A Vertical Study: Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay

A couple of years ago now, I was in a bit of a quandary; I had been hired to conduct a wine tasting here in Houston and the wine I had ordered for the event was delayed in transit, doubtful to show up in time. Since I had “sold” the event as an examination of the effects of time on wine and was going to pour several vintages of a few wines, I could not just go to my local wine store and buy replacements.

In what I like to describe as an “all-out panic” I contacted a few of the friends I had made in the wine industry to see if there was any way they could help. And boy did they. Both Rodney Strong and Pedroncelli rapidly sent off a bevvy of wines, but it was my old pal Jim Caudill that really hit it out of the park.

I met Jim at a wine Bloggers Conference several years prior and while he had always worked in the wine industry in one position or another, he had recently become the Director of Marketing Communications at Treasury Wine Estates in Napa.

At the time, Treasury’s holdings included Beringer Vineyards and Chateau St. Jean and Jim sent me two bottles each of three vintages of three wines: Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chateau St. Jean’s Cinq Cepages (Chateau St. Jean has subsequently been sold to Foley Wine Estates). The retail price on those 18 bottles? A cool $1400. Easy.

But that is who Jim was. While I did not know him as well as most out in Sonoma/Napa, he always greeted me with a big smile and a hearty hello as if we were the best of friends–he always made me feel as if I were the most important person in the room.

As you may have guessed since I wrote the above in the past tense, Jim is no longer with us, as he passed away a few months after sending me those wines.

Well, it turned out that the wines I had originally purchased for the tasting showed up in the nick of time and I held onto these “emergency replacemnets” since then, tying to figure out a way to use them.

That happened last month as I decided to host two dinners for others in my community and raise funds for two causes that are important to both my wife and me: the Palliative Care Program at Texas Children’s Hospital, and the East Spring Branch Food Pantry. (Full disclosure: my wife is the director of the Palliative Care Program at TCH).

The full lineup.

By all accounts (at least those who spoke to me afterwards), the evening was a success and informative. Here are my notes on the Chardonnays–the dinners took place about three weeks apart and it was surprising how different the wines were.

First Tasting

2005 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Private Reserve, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $50. Heavy bottle. Under cork. I should have known when the cork came out with barely a whisper that there was going to be an issue with this wine. And there was. Golden, no, amber, maybe even “amber ale” kind of color on this wine. Yikes. The nose is oxidized, caramelized, even bastardized (is that a word?) with caramel the predominant aroma. The palate is better, if only marginally so, with fantastic acidity, an intense nuttiness, and that almost burnt caramel aspect that is associated with oxidized wine…all there. But. Before you pour it out? Taste it with food and oh my. Intense acidity, subtle fruit, not a “winner” but also not an automatic “down the drain” either. Not Rated.

2008 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Private Reserve, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $50. Heavy Bottle. Golden in the glass with hazelnut, golden delicious apple, caramel, and, well, goodness. Sure, there is a bit of oxidation, but holy cow is this good. Baked apple, lemon rind, toasty bread–all there in spades on the nose and the palate. Close to a whoa. Once paired with the seafood risotto? It was close to another level. This aged Chard is not for everyone, but those who like their wine with a touch (or ten) of age on them? Whoa, Nellie, particularly with food. Excellent. 91 Points.

2015 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Private Reserve, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $55. Heavy bottle. Under cork. Wow, the comments here are all over the place on Cellar Tracker, including one guy who voted he “liked it” while giving it a 60. That’s just a hair above failing, bruh, you understand that, right? Vibrant straw in the glass with intense pear and yellow apple on the nose. The palate is vibrant, tart, clean, and really close to a whoa. Great fruit and tartness on the palate and close to perfectly in balance. Yowza. OK, Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.

Second Tasting

2005 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Private Reserve, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $50. Heavy bottle. Under cork. The second go around on this wine and after the cork broke upon extraction, it poured into the glass the same color as the first: an almost lager-like amber. Yikes. Similar oxidized notes on the nose as well, but with a hint of honeyed lemon, too. The palate, though still oxidized, is much more pleasurable than a couple of weeks ago with honeyed lemon, toasted oak, a rich, almost sweet nuttiness, and incredible acidity. While I did not rate the first bottle, this deserves a score. Sure, it is past its prime, maybe even by a lot, but it is still delicious. Excellent. 92 Points.

2008 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Private Reserve, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $50. Heavy Bottle. I popped the first bottle about three weeks ago for a tasting at our house and while it was certainly a bit tired, there was still plenty of life left. Golden again in color with a rich, opulent nose of lemon curd, white flower, toasted almond, and honeyed apricot. The palate? Yowza: rich, decadent, opulent, and weighty. Whoa. The fruit is there, but it is wrapped up in a rich, nutty, honeyed mélange of intensity. Whoa. This is not for the casual Chardonnay consumer, this is a big, big girl and for me? Big is beautiful. Outstanding. 95 Points.

2008 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Private Reserve, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $55. Ridiculously heavy bottle. Under cork. Three weeks after the last bottle popped and much remains the same, the color is a brilliant straw with intense lemon, toasted almond, subtle oak, and a hint of honeysuckle. Not nearly as intense as the 2008, but still a fantastically balanced wine. Nice citrus and golden delicious apple, with a bit of spice, vanilla, honey, and marzipan. While still on the big side of Chardonnay, the style has softened, albeit by just a smidge. Big Chards need love too, and I am willing to give it. Outstanding. 94 Points.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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2 Responses to A Vertical Study: Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay

  1. Alexandra O'Gorman says:

    Love any Jim story, and this one warms my heart knowing his generous spirit lives on! Looking forward to reading the Chateau St. Jean reviews and sharing some with you soon. Cheers!


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