When searching for wine to drink with Thanksgiving dinner, we ran into a couple of real treats: a bottle of 1989 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet, along with a bottle of 1996 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet sitting together on the shelf of the local wine store. They were begging to go home together, so we strapped them into the car, and decided we'd enjoy a mini-vertical tasting to accompany Thanksgiving turducken. Add in a nice bottle of Perrier-Jouet champagne, and we figured we couldn't help but have a good time. We were really right.
Turns out, while the wines seemed happy to come home with us, they absolutely didn't want to be opened. The corks looked sturdy enough, and the cork in the bottle of 1996 came right out. Well, most of it did. About 1/4 inch of cork sheared off the bottom and wedged itself just out of reach of my "Ah-so" wine opener. Not wanting to have the same thing happen with the 1989, I went right for the "Ah-so." Unfortunately, the same thing happened with that bottle--the "Ah-so" got all but the bottom 1/4 inch of cork out of the bottle. SO, both bottles had to be decanted. Unfortunately, where we were staying only had a single decanter and no funnel. SO, after cleaning out the bottle of 1996, we double-decanted the wine back into the bottle using an ingenious funnel made of tinfoil. All we had. No choice, but it did work well enough. Then, we poured the 1989 into the now-empty decanter, and all was well. It was actually the best move, at the end of the day, because these bottles threw A LOT of sediment.
The 1989 had a "high shoulder" fill level, but no signs of seepage. The color was surprisingly bright, with little sign of bricking around the edges. Notes of black currant and stewed cherries and roasted figs on the front of the palate, mixing with roasted meat, leather, tobacco, white pepper and cedar that increased in power through to the end of the palate. Still has good bracing astringency and really is showing very nicely. This actually has some good life ahead of it. I'd give it 92 points.
The 1996 started out with similar notes on the nose as the 1989. The front of the palate was a bit weaker, with roasted meat, some leather and some spicebox. The wine seemed to have good astringency, but the middle and back of the palate were somewhat muted. Roasted meat is predominant on the back of the palate, but it's just a very soft wine. Still drinking nicely, and has a finish that hints of leather, white pepper, and spicebox. Very feminine wine. However, over a few hours, the wine seemed to develop a bit of additional personality--even after double-decanting, it seemed to open up a bit. Drink now. 89-90 points.
Overall, both wines stood the test of time. The 1989 was still singing 5 hours after it was opened, and the 1996 really came into its own after a few hours as well. Both were strong efforts and great examples of what California growers can do when they want to make a good, old-fashioned Bordeaux-style red.
While the "Ah-so" cork pull option didn't work particularly well for us with these two bottles, it's still a handy thing to have if you ever need to open older bottles of wine and the cork is too fragile for a corkscrew. In case you don't have one, you can find an inexpensive option here: