2015 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company

It’s The Prisoner who started off our evening, a 2015 purchased along with a few other Phinney red blends that will be opened during this Christmas season.  The Prisoner made a Thanksgiving appearance, too, enjoyed by long-time friends and family gathered for delicious bird and festivities.

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2015 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company, Napa County, California, USA.

While I opted for a comparable Buena Vista red on that occasion, this evening I went with the Prisoner Wine Company offering.  The delicious, rich taste of the red overcame a rookie mistake: the bottle had sat in cold, December temperatures for several hours and I didn’t allow it to warm up enough when first serving.  Once the wine had warmed in the glass, its true character–big cherry and chocolate notes–were much more apparent on the nose and to the taste.Screen Shot 2017-12-25 at 11.14.47 AM

It accompanied hors de oeuvres (essentially cheese and crackers), and our three glasses quickly dented and polished off this 2015.  The taste?  The Prisoner you may already know, but if not suffice it to say it is vintage red blend, a mix of Bing cherry, chocolate, black raspberry, and warm spices.  Not earthy notes but more baking-type accents.  Its finish is very smooth and leaves that cherry as a sign-off.  Always a great treat!

2014 The Cuttings Cabernet Sauvignon, the Prisoner Wine Company

Back in July I had occasion to taste test several amazing Orin Swift wines at my favorite wine store. The 2014 vintage of The Cuttings was instantly a new favorite, and I’ve since taken home two of these bad boys and enjoyed each immensely.

2014 Cuttings, Prisoner Wine Company, Oakville, California, USA.

2014 The Cuttings Cabernet Sauvignon, Prisoner Wine Company, Oakville, California, USA.

Let me tell you, The Cuttings deserves a more experienced palate than mine. It is layered, it is juicy, it is nuanced in ways I appreciate very much and have not the vocabulary to do full justice. This Cabernet is clearly a red blend of some exquisite kind, a black berry backbone with some spices carefully interwoven in my glass. The Cuttings smells heavenly, a clear contrast to lesser wines I have had over the past week. I am positive Dave Phinney (the winemaker) would object to the comparison but this wine of his reminds me a lot of a Michael Davis creation or one of Jeff Runquist’s “kitchen sink” wines–both profiled here in Notes in 2017 and in years past.

The wine is right, the glass is right, and even the day is right on this one. Hell, even the bottle feels substantive when you hoist it. The 2014 Cuttings was a reward from time well spent and poured all too quickly into my excited Riedel stemware.

The Prisoner Wine Company describes more effectively the goodness you’re in for when you uncork The Cuttings for yourself. There’s a reward in that glass and one I’m looking forward to again in the near future myself. Get one yourself and enjoy!

2014 Karoly’s Selection Petite Sirah, Buena Vista Winery

I deserved this bottle. Yeah, I said it. I was bone weary last night, the final day in a work week that included late nights, crazy travel, and unyielding deliverables, but not too tired to take a moment to savor one of the finer things in life. Because that’s what a Buena Vista bottle is–it’s a “stop and smell the roses” event each and every time.

West Coast client deliverables meant I got a late start on this 2014 Karoly’s Selection Petite Sirah, but it also meant I was ready to fully immerse myself in the experience by the time I got to pour and enjoy a glass. Made the deliverable, confirmed with the client, and here we go. I’ve had a couple Buena Vista Karolys before, and this one was equal to the previous.

2014 Karoly's Selection Petite Sirah, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County, California, USA.

2014 Karoly’s Selection Petite Sirah, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County, California, USA.

The 2014 is delicious. It needs a moment or two to breathe, but when it does you can really pull on the black cherry or blackberry scent. There is a smoke of some kind here too…not quite earthy or a spice but an accent that I can’t quite isolate. It is full, it is robust, it has a great finish. If you drift toward Cabernet Sauvignon or other big reds in your wine tastes, you’ll dig the 2014 Karoly’s Selection Petite Sirah. If you prefer lighter Pinot Noirs this might not quite be your bottle–but you’ll be missing something fun!

Okay, a quick summary of the foodstuffs: What you see here is a seared chicken dinner and a creamy couscous with an olive and raisin sauce. The chicken came out great (for a change!)–pulled from the heat while cooked through but still juicy. The couscous was a blend of cool (that’s from the verjus blanc and creme fraiche plus celery) and hot, courtesy of red pepper flakes. I’m not sure a full-throated red was the right pairing for this dish, but I figured the best of both worlds was a suitable strategy regardless. Here’s how the Buena Vista folks describe the vino:

“Our 2014 Karoly’s Selection Petite Sirah offers seductive aromas of black cherry and dark chocolate with hints of anise. Upon the palate, flavors of blackberry pie, brambles, and a slight touch of granite are well-balanced with good density and a juicy structure.”

Can’t tell you what ‘brambles’ taste like, or if this 2014 Karoly has such flavor in it, but the black cherry I can very much confirm. This wine is aged 17 months in Hungarian Oak and I’m glad it escorted me into the weekend.

2015 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company

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.

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2015 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company, Napa Valley, California, USA.

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.

2013 Bela’s Selection Pinot Noir, Buena Vista Winery

This bottle arrived September 2015, and I’ve shown restraint by saving it these past 18 months. I am fond of Buena Vista wines for many reasons, some that I’m glad to share in these pages, and some are just for me. This evening I was searching for something more, some grander purpose, and, having not found elsewhere in my Saturday, decided to explore greatness (again!) through a glass of the 2013 Bela’s Selection Pinot Noir.

2013 Bela's Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

2013 Bela’s Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

It’s a fascinating drink. This Pinot Noir is light on the tongue, yet shares dark fruits in ample supply to your nose and tongue. I decanted this Russian River Valley wine for an hour, and served in the right Riedel stemware. I’m not saying those steps make the difference, but they do eliminate some potential pitfalls and put you in position to experience the grapes like the winemakers envisioned.

My thoughts on the 2013 Bela’s Selection evolved over the evening. At first I noticed its little spice hints and blackberry flavors. It had many of the qualities I favor in a California Cabernet Sauvignon, but with less tannins and less velvet on your tongue. Over time I tasted red fruits (perhaps some cherry?), but none of the vanilla and strawberry that I like less in my Pinots. A better mouthfeel and better overall experience than the Masterpiece I had recently tried. The 2013 Bela gets all good marks from this taster!

Here the impression from Buena Vista: “Cranberry and cassis layered with blackberry contribute to this Pinot Noir’s rich, spreading finish.

So there you go. This is bottle number 546, one solid soldier from among 800 cases produced. Thanks for continuing to follow Notes and have a great evening.