Orin Swift Wines: A Secret Love, Met Again at Plumpjack Squaw Valley

I’ve had a secret love with “the Prisoner”, a wonderful red wine from winemaker Orin Swift. I’ve been keeping it a secret for far too long, because, as you know, I rant about high alcohol wines. This is clearly a high alcohol wine, but I can’t help loving it. Ever since wine afficianado Lou Phillips poured some for me at a bistro dinner in Truckee a few years ago, I’ve been captivated. I can’t say the same for my dinner companion of that long-ago evening, but that is a whole other series of stories, this one tagged on the keyline, “Is that all there is?”

Thus, I couldn’t miss the PlumpJack Café winemaker dinner this autumn that featured wines from Orin Swift Cellars. A few years ago, the great winemaking palate behind the Orin Swift brand, Dave Phinney, sold two brands to Huneeus Vintners. One of the brands was The Prisoner. Why does this matter? Because even though Phinney sold the brands and inventory, Phinney remained as winemaker; he retains ownership of Orin Swift Cellars and its other wines. So that great palate is still blending this delicious red wine for all of us who love it. Kevin Fox, who was presenting the wines at the PlumpJack , is the assistant winemaker.

Prisoner pairs with Ahi
The 2009 Napa Valley red wine, “The Prisoner”, was paired by Plumpjack’s executive chef Ben “Wyatt” Dufresne with a Hawaiian Ahi served with bacon confit marble potatoes, truffle salt gel and a porcini-blueberry vinaigrette. The cherry, cassis and black fruit taste is dominant throughout from first sniff to first taste to finish, and the tannins are so well integrated in this wine that I experienced them as very soft. It’s a dark red wine. Add the velvet of American and French Oak, and you’ve got a great big lush wine with a massive entry. Plumpjack has a good program for these high alcohol wines (The Prisoner is 15+ percent alcohol ) by offering 3 ounce and 6 ounce glasses. The Prisoner is $7 for 3 ounces, $14 for 6 ounces.

Papillon & Filet
The 2008 Papillon Red Wine, Napa Valley, is a finely tuned Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with just a touch of Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The 2008 is their fourth vintage of Papillon, and features grapes sourced from Howell Mountain, Saint Helena, Rutherford, and Oakville. Chef Wyatt paired it with a Durham Ranch filet mignon, accompanied by Montgomery Cheddar Mac n’ cheese. The pairing was perfect, as this is a bit more of a serious wine with good cellaring potential too. Deep red in color, aroma is classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: cedar, rose petal, hints of soft French oak. A nice ripe raspberry and boysenberry flavor to begin, and as it opens up, there is cherry, plum and cassis. 15.5 percent alcohol. $10.50 for 3 ounces, $21 for 6 ounces.

To end on a sweet note, the cardamom opera cake with huckleberry sorbet was paired with the 2009 French wine from Orin Swift’s project there, the “D66” Grenache. The winery and vineyards in Maury, France are in the outer Roussillon very close to the Spanish border and nestled in the Pyrénées-Orientales. These vineyards were planted 60 years ago, and the blend of fruit (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) results in a wine that is a dark opaque red color with aromas of toasted oak, ripe blueberry jam and dried rose petal. There’s a minerality and acidity that give this wine a nice long finish. 15.2 percent alcohol. $7 for 3 ounces, $14 for 6 ounces.
PlumpJack Café at the Squaw Valley Inn, 1920 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley CA, holds an outstanding series of winemaker dinners, and its wine list and regular menu are spectacular too. Reservations: (530) 583-1576 More information at www.plumpjackcafe.com.

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