© 1996 JDM Enterprises
NEW FROM BERINGERby Jerry D. Mead
Not many folks remember that just 26 years ago, Beringer Vineyards was known as Beringer Brothers, after its sibling founders, and that it was best known for a proprietary red called "Barenblut" (a blend of Grignolino and Pinot Noir).
The new winemaker was the late, great, and very "crusty" (I gave him that nickname) Myron Nightingale who had been at Cresta Blanca (then in Livermore). Myron was given "carte blanche" to turn the winery around.
Myron went into the famous Beringer limestone caves and proceeded to pour much of the existing wine down the drain as spoiled. He also built giant bonfires out of musty old redwood and German oak cooperage.
In the early seventies he brought me three unlabeled Chardonnay samples and asked that I taste and rank them.
One of the three was just about the best California Chardonnay I had ever tasted, one was very good and one was o.k.
I told him which one I liked the best, and how really wonderful it was with all its rich oak vanillin and melon fruit, and that if he could make all his Chardonnay that good he'd be the new king of Chardonnay.
So how did Nightingale respond? "Damn it, Mead," he said, "You chose the wrong one."
What he meant was it was "the barrel-fermented one," as opposed to one that was totally stainless steel produced or the one that was fermented in stainless steel and then moved to oak barrels for aging.
The barrel-fermented wine was his experiment of course, but he didn't want it to be the best wine, because it required way more work and personnel, and barrels. And Nightingale was from the old school, and this barrel-fermented thing was definitely new school.
After conducting the same tasting for experts all over the country, and getting the same reaction, Beringer planted more Chardonnay than anyone in Napa Valley at the time, bought lots of barrels, and barrel-fermentation became the rule rather than the exception.
Myron's protege in the winery was Ed Sbragia, who has inherited, and deservedly so, the title of winemaster at Beringer. Sbragia's still doing lots of barrel fermentations and is equally dedicated to quality, but he never learned to grumble and cuss like his mentor.
The name Alluvium is inspired by the alluvial soil of the vineyards, and each of the wines is a blend of not only different grape varieties, but of different clones, rootstocks and planting techniques. Sbragia's idea is to have the vineyards make the wine as much as possible.
Beringer 1995 Alluvium Blanc ($15) A blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, but with 10 percent Chardonnay (!) and a smidgen of Viognier, all 100 percent barrel-fermented in mostly new French oak. Long on fruit, but with plenty of wood, it's dry but has an almost sweet impression. It's a friendly drink at cocktail time, but I'm still seeking the perfect food match. Rating: 87/87
WINE OF THE WEEK
For information on nearest retail outlet on these newly released wines contact: Beringer, P.O. Box 211, 2000 Main St. St. Helena, CA 94574 (707) 963-7115.
Only one gold medal in the "Up to $10" price range, Napa Ridge 1995 "North Coast," and the wine has already won golds at two other shows! In the $10.01 to $14 category, four golds were awarded, with "Best of Price Class" honors to Fetzer 1995 "Barrel Select." Gold also to Carneros Creek 1995 "Fleur de Carneros"; Meridian 1995 "Santa Barbara" and Windsor 1994 "Russian River-Private Reserve."
Only two golds in the $14.01 to $16 price range, with Best of Price Class to Indian Creek 1994 "Idaho." And a second Pinot gold to Windsor for 1994 "Signature Series."
The big medal count came in the $16.01 and up price range, wherefrom originated the winner of the Sebastiani Vineyards Trophy for Best New World Pinot Noir, Fess Parker 1995 "Santa Barbara Reserve."
The rest of the list is an impressive collection: David Bruce 1994 "Russian River"; David Bruce 1994 "Chalone"; Elkhorn Peak 1995 "Fegan Creek-Napa"; Fetzer 1995 Bien Nacido Reserve" and Gary Farrell 1995 "Russian River-Allen Vineyard."
Gold also to: Handley 1994 "Anderson Valley Reserve"; Kendall-Jackson 1994 "Grand Reserve"; Laurier 1995 "Sonoma"; Meridian 1995 "Santa Barbara Reserve"; Rabbit Ridge 1995 "Russian River-Frank Johnson" and Z.D. Wines 1994 "Carneros."
Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates
quality; second number rates value.