Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay 2005 Tasting Notes
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Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay 2005 Tasting Notes

I grew up in a neighborhood called “Oakwood Heights.” The word “oak” to me connotes trees that tower beyond the reach of the imagination, squirrels, acorns and carpets of leaves every autumn. It also brings up a marriage of wood and wine I don't always like. I realize nevertheless that palpable oak is a stylistic choice. Aged on its lees eleven months in French oak, 75% new, the Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay succeeds in convincing even a quercuophobe (someone had to coin this term, so it might as well be me) that oak can be well used. The wine has plenty of oak, plenty of butter, but plenty else and plenty of style.

The $35 Private Reserve is Beringer's third tier Napa Valley Chardonnay; the straight Chardonnay runs $16, the Stanly Ranch Vineyard $20, and the Sbragia Limited-Release $40 (Ed Sbragia is the winemaker). Beringer (one of California's oldest wineries) also produces a few lower-end Chardonnays sourced from other areas of the state.

The best way to approach this wine fairly is to start at the end; the wine has excellent acidity and minerality that really come out in a fine finish. In between the oak and buttered toast that hits you as soon as you open the bottle and the admirable finish, the wine has a number of layers. The fresh fruit is a complex amalgam of peach, pear, some apple, mango and some pineapple. Buttressing this is a layer of dried apricot and fig, behind this is the warm spice of nutmeg and cinnamon, and complementing it all is a caramelized element with butterscotch the leader, a dollop of marmalade the follower.

All these admirable aromatic notes would qualify as little more than disparate sensations if they weren't guided by the lush mouth feel of the wine; the oak and butter absolutely contribute here, and they are well employed. The acidity works overtime to keep it all going. The full body and the substantial texture position this wine as something of an “experience.” Beringer recommends pairing the wine with “Red-lentil Crusted Halibut” (they give the recipe), which, given the bold use of “curry oil” seems appropriately flavor-forward.

While I am still a fan of spare cerebral Chardonnays that come from (I know you're absolutely astonished to read this) France, I not only have been forced to respect this quality effort, I am compelled to admit that I even liked it. Of course I had to work to like it, but if this style of wine is a better match for your own leanings, the work has already been done for you. If you want a lot of wine, you get it here.

Verdict: Good job
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I am always amazed by what we can do with plants, other than simply admire them.

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

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Quercus patraea; the Sessile oak
Quercus petraea; the Sessile oak.
Haruta Ovidiu, University of Oradea,

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