Saturday, November 13, 2010

Orin Swift Wines Captivate Crowd; New Release Abstract Joins The Prisoner

Orin Swift’s Prisoner is an iconic wine, a perfect blending of Zinfandel, and five other grapes that has captured the palates of a multitude of American wine lovers. It was one of four Orin Swift wines highlighted during a recent tasting at Corks hosted by wine manager Mike Gregg and Vanguard distributing representative Dave Duling.

Dave Phinney, the founder of Orin Swift Cellars, was a political science student who had just graduated after a semester internship with a congressman. He decided he needed a “more honest” profession and entered the wine business as the low man on the totem pole working his first harvest at the Robert Mondavi Winery. He was hooked and started Orin Swift Cellars the next year with two tons of purchased Zinfandel grapes and one pair of shoes.

He’s come a long way. The wines showcased at Corks show his finesse and range.

We opened the tasting with Veladora, a 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This is 94% Sauv Blanc with 2% Muscat and 4% Semillon. We’ve been tasting quite a few New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs lately and this seemed subdued by comparison. It has flavors of tropical fruit and vanilla and a long finish. This is finished in stainless steel with 10% in French oak – but the oak certainly came through to me on the finish.

I suspect that this would grow on me, given time for the wine and me to unwind, but on this night, the reds were the main attraction.

We moved to the 2009 Abstract California Red Wine. As the first release for a new Orin Swift wine, this has generated quite a buzz. At $25 it is also one of the most affordable OSC wines.

This is a blend of Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, mostly from the hillside vineyards in Sonoma County. The exact percentages in the blend haven’t been disclosed, but typically the grapes are listed in descending percentage order. That may be the case here, but those expecting some lightness from the Grenache will be greeted with a big body punch from this full-bodied, richly textured wine.

It’s a dense wine that I suspect is powered by the Petite Sirah. The wine was inspired by Dave Phinney’s visit to the French Roussillon region in the Pyrenees mountains. He recently started his own winery there and wanted to create something similar from the grapes back home.This is a plump, enjoyable wine.

Dave Duling Releases "The Prisoner"
Batting next was The Prisoner 2008 Napa Valley Red Wine. This is a masterful blend of 46% Zinfandel, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 10% Petite Sirah, 2% Charbono and 1% Grenache. (My first experience with Charbono. Heretofore I thought Charbono was an outfielder for the Indians a couple decades ago.)

It’s easy to see why The Prisoner has captivated so many. Swirling unleashes a wonderful aroma of currant and blackberry. The texture and body are bold although the tannins are mellow. The finish really lingers. Dave Duling commented that it “starts like a Zin and finishes like a Cab.” It is beautifully balanced.

The Prisoner retails for about $37 and is worth every penny.

Rounding out the stable of OSC wines was Papillon.  Each wine has a unique label, and Papillon is no exception. It features a black and white photo of third-generation Napa Valley grape grower Vince Toffanelli’s hands with a letter on each finger spelling out the wine’s name.

Papillon is a Bordeaux blend with 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Franc. The grapes come from a number of great Napa vineyards including Lewelling, Taplin, Ink Grade, and Morisoli. These span the Napa Valley appellations of Oakville, Rutherford, Saint Helena and Howell Mountain.

The wine has a soft approach and is quite lush. This is finished for 20 months in French oak with a third of the barrels being new. The wine has a great complexity to be savored before it eases into a soft finish. Quite a debate was triggered when our band of tasters tried to decide which was the top wine. There was a 50-50 split between The Prisoner and Papillon. There was a consensus that Abstract is a QPR winner. It’s a nice buy for $25 while Papillon weighs in at about $55.

You should be pourin’ Orin; these are wonderful wines.
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