Wine Talk

Snooth User: outthere

The wine geeks holy grail, I dined at Bern's Steakhouse last night.

Posted by outthere, Apr 9, 2017.


Like any true wine geek when I was informed of a trade show in Tampa my first thought was "I'm making reservations at Bern's." I have friends who live in Tampa about 3 min from the restaurant so we hooked up for a fun three top. Rachel came recommended as a Somm so I requested her in advance. Upon arrival I perused the massive wine list but between the enormity of it and the fact that my dinner guests were non-stop talkers I gave up and handed duties over to Rachel. With my somewhat limited budget I feel she did a great job.

Appetizers and Entree Pairings

  • 1998 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Viña Tondonia - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    I had ordered a Tuna Tartar with a toasted sesame drizzle as an appetizer and this paired so well it was seamless. Colorwas pale golden. White flowers and sweet caramel on the nose. It started reserved but as time passed and the wine came up closer to room temp it was more expansive. Great waxy texture, tart green apple, pear and a note of freshly sliced almonds. Medium plus bodied with bright/racy acidity that pushed through the finish. I really enjoyed this and combined with the fact that it paired so well with the food it just made it an even better experience. Wonderful aging potential here.
  • 1982 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards Durif Jones Ranch - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    This wine was the surprise treat of the evening. My somm Rachel pulled this one out of her hat and nailed it. Color was medium dark red with a slight brickish tinge. The nose featured red berry and light baking spice along with a touch of dried fig. This really shined on the palate where everything just flowed harmoniously. Medium bodied and refined, soft red currant and cherry with touches of cedar and tar. The tannins started out fairly prominent but over an hour matured to a dusty chalk note that accented the well balanced palate perfectly. I've never experienced a Petite Sirah with this kind of elegance before. This was a treat and my WOTN.
  • 1988 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    My first choice in a Rhone was for a Cornas but they didn't have one with age that fit into my budget so the Somm picked this one. Never had this wine with age so the contrast to my previous tastes was interesting. This poured like a Pinot Noir colorwise. Light pale red, nearly transparant. The nose was the star with earthy red cherry, some roasted meat and a citrusy orange zest. It had a gamey edge that wasn't bretty gamey just hard to pin down. Medium minus bodied, showing some of its age with black cherry and a briney saline kinda olive note with just a bit of bacon. The acidity was enough to balance out the rare Chateaubriand. Tannins were soft and resolved. It had that earthy gamey edge that made up for the lack of fruit. Interesting but not memorable. Not OTH by any means, but it doesn't look like more time will improve it at all.


  • 1954 Henriques & Henriques Madeira Boal - Portugal, Madeira
    Off to the dessert room at Bern's. Another futile attempt at the menu so I deferred to the server who recommended this Madeira. Nutty, burnt caramel, some lacquer and charred oak. Creamy, ripe banana, orange oil, loads of sweet tangy goodness and espresso bean. The finish went on for days. Complimented my Macadamia nut ice cream so well that they should offer them as a package. Really fun experience.

Overall this was a really fun night that took nearly 5 hours to complete. Did the kitchen and cellar tour along with the dessert room to top it all off. I noticed a '75 Mondavi Zinfandel on the btg menu and asked Rachel about it. Every old Mondavi Zin I have tried has been OTH so I was eager to try one after our meal. She said it's good upon opening but fades quickly. She checked it but said it was already deteriorated so I had to pass. 

Like I mentioned in my opening this whole thing is pretty overwhelming for a first timer. All in all I thought we did well though. Would love to come back some time but with my limited travel history it isn't likely. Unless they hold another show here next year. Who knows?
Posted from CellarTracker

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Reply by rckr1951, Apr 9, 2017.

Holy crap OT - what a time.  The notes were right on...almost felt like I was enjoying the experience with you.

Reply by EMark, Apr 9, 2017.

Excellent and fun report, OT.  Thanks.

Reply by vin0vin0, Apr 9, 2017.

See what fun you can have outside of California!  Next time take a couple extra days and head up this way.

