This is a story about “new world” wine in the Napa Valley and the meteoric rise of Dave Phinney, who had an idea about blending wine out of the box. You might say he released “the Prisoner” and freed him to hit a creative home run in the wine world. But we digress. The story started in 1995 when Phinney, confused about what he wanted out of life, took a friend’s advice and studied wine for a semester in Florence Italy .
Once graduated from university life, he set out to find work in a Napa Valley vineyard and found one at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1997. A year later he started his own winery, Orin Swift Cellars with 2 tons of Zinfandel, and not much else.
Master winemaker Dave Phinney is living the Napa Valley dream, when in 2003 he created the now-famous blend The Prisoner at his Orin Swift Cellars winery, which has reportedly sold recently for 100 mlllion dollars to E. and J. Gallo wines.
He spent the next few years making wine for others as well as himself, experimenting with the way the wines tasted and looked, with mixing and expressive labeling. It hit him in 2003, when he added together “mixed blacks,” like the old Italian immigrants who came to Napa Valley used to do. He made Zinfandel the major varietal and added it to the standard traditional “black” blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono. He called it The Prisoner from the label he chose, an etching of a prisoner drawn by the famous artist Goya.
At first, the Prisoner produced just 385 cases in its first vintage. It caught on quickly as the new world’s newest and tastiest blend, and eventually went to 85,000 cases in 10 years. The last vintage of The Prisoner made by Phinney before he sold the name is the 2013 vintage.( $45.) It has 44% Zinfandel with 20% Cabernet and 16% Petite Sirah, and the rest Grenache and Charbono. Alcohol content is a hefty 15.2%. It is a deep ruby red hue with aromas of black cherry and plum and roasted coffee beans, with a long finish.
It had me going back for more. I was captivated. Without The Prisoner, Orin Swift and Dave Phinney went international with old vine Grenache made on 200 acres in the French Langedoc region as well as Napa Valley Cabernet brands like Mercury Head, Papillion and Palermo. Mannequin is a Chardonnay based brand and Abstract is a red blend mainly with Grenache.
Locations is a value brand lineup from places around the world. Look for a single large letter on the label. Most recently, this story shot skyward when E. and J. Gallo, the legendary decades-long jug wine bottle company from Modesto, announced that it had acquired Phinney’s company, Orin Swift Cellars, for a reported 100 million dollars. Phinney will remain in charge. Learn more at orinswift.com/information.
Antinori Wines at La Gran Terraza USD
Antinori, as most of us know, is one of the iconic Tuscan wines to know. His family has been making wne since 1385. I learned about Italian wines from Piero Antinori and Wine Spectator when I first began TASTE OF WINE in 2005. At a recent wine dinner at the University of San Diego ’s posh La Gran Terraza, the next chapter of Antinori was revealed by its Business Manager in Southern California , Alessia Botturi.
Alessia Botturi of Antinori Winery of Tuscany with La Gran Terraza manager
Luis Rosas as they display the Tormaresca wines.
Luis Rosas as they display the Tormaresca wines.
It is the Antinori Tormaresca brand from the Puglia district of Italy. Tormaresco means watchtower in Italian and they were built to keep away feudal empires from conquering Puglia , now more known for its Primitivo, a grape that closely resembles Zinfandel in California. The Tomraresca Toricicoda 2013 ($20.97) is closest to what we call Zinfandel.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Antinori’s legendary Tignanello, one of the first and best “Super Tuscans,” pioneer wines that were the first in Italy to blend the Sangiovese grape with other varietals. ($95.) They now command very high prices, and are not made unless the vintage is among the best. Details about La Gran Terraza and other wine dinners can be found at lagranterraza.com.
Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley off the 56 will be presenting a Cakebread Cellars wine dinner, Thurs. Aug. 25th at 6pm. This well respected Napa Valley winery will be paired with Vittroio’s splendid dinner menus featuring Beef Wellington and Cakebread’s Cabernet. Cost is $59.50 pp. RSVP at 858-538-5884.
Decoy Dockside in Lake San Marcos has its Sneak Preview special event for the new restaurant, Sat. Aug. 27th from 6 to 10pm. Cost is $100. ea. Enjoy complimentary welcome cocktail, appetizers, chef demos, live music and a fireworks spectacular. RSVP at 619-236-8397.
Live at Lake Henshaw at Santa Ysabel, a food, wine and music festival across from the Roundup Grill. Date is Sun. Aug. 28th from 11 to 5pm. Cost is $30 to benefit Shelter to Soldier. Music by Steelhorse Country. Wine from Ramona Ranch Winery. Tickets by calling 760-782-2729.
California State University San Marcos is offering its next course in the Certificate for Wine, Beer and Spirits, starting Sept. 8th and emphasizing craft beer. Fee is $269. More info at csusm.edu/el/wbsq.