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Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986, Sacred Cows, and Sad Cowboy Music

September 7, 2011 2 comments

Over steaks too holy to be named, a couple of CA heavyweights were tasted: Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986 and Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair 2002, in that order. Beringer holds a strange place in the greater wine consuming consciousness. The name holds a certain generic- insert basic CA wine here- sort of connotation, largely due to the ubiquity of their many low-cost offerings. But this doesn’t change the fact that Beringer’s finest wines, their Private Reserve Cabernet and Chardonnay, are consistently high quality classic Napa wines, and have been for a very long time. In fact, Beringer’s ’94 and ’95 Private Reserve Cabernets are amongst the finest American Cabs ever to pass my lips, per dollar spent.

It’s been raining, here in Brooklyn, and like any good City Kid, deep in the weeds of melancholy, I’m listening to a playlist of Sad Cowboy Music. There’s something about a guy pouring his heart out over an acoustic guitar, particularly if the voice sounds like that of a man who may very well have once shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. There’s a fine line between despair and destruction, where the best of country music meets alcohol and pills. Just ask Hank Williams or Johnny Cash or Townes Van Zandt, the latter of whom just popped up on the shuffle singing “Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool You” with the glorious honesty of his tinny drawl. But the rainy day blues award has to go to Willie Nelson for “Opportunity to Cry” from Crazy: The Demo Sessions, which is a series of low-fi recordings from Willie’s very earliest days in the music industry, when he planned to make his way in the world writing songs for others to perform. Honorable mention: Gary Louris’ “She Only Calls Me on Sundays” from his heartbreaking Acoustic Vagabonds album.

1986 Napa Cab has long been one of my favorite places and times for wine, on the all-time, everywhere scale. I very much enjoy the longer lived and far more brooding Cabs of 1987 and often lament how few of the quite beautiful, but much softer, Cabs of ’85 have successfully made it with us, here to the future. But there’s a certain balance to the ’86s that make them stand out amongst that decades production, all these years later. This ’86 Beringer Private Reserve Cab is deep garnet in the glass, showing a touch of yellowing at the rim. The red and black fruit that is present is well integrated and is somewhat buried beneath ash, underbrush, and asphalt with notes of dusty cigar box and raw coffee bean. The palate carries greater weight and complexity than was expected, based on past performance.

This wine has aged very strangely and is a stark example of “shutting down in the bottle”, which refers to a wine going thin for a period, on its way to full maturity rather than growing lithe on its way to oblivion, or vinegar. The 1986 Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve showed thinner, by a wide margin, 5 or six years ago than it does today. It is currently much bigger and fresher than inticipated, with a nice mid-palate dryness. After 2+ hours of breathing time the nose develops a light, warm Bordelaise funk. Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve 1986 is a 25 year old Cab with structure and acidity to spare, and after rebounding from its lean years in the cellar, it somehow shows signs of not yet quite having escaped the barrel in which it was aged. This is a profound and unusual wine in a lineage of stalwart Napa classics. The remaining bottles will stay sealed for at least another couple of years. All bottle variation aside, this wine may very well truly achieve peak drinking at a cool 30 years. Let’s perhaps discuss this again in 2016. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking some up.

Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone Vineyard 1998 and Cash by Johnny Cash

July 18, 2011 Leave a comment

An American classic.

I’m at the bar again at Apiary, checking in with the menu updates and tasting some world class pinot noir. Before this post, Ken Wright Cellars was already officially the most reviewed wine label here on WineGeist and I make no apologies for it. Ken Wright is an artist and I dig his work. Most recently, I was floored by the experience of a Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone Vineyard 1998. Much pinot from that vintage in OR was a little off, and what was nice tended to age quickly. In this way, ’98 OR pinot is similar to the much maligned ’98 Cote de Nuits wines (Burgundy). Even in 1998 OR and Cotes de Nuits, as in all challenging vintages, great winemakers generally find a way to make nice wine.

I’ve been reading (finally) Cash, Johnny Cash’s eponymous autobiography. I’m very near the end and am already planning to pick up Cash’s previous autobiography, Man in Black, if only to get the 3 or 4 stories he says are in it, which he didn’t feel like retelling in the more recent book. Cash also penned Man in White, a novelization of six years in the life of St. Paul the Apostle, which will not likely make the reading cue anytime soon. But back to Cash, by Johnny Cash: like him or not as a musician, a performer, or a man, but there’s an undeniable honesty to his tales and there just aren’t that many people who have ever been able to tell first hand tales of touring with Elvis. It’s been a highly entertaining read.

Tasting notes at Apiary.

Back to the Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone ’98, which turns out to be far more comparable to 1996 Cote de Nuits, which will likely prove to be the longest lived vintage for that region, of the decade. But we’ll discuss that in another 7 years or so. The Ken Wright PN McCrone ’98 is shockingly fresh for its age and has a long backbone of firm acidity. This leads me to order the Scottish salmon (yes, red with fish!) with asparagus, shaved fennel, trout roe, and white port beurre blanc, which paired swimmingly. The initially somewhat muted nose shows wild raspberry, black cherry, and ash. These notes pass seamlessly into the palate where they mingle with damp fall earth and a suggestion of petrol. After over an hour of breathing, a hint of apple dryness blankets the mid-palate. This is a nuanced wine of excellent structure and concentration that is drinking beautifully at over a decade in bottle.