate that you take your time with this wine, it also has a structure that benefits from a truly patient tasting process. On the nose particularly, you need to give it a chance to reach the olfactory nerve through the retro-nasal route, essentially through the back door of the mouth; this tends to occur after an energetic swirl if you don't stick your nose all the way into the glass. Tasting requires equal patience. That said, the Bernabé Navarro wine is eminently quaffable, although it's a shame to simply gulp it down.

Verdict: Quality
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I truly adore Mediterranean wines that rise up from the crowd when they don't always have to.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Alicante Castle, Spain
Alicante Castle looms over the region.

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