Deep ruby-purple color; Bing cherry, black currant, blackberry on the nose; dark fruits, blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, boysenberry, vanilla, chocolate on the palate.
Dry; medium-full body; fruit-forward blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah, charbono that tastes almost sweet thanks to the ripe fruit. Plump and soft in the mouth, some zin spice and pepper sneak into the mid-palate after decanting. Low acidity, silky tannins and vivid fruit make this a very easy drinker even at 15.2% ABV. Nicely controlled oak with French and American barrels, just 30% new.
This is the genesis wine of Dave Phinney and the Orin Swift Cellars in 1998. Phinney grew The Prisoner brand from 385 cases to 85,000 cases in 10 vintages, an emphatic wine success story. Phinney sold The Prisoner brand to Huneeus Vinters in 2010, and Huneeus sold to Constellation Brands in 2016, one year after this vintage. Bill Newlands of Constellation said at the time of the acquisition: “More than ever, consumers are seeking high quality, distinctive wines, and the portfolio we are acquiring from The Prisoner Wine Company delivers.”
Phinney sold his Orin Swift Cellars brand to E.&J. Gallo in 2016. Since The Prisoner was a separate brand from Orin Swift, Phinney has now sold his brands to the largest wine company in the world—Constellation sells more than 67 million cases (804 million bottles) of wine each year—and the largest family-owned wine company in the world—Gallo. A pretty nice trick.
Constellation paid $285 million for The Prisoner Wine Company, and that was only the brand, no vineyards came with the purchase. The wine world is cleaving into two camps: wineries that make a precise, consistent style of wine (The Prisoner Wine Company is an example), and wineries that strive to express a particular plot of land and all the terroir elements that go into that equation. Wine drinkers can sit back and enjoy sipping while debating the existential nuances of each approach.
Chrissy Wittmann is the winemaker at The Prisoner. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Ecology and Systematic Biology at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, the future winemaker found her love for wine while analyzing soil and waste water samples in a lab. She returned to Cal Poly and earned a master’s degree in Agriculture. Waste water vs. wine, not a hard call.
Wittmann joined Scheid Vineyards in 2005 as assistant winemaker; two years later she joined the prestigious Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards in Paso Robles. Over the next nine years, Chrissy rose to director of winemaking, while mastering the art of multi-vineyard sourcing. In 2016, Chrissy and her family moved to Napa Valley and joined The Prisoner Wine Company, where her expertise in vineyard partnerships is in play every day. Chrissy says, “The Prisoner Wine Company’s wines have true personalities that start in the vineyards and which are encompassed in the blending of the wine. I’m thrilled to be working with so many vineyards of quality, to tap into my inner wine geek every day.”
The Prisoner Wine Company The Prisoner Napa Valley Red Wine 2015 is fruit-forward, delicious, classic Napa zin-led blend. You can pair with range burgers or grilled steak, but this really stars as something sipped solo, don’t clutter up your palate with other flavors. After achieving a little buzz—this is a high alcohol zin, remember—you can go to food-wine pairings with other wines. $44-47