Reply by MJET, Apr 9, 2017.

Excellent notes OT. We were there last Saturday. Always a fun place to go! 

Reply by dmcker, Apr 9, 2017.

Get Sonoma boy over to the right coast and he actually drinks more than 10% European! Holy moly! Must've been overcome by the Bern's mystique. 

Sounds like Rachel did a great job, and that you had a very good time. Great report, OT, thanks. What was the show, btw?

Reply by outthere, Apr 10, 2017.

We took a tour of the cellar and kitchen as well.

That is one hopping operation they have workers everywhere. Guys, cooking steaks...

Cutting and trimming meat...

There was a guy whose only job is slicing onions for their onion rings. About 600lbs an evening!

Cellar was a trip. Row after row after row. 650,000 bottles all told. The trophy wines were bagged and padlocked behind steel gates. Each of these corridors contains about 6,000 bottles.

I apologise for the poor picture quality. My phone does not focus well in low light.

MJ, where's your report?

Dmucker, we don't have a good selection of European wines on the West Coast just like the East Coast can't come close to the California options at my disposal. But you did notice that the California wine was my WOTN. Merely a coincidence ;-)

During my trip home yesterday I had a short layover in Denver. I plugged my electronics in to charge and was checking my emial and updating some accounts. I looked up and saw this guy sitting in front of me with his legs stretched out. I was admiring his boots. About ten minutes later he looks up from his phone and stretches out. I do a double take and think "Hey, I recognize him."

Rock and Roll legend right there. He was on my flight about three rows up. Nobody recognized him except for a couple of crew members since his name was on the manifest. I wonder if he "Slept with one eye open"? ;-)

Reply by Really Big Al, Apr 10, 2017.

Very impressive and sure to be the highlight of your year, OT.  We didn't think they had wine cellars in Florida.  Is this an above-ground cellar?

Reply by EMark, Apr 10, 2017.

I did not have time to add this comment on your WOTN, yesterday, but, because of you, OT, I have not opened a bottle of PS in over a year.  The oldest I have is 2009, and I keep remembering your advice that it takes at least a decade for it to be ready--and I assume that means a decade of bottle age, not since harvest.

So, if I stick to it, I won't be able to touch any of the PS in my storage for another 4 or 5 years, yet.

Who's kidding who?  I probably won't be that patient.


I have no idea who the R 'n' R legend is.

I had also never heard of Roger Plane until I just read RBA's latest adventure.

Snooth keeps teaching me.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 10, 2017.

Shouldn't you have sent the R'n'R legend some Sandeman port? 

BTW, he's relocated to Colorado

And I disagree that you cannot get Euro wines out here.  But not with that kind of age, as a rule.  Of course, it's hard to find wines with that kind of age out here anywhere.  Places like Bern's that go deep like that are rare anywhere.  Sounds worth a pilgrimage.

Reply by EMark, Apr 10, 2017.

OK, I've heard of Metallica.

Fox, your pilgrimage should be to Valentino.  They only have 100,000 bottles in their cellar, but they are renowned for their Italian collection.

Reply by outthere, Apr 10, 2017.

"And I disagree that you cannot get Euro wines out here."

I disagree with your comprehension of what I wrote which was  "We don't have a good selection of European wines on the West Coast"

We don't, not like they have on the East Coast.


Reply by dmcker, Apr 11, 2017.

So OT, did you say Hi?

Some more candidates for pilgrimages:




Reply by outthere, Apr 12, 2017.

So OT, did you say Hi?

"Hi, I'm Beavis, I have a closet full of your t-shirts! Heh, heh."

No, he doesn't know me and probably doesn't want to anyhow.

Reply by dmcker, Apr 12, 2017.

