Much like California Cabs, Napa Valley red blends have a special place in my heart. Given its reputation among wine aficionados and critics, The Prisoner had been on my target list for some time. I know friends have enjoyed immensely and I wanted to understand if the hype was real or just noise.
You know The Prisoner is the real deal after your first tasting. The scent is full and fruity, a mixture of cherry and chocolate, and no overpowering tannic notes. I did not decant the bottle and it seemed very stable as I smelled and poured. There’s some hint of spice and vanilla in the glass, but it was understated in comparison to a mass market Cab that I was drinking recently–in that wine the vanilla was out and in front of the grapes in a way that seemed artificial instead of innate. Not sure that makes sense as I write it, but by contrast The Prisoner seemed more nuanced.
Zinfandel is a big part of this red blend, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Charbono, and no wonder the winery sources grapes from 80 different Napa locations to make their wines. Chrissy Wittman, winemaker at PWC since 2016, is now responsible for the legacy of The Prisoner, and after my first exposure to her work, I’d say its reputation is in good hands. This is a really enjoyable wine and I’d feel lucky to continue drinking The Prisoner again in the future.
Unless it’s gifted to you, you’ll need to buck up for The Prisoner, and you can find it listed at $47 on the winery’s website. (I paid considerably less, courtesy of my favorite local wine store…) It’s a great drink, one that makes your evening special as soon as you uncork it. But if you’re on a tighter budget and looking for a similar tasting experience, I would suggest you pull a bottle of the Jeff Runquist 1448 that Notes recently covered. Their impact on your taste buds will be very close, but The Prisoner makes a greater impact on your wallet so you have to bear that in mind too.
This is the one they call the “kitchen sink” wine, the red blend conceived by Jeff Runquist. The winemaker has been at it since 1982 and built his craft over time at the Napa Valley Cooperative Winery, J. Lohr, and others until he released 700 cases of zinfandel under his own label in 1997. In spring 2008 Runquist opened a tasting room in Amador County has been handling the majority of his production from that location since that time.
And how does that production rate? Pretty well, in the opinion of this fan. My first exposure to the 1448 red blend was nearly two years ago, and in that tasting you’ll see some background on Amador County as well as the pairing (i.e., grilled chicken with orzo arugula salad and roasted red peppers). This time I had it with a garden salad (always with freshly ground black pepper), a grilled New York Strip, and roasted Yukon potatoes.
The 1448 pairs well with both the chicken and the steak; its inky red nearly looks like blood when you pour in the glass (see accompanying photo) and it is absolutely crammed with flavor. I note some similarities to other red blends such as the Michael David Petite Petit and the Conundrum Red (there are several tastings of both in Notes if you’re so inclined), and in the 1448 you get a whiff of gentle smoke or chocolate too. It’s really berry-rich, and very easy to drink. Less tannins than a Cabernet if that appeals to you.
This follows on the heels of a great 2015 Petite Syrah from Runquist that I experienced last week as part of a birthday celebration, and if you can have one of the vineyard’s bottles every weekend like this then the universe is being pretty kind to you. Enjoy…and thanks for reading.
This gallery contains 8 photos.
It is no secret that I am a fan of the Michael David Winery—Notes has featured the Petite Petit with regularity over the years, and I recently tasted their best-selling zinfandel too with much enjoyment. When my father mentioned having sampled their Freakshow I knew it had to be part of my next wine tasting experience, and here we are.
You’re going to love this wine. It has elements common the Petite, particularly its mash-up of different tastes and flavors, but this one is less jammy and has a bit more heft to it. A little more spice and chew. The 2014 Freakshow has more dark fruits, black berry and black cherry, with some dark chocolate underpinnings. In that way it sort of reminded me of the Apothic Dark that I sampled in Chicago many moons ago, but at a higher level of execution. I was not sure what grapes comprised this red blend, but surely it has some Syrah (yes) involved and a quick bit of research shows there is some Petite Sirah as well. I have no idea what the Souzao grape is, but some of that’s in the mix too. Incredibly rich and unmistakably Michael Davis in all ways.
Here is the winemaker’s explanation of what’s going on in the 2014 Freakshow Red Wine: “Aromas of blackberry cobbler, toasted walnuts, espresso bean, and hints of brandy. The wine is weighty with a velvet-like texture boasting flavors of ripe brambleberry jam, toffee, and dark chocolate mousse followed by wisps of pipe tobacco and mesquite.”
They do have a way with words–and wines. This 2014 was aged both in French oak barrels (15 months) and American oak (18 months), and I’d like another already.
My first shot at the Freakshow actually dates back to September, when I pulled the cork on their 2014 Freakshow Cabernet. This too hails from the Lodi-based winemaker and it is similarly excellent. Lots of cherry in this solid Cabernet, but my notes from that time are less specific other than to say it was a great value and accompanied a delicious grilled steak and asparagus side. Have to get another one of these soon too! This winery always stands tall and will definitely go on the “must visit” list for the next time life winds me through California wine country.