Beringer Bros. Bourbon Barrel Aged Chardonnay 2016

Deep gold color; golden apple, vanilla, apricot on the nose; apple pie, vanilla, caramel on the palate.

Beringer Bros. Bourbon Barrel Aged Chardonnay 2016

Dry; bourbon barrel oak and butter are there but—thankfully—they are by no means overpowering. The chardonnay ferments in stainless steel, followed by just 25% malolactic fermentation to restrain the butter. Twenty percent of the wine then aged for 60 days in second-pass, charred American oak bourbon barrels, which gives it taste of the bourbon, but also is restrained. This is well done in a category where bourbon barrel elements can be way overdone; 14.5% ABV.

Warm, rich, bold flavors. Medium body. Delicious. I have been put off by some overdone bourbon barrel efforts. Not this one. Richness of the flavors is impressive. Given relatively light use of bourbon barrel oak, this also speaks well for the quality of the chardonnay grapes.

Beringer Bros. is the Beringer label for wines aged in barrels once used for spirits—bourbon or tequila. Mark Beringer, the great-great-grandson of founding brother Jacob Beringer is the winemaker. He earned a degree in enology at California State University–Fresno. Mark started his career at Benziger, then joined Duckhorn and became VP of winemaking. He next went to Artesa as VP and winemaker.

Jacob Beringer

In 2015, Mark came back to his Beringer beginnings as chief winemaker to follow in footsteps of Laurie Hook, now winemaker emeritus. “I’m absolutely thrilled to be making wines for the very winery that my ancestor built, and be part of the next chapter in this important story of Beringer and of the Napa Valley,” Mark notes on the winery’s website.

Beringer is a brand of Treasury Wine Estates, an Australian-based global winemaking and distribution operation that traces its roots to Penfolds Wine and Foster’s Group beer brewers. Treasury is a major international player in the wine world, making wine in 12 countries, selling more than 35 million cases of wine a year, and generating more than $2 billion in sales. Labels you may recognize include Sterling, Stags’ Leap, Beaulieu Vineyard, Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Acacia Vineyard, Blossom Hill, Rosemount, Walking Dead, 19 Crimes, Greg Norman Estates, Lindeman’s, Wolf Blass, and their flagship—Penfolds.

Beringer has a history outside Treasury Wine Estates. It claims to be the oldest continually operating winery in California. Jacob Beringer arrived in California in 1869 and became cellar foreman for Napa wine pioneer Charles Krug. In 1875, Jacob and his brother, Frederick, purchased 215 acres in St. Helena. That property, known as Los Hermanos (The Brothers) became the heart of the Beringer wine operation. In 1876, they produced their first wine, some 18,000 cases. The winery continued making wine during Prohibition by specializing in sacramental wine. The website (link below) provides a detailed and interesting timeline.

This effort is a “Living Wine Labels” bottle. Download a phone app and label comes to life—men on the label gesticulate. Other Treasury wines also bring you. There likely will be others as Treasury exploits this gimmick. The effect is mildly interesting—but this comes across as “OK, I’ve seen this, don’t have to see it again” app effort.

Beringer Bros. Bourbon Barrel Aged Chardonnay 2016 is rich and delicious, a restrained and effective use of the current vogue of bourbon barrel aging. In this case, the technique enhances the wine and makes it more substantial rather than freakish wine fad. I’ve not been an admirer of several bourbon barrel efforts in the past, but Beringer—and hopefully others—are figuring out how it works. They did here. This may be best sipped solo as a “cocktail wine” with friends and finger snacks after work or while playing mah-jongg, dominoes, bridge, or even reliving a golf outing. Standard chardonnay pairings may apply, but the wine will compete with the fare. $17

Beringer Bros. website

Laurie Hook–Beringer
Mark Beringer
Beringer vineyard
Beringer Knights Valley Vineyard