Sometimes a difficult choice, and I have on occasion regretted not saying 'Hi' since when I do it often leads in interesting directions, like when twice sitting on a bar stool next to Virgin's founder, or unlocking a hotel door next to old slowhand, or finding myself on stripclub couches next to all sorts of rock or hoops stars, finding myself at a NYC cafe table next to the best actor of his generation, bumping into the best 007 at two different Tokyo bars the same night, running into the best tennis player of her generation late at night on the street when she was 3 sheets to the wind, etc., etc. Usually can tell when they don't want the attention but when can be handled well is interesting. It's kinda like the beautiful woman issue--treat them as normal folks and things can go swimmingly. Then there are the times when have to save a female acquaintance from the wrong attention by a movie star on the downslope who's work all goes straight to DVD these days...

Don't sell yourself short, OT!  Plus there's the old 'nothing ventured nothing gained' chestnut...  ;-)

Reply by JonDerry, Apr 12, 2017.

Not sure how I missed this, but glad you got to Bern's and did it right OT. The last time I was in Tampa was over a decade ago, on business, and didn't know the place existed. Really would like to make it.

All sounds great except the Cote Rotie. Shoulda gone Burg ; )

Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 12, 2017.

Okay, I still disagree.  We have a good selection of European wines here, but not AS GOOD as some places on the East Coast. If you are talking restaurants, there's RN74 for burg (and not much else, including food), a few places for Italian.  If you are talking wine stores, K&L for Bordeaux, North Berkeley for Burgundy, WineHouse for Burgundy and Bordeaux, Kermit Lynch for Rhones, Flatiron for Italian and Sherry, Wally's and Woodland Hills for many things... but all those would require leaving Napa and Sonoma.  The Portugese wine store in Fremont has a better selection of Portugese wines, esp Port, than just about anywhere I have been.  Including any place in NY.  

Also, good selection of wines on the East Coast means either very high end places like Bern's or many places in New York, but the average restaurant in most eastern states has poor selection of wines compared to what we do.  Why? Because wine is not part of their daily landscape as it is here.  And because their distribution laws are spread over a number of states that have very dumb rules, like PA, MA, NY and many others, that limit who can sell liquor and at how many places.  We don't have as great a selection of Euro wines as they do in NY at the biggest stores and best restos, but we have quite a lot of choices AND we have our W. Coast wines, the best of which are not making it to the east coast.

Believe me on this:  We just went back east for a week and 1) brought wine from Cali for friends who used to live here and cannot get anything interesting unless it's shipped, 2) ate in a lot of restos that had absolutely nothing interesting on the "wine list" and 3) were asked to bring wine to a dinner.  We had to buy in Boston/Cambridge for the dinner on our last night there and the choices were slim. Thankfully I found a decent Rioja Reserva, but our hosts literally had ONE bottle of wine in their house, some meh Cali chardonnay.  You still can't buy wine in a grocery store in Massachusetts, and a college town like Cambridge should be teeming with good wine stores.  It's not.  Still much more of a beer culture, just like when I was in HS in the '70s. 

And if you want an Italian wine geek's experience in SF, try Acquerello.  There are even a few steals on younger Barolo, but it's the depth of their aged stuff that blew me away when I looked at the list.

Reply by outthere, Apr 13, 2017.

Rob, the Burgs were above my budget unless I only wanted a single bottle with dinner. It's definitely a place you have to visit several times to get a good handle on what can be accomplised with the list.

Richard, my comments leaned more towards retail as 99% of the time when I dine out I bring my own wine. I'm much more comfortable with domestic purchases at local retailers due in part to my familiarity with the regions and vineyard sites. Imported selections, especially with Burgs, are narrow, not real deep, in need of cellaring and generally pushing my price comfort level. Some day I'll come around. Maybe.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 13, 2017.

OT, I'm not saying you should come around.  Where you live, there are way more opportunities to buy excellent under-the-radar wines at fair prices.  While California may lack in great $15 bottles (and not always), I think the good Syrahs you have introduced many of us to make purchasing their N. Rhone competitors mostly superfluous.  When you get to the upper end of Cabernet-based wine, not necessarily at the Harlan/Screagle level, a Carter or Becklyn isn't unreasonable compared to a classed growth from Bordeaux.  And a Smith Madrone, Hendry, or Turnbull can look like a bargain. Funny thing is that many of your friends in the biz drink mostly Euro--Mike was talking up one of his favorite Italian whites last time I saw him.  Lot of Burg-o-philes in the lot, too. 

