Wine: A Perfect Seven
On the basis of their master’s famous theorem, the Pythagoreans declared the square and the equilateral triangle the perfect figures and seven (the total number of these figures’ sides) the perfect number. Thus did mathematics contribute to a numerical mania among mystics, whose mouths and pens have poured forth solemn screeds brimming with plagues and planets, sacraments and deadly sins, all in sets of seven.
For those of us who thirst for perfect sevens that pour forth in more liquid form, Beringer has recently released a septet of 2001 single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons ($90 each) that blend miraculously to create the superb 2001 Private Reserve ($116). Since 1984, when Ed Sbragia became winemaster at Beringer Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley, he has sourced fruit for this flagship wine from a range of properties. As the portfolio grew from one vineyard to its current size, Sbragia made the decision to offer to interested collectors the single-vineyard wines that remained after the final blend was completed.
“I’ve bottled as little as 50 cases and as much as 1,000 of some of these wines,” says Sbragia. “On average, it’s about 200 cases of each. We usually release 100 cases through the Rhine House,” he explains, referring to the 19th-century manor that has served as Beringer’s visitor’s center. “I drink the other 100 myself.”
These bottles enable enthusiasts of the Private Reserve to better understand the unique terroirs responsible for its signature strength, structure, luscious fruit, and velvety texture. “Each vineyard is almost like a different varietal,” observes Sbragia, who knows all of these seven sisters intimately.
Bancroft Ranch, located on Howell Mountain, has soil composed of volcanic tuff. “It’s very hard soil to grow grapes on,” Sbragia admits. “They had to dynamite the holes to get the roots in. It has spicy characteristics like mint and menthol, and it has blackberries, plums, cassis, and a lot of tannins.”
Chabot Vineyard, east of the valley’s Silverado Trail, also has a lot of black fruit characteristics, Sbragia notes. “I used to think it was the biggest, baddest Cabernet I could make, but it’s actually considered quite elegant these days.”
Marston Ranch Vineyard, on the slopes of the Spring Mountain range, has extremely firm tannins backing up a nose of blueberries and violets. “The taste is black cherry and plum,” says Sbragia, “and it has more spice characteristics than some of the others.”
“Quarry Vineyard,” he continues, “is located south of Chabot on the Silverado Trail. It has gorgeous character.” This is a round wine with massive red fruit, as well as vanilla, orange spice, and cocoa.
Rancho del Oso on Howell Mountain exhibits a rose-petal scent on the nose, which gives way to black cherry, mocha, and allspice on the palate. “Its flavors are pretty massive, which makes it a beautiful addition to a blend,” notes Sbragia.
The St. Helena Home Vineyard, according to Sbragia, “is really a complete, beautiful wine on its own. It tends to be softer, with a lot of red cherries and raspberries, as well as spice, like licorice.
“[The Steinhauer Vineyard, atop Howell Mountain] is probably the biggest wine we put in a bottle by itself,” he asserts. “It produces huge tannins, lots of structure, lots of black fruit.”
Although these vineyards harmonize their elements brilliantly in the 2001 Private Reserve—a densely concentrated wine with excellent structure and substantial tannins—the sumptuous septet nevertheless has a baby sister on the way: Sbragia will soon introduce an eighth vineyard to the portfolio. While numerologists may fret over the celestial significance of this particular digit, wine collectors can rest assured that Sbragia and his team will balance the equation perfectly.
The single-vineyard wines blended into Beringer’s 2001 Private Reserve offer a taste of Napa’s unique terroirs.