There’s a lot of history in Napa Valley. And then there’s history. If you’d like to get a glimpse and a taste of Napa Valley’s past and it’s transcendent present, there are few places more suited for that than the Beringer winery in St. Helena (www.beringer.com). Some may think that successful California winemaking started with the so-called Judgement of Paris in 1976. And indeed the Beringer brothers were making wine in ’76…1876 that is.
The overall effect of the first view of the Beringer property is that is not so much a winery as a park. The grounds are adorned with fountains and ancient trees that keep everything cool even on the hottest summer days. There are two venues for tasting, the Old Winery and the Rhine House, the latter the 19th century home of founder Frederick Beringer. (His brother’s Hudson House is also on the property.) So even if you have people in your party who are not wine drinkers, there’s a lot to see and do.
Still, Power Tasting is about wine tasting, so let’s talk about that. Now owned by Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates, Beringer makes wines that range in quality from everyday table wines to some of the finest wines in California, if not the entire world. We recommend that serious wine enthusiasts choose the reserve tasting at the Rhine House, which gives you a chance to sample the famous Beringer Private Reserve. This wine was the creation of former winemaker Ed Sbragia, who propelled Beringer to the front ranks of American winemaking.
The Rhine House at Beringer Vineyards
Let us relate a few stories from our previous visits.
On warm afternoons, you can take your tasting to tables on the porch surrounding the Rhine House. On our first visit, we arrived late in the afternoon with about an hour to go until closing time. We found the wines to be spectacular and took our time, with Steve going inside to collect the next pour while Lucie stayed at the table. After luxuriating in great wine and the shafts of golden afternoon sunshine piercing the trees, Steve went to pay…and all the staff had left for the day! We do recommend a late-afternoon visit but also encourage you to pay for your tasting.
We have previously discussed Christmas in California’s wineries; Beringer is one of the loveliest. For one thing, Rhine House looks as though it could be made out of gingerbread. For another, they erect a magnificently decorated Christmas tree in the center hallway. Their shop also has many lovely gift items. It’s impossible not to feel the spirit of the holidays.
We have found the servers at the Rhine House to be knowledgeable and helpful. We have long enjoyed Beringer’s Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and one time wanted to taste it in comparison to the reserve wines. However, the Knight’s Valley is not served in the Rhine House. So an attendant hopped in a golf cart, drove off to the other tasting room and brought a bottle back for us. How’s that for service?
We have always found that if you are obviously interested in fine wines, the servers at Beringer have some special treats stashed away. So if you particularly admire, say, the 2010 Private Reserve, there might just be a 2004 under the bar for you to compare it with and get an idea of how it will age.