The one thing that we just don't have in California is good Italian varieties.  Shame, because if people would just look outside the usual growing areas, they'd find good locations for them.  And also a shame that, when people do plant in areas outside the norm, they still want to plant those same "status" grapes--there are some people growing Cab in a new-ish AVA that would be a great candidate for Sangiovese.  Thirty-three years ago a GF of mine who was the daughter of a classics scholar and spent a great deal of time in Italy looked out over that land at what would have been the end of the growing season and said, "It looks just like the Chianti Classico region." 

So there's no reason to import sand to your beach.  But if you get down into SF and the inner East Bay, the Europhilic tendencies can be very strong at the wine shops.  All those profs at Berkeley who did sabbaticals in Europe want to reproduce the experience.  It's a wonder they aren't bothered more by the higher prices they pay here, or maybe they are bad at math.  I listed a handful of the stores already, but also didn't mention Paul Marcus or all the newer, smaller shops that lean Euro.  Marcus actually sells some wine with age, although nothing like what Chambers does.  They don't buy cellars. 

The burgs at RN74 are also very pricey--there's a trend there, and the arrest of Rudi K did nothing to slow it down.  You want to show off for your friends, buy some Burgundy.

Did you list the prices you paid?  Are you willing to do so?  I guess I could just check their wine list if it's online; I seem to recall looking at it when I first heard of the place.  Sounds like putting yourself in the hands of the sommelier was a good idea.  Just read "Cork Dork" on my trip east and realize the difference a good somm can make.

Reply by JonDerry, Apr 13, 2017.

Fox, I disagree that Burgundy is for impressing your friends. Besides, that's a point GregT has already made well known.

Sure the most expensive wines of the world are Burgundies, and compared to Bordeaux the prized vineyards and wines are small and low production. However, if you enjoy drinking Burgundy, there's a way to do it well without spending any more than the $30-60+ CA wines that fill up most of these boards. Maybe I should start up a "Burgundy on a Budget" campaign. I would definitely need to brush up on Chablis, as that would be a big part of budget white Burgundy. Grand Cru Chablis often fits in to that $50-60 price point, which is where mid tier to upper mid tier CA is priced. As with plenty of CdN Villages, CdB 1ers, etc.



Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 13, 2017.

Burgundy on a Budget.  You get to write that column.  I have to say, $50-60 is not exactly budget in my world, but I drink wine every night.  If you bargain shop Chablis 1ers, which is pretty much all the Chardonnay I consume, you can get really good things for $25 or so.  It does have to be opportunistic. 

Looking at my CT, looks like my Burgundy section is barely over a case, and ranges from $20 (La Chablisienne 1er Montmains--coop juice but good for the price) to $50 for a couple off-vintage 1ers from Pousse d'Or and your disliked Gerard Raphet.  I do spend more, occasionally, for US Pinot... and we'll see which terroir wins when we host a Pinot Pairing fundraiser next month for our kids' high school.  But I still haven't broken the $50 boundary for Burgundy because I have found it so unreliable.  According to Josh Jensen, that's less of a problem now that it's warmer everywhere.  Still, I pretty much only buy red Burg at the NBI warehouse sale--at 50% off, it's not totally out of reach.

Yes, lots of people actually like Burgundy--unlike GregT, I actually think Pinot is a good grape--but there's a huge "scarcity plus price = I'm a big spender" factor.  Maybe not what you are into, but watching "Sour Grapes" brought it home, as did reading about La Paulee NY in "Cork Dork."

And some N. Rhones can certainly get waaay up there in price, too, which is why I buy things like that "Brune et Blonde," a reliable "entry level" wine, or Cornas from less famous producers.  I imagine the '89 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chappelle I drank a few years ago would be over $500 at a restaurant.  (Lucky me that I was sitting near David Parker of Benchmark Wine Group at the time.)  But Burgundy, yeah, that'll eat up the night's wine budget.

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