A Wine List Fit for a King (or Queen)

Bern's Tampa Wine Cellar

Al and I in Bern's Wine Cellar

A few weeks ago we made the lengthy voyage up to Tampa (ok it was only a two hour drive) to dine at Bern’s Steak House.  We’ve heard over and over and over about how wonderful this place is and how the wine list is just beyond comparison.  So being the winos, that we are we just had to investigate.

Bern’s Steak House is located in one of the shoddier sections of Tampa and looks like nothing more than a pub house from the exterior.  But once inside, you automatically feel like you are transformed to a retro castle that is surprisingly reminiscent of the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World.

Bern's Tampa Wine

Our selection of wines for the night

Bern’s opened in 1956 and has been impressing customers since then with their unwavering devotion to customer service and quality.  Each customer is offered a complimentary tour of both the wine room and kitchen.  The kitchen is the most well oiled machine I have ever seen.  There are separate stations (mini kitchens) for each menu item from a grill that can cook 200 steaks to an in-kitchen fish tank where rumor has it you can even pick your own fish from.  The staff at Bern’s starts literally from the ground up, in the Bern’s farm field.  Bern’s grows and produces 100% of the products they serve.  Employees start by working in the fields then move up to the apprentices and finally servers.  The servers at Bern’s have made a commitment (some working five years or more before gaining their current position) to have a career at the restaurant, not as a part time gig.  They each have their own room (anywhere between 8 and 15 tables) and pride themselves on the equipment they have purchased for that room – salt and pepper grinders, knives, etc.

Bern's Tampa

Our table after three bottles had been opened, no room for food!

And then there is the wine room.  Starting in 1956, Bern’s Steak House has made an investment in all kinds of wine – premium brands, cult brands, 1st growth Bordeaux’s down to California’s first cult Cabernet.  The best part?  Bern’s generates their markup on bottles of wine off of what they originally purchased it for.  For example, if a bottle of Inglenook Cabernet cost $10 in 1968, the current markup is off that $10 cost.  The cellar is a true work of art, made in the way cellars should be made – old school.  The dust and must as soon as you enter may trigger some allergic reactions, but definitely alerts you to the fact that the wine is being stored in optimal conditions.  With over 6,500 selections and 5o0,000 bottles; Bern’s has the most extensive restaurant wine list in the world and one of the largest cellars in the world next to a few others we’ve heard of in Canada and France.  The wine apprentice even admitted to us, “We’re not even sure what’s in there…” after passing a room of properly stored bottles that were also pristinely wrapped in bubble wrap.  He also said while he was doing inventory of the room he found a Burgundy worth over $10,000.

Below is a list of what we were able to drink, the prices we paid and what the bottle would cost in a retail location like ours.  Bern’s is by far the most unique restaurant I have ever been to.  The food is impeccable, the décor fun, and the wine is just unbelievable.  If you haven’t been there, we urge you to go – whether from Naples or across the country – its worth the trip no matter the length.  And don’t forget the dessert room!

1968 Inglenook Cabernet

1968 Inglenook Cabernet

Wine #1:  Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1968
Price paid:
Retail price: $218 (1 retailer in the U.S.)
Description: Inglenook was the original Napa Valley cult wine.  Established in 1879, Inglenook was founded in the Rutherford area of Napa.  After surviving both the death of its owner and Prohibition, the majority of the Inglenook land was sold to Francis Ford Coppola.  The remainder of the land and the brand name was sold and resold to a number of large brand names that now produce low quality wines under the label.  This wine is illusive and won’t be around for many more years.
Tasting notes: When we first opened it, the fruit seemed to be gone.  But surprisingly got better and better as the night went on.  Rank 2/4.

Ropiteau Volnay 1982

Wine of the night - Ropiteau Volnay Premier Cru 1982

Wine #2: Chateau Ropiteau Le Clos des Chenes, Premier Cru Volnay, 1982
Price paid:
Retail price: Not available
Description: This is the wine I selected as my ‘birthday’ wine I selected because one I’m a huge Pinot Noir fan and have just been getting into Burgundy over the last year.  I discovered a few other Volnays that I have loved and with the help of the Sommelier selected this smaller production gem.  It was the wine of the night, with the perfect balance of fruit and terrior at what I believe was the perfect time to pop this bottle.

Wine #3:  Joseph Jamet Cote Rotie, 1982
Price paid:
Retail price: Not available
Description: A typical Cote Rotie, mainly Syrah, this wine was large with enormous notes of leather.  This wine was perfect to pair with the amazing steaks we had for dinner but still need at least another five years.

Wine #4:  Lungarotti Rubesco Riserva, 1978
Price paid:
Retail price: $75+
Description:  To be honest there was so much wine that night I don’t know clearly remember this wine.  But I do remember that it was soft and smooth, great with the steak and wonderful!

Posted on April 1, 2011, in Wine and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Loved your description of your evening at Bern’s. Marie & I have been there 2-3 times and have enjoyed each visit as much as you did. Have to admit, tho, that when we were there we didn’t know as much about wine as we do now so we didn’t get to experience the remarkable buys that you did.
    Worth a trip back, wouldn’t you say?

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