When it comes to successful wine brands, Orin Swift’s Dave Phinney seems to have the midas touch.
After falling in love with wine while studying in Italy in the mid ‘90s, he worked a harvest at Robert Mondavi before launching his own wine brand, a blend of California Zinfandel, Cabernet and Petite Sirah called The Prisoner, debuting the wine with 385 cases of the 2000 vintage.
Fast forward eight years and The Prisoner was a 85,000 case brand, had achieved much praise in the wine press and Phinney sold the brand to focus on his new wine, Orin Swift.
The Orin Swift wines are beautifully packaged and are a celebration of Californian terroir, being sourced from some 100 vineyard sites across the state. Many of the wines are blends, the melding of different grape varieties, across different sites, a concept that shouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone acquainted with some of the famous wines from our own sunburnt land.
If there is a leitmotif across the range, it is opulence. These are wines of considerable weight and fruit intensity, some featuring alcohol levels that might prompt the odd raised eyebrow, but one of the most impressive features of the wines is their tension and balance. With their funky, eye-catching labels and plushly fruited opulence, Dave Phinney’s wines have again gained an almost cult-like following in the U.S.A. and in 2016, E.J Gallo wines purchased Orin Swift as part of their ‘premiumisation’ initiative.
There is no doubt that Dave Pinney’s impressive wines will appeal to many Australian wine drinkers; those that seek to widen their horizons and enjoy the wines of California and those that enjoy well composed, big-boned wines of weight and purity.
Orin Swift Mannequin Chardonnay 2018
92 Points – $90
Chardonnay, arguably the most malleable of the grape varieties available to the vigneron. It comes in many guises from linear & crystalline to voluptuous. California has in the past garnered a reputation for the latter. I like to think this wine finds the middle ground. It’s quite deeply coloured and the Californian richness is most evident in the malty-edged, peachy fruit that becomes immediately apparent as you take a sip. No shortage of vanilla-fused, biscuity oak in the picture either with hints of spice, dried honey and clotted cream with a bright seam of acidity, plenty of texture though a bit of alcohol rears its head on the wines exit. (Chardonnay 99%, Sauvignon Blanc 1%)
Orin Swift Machete Petite Sirah 2017
92 Points – $100
A boldly structured wine sourced from parcels of fruit across the state of California from Napa & Sonoma to the Mendocino north coastal region. Deep red/purple in the glass with aromas of spiced plum, macerated blackberries and flashes of blueberry. Deeply etched with spice and notes of earth, leather, vanillin oak and dark chocolate. These characters transpose neatly over to the palate which holds considerable fruit weight, richness and tannin swagger. If you like wines that are full-bodied and pure of fruit, this could be just the thing for you. (Petite Sirah 58%, Syrah 37%, Grenache 5%)
Orin Swift Palermo Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
92 Points – $100
Sourced from a number of sites in Napa – Calistoga, St. Helena, Coombsville, Oak Knoll, Pope Valley, Atlas Peak, Rutherford & Oakville; each parcel contributing different characters to the final wine. Classic Cabernet fruits abound – blackberry and blackcurrant with hints of cassis, kirsch, bay and tobacco leaf, French oak-derived spice, graphite and a light sheen of herbs. Full-bodied with plenty of structure and fruit weight on display but there is a brightness and lovely cadence to it’s passage across the palate. (Cabernet Sauvignon 97%, Petite Sirah 2%, Syrah 1%)
Orin Swift Eight Years In The Desert Zinfandel 2018
93 Points – $100
As you would expect, there is weight and intensity in this deeply coloured wine, but what stands out here is the purity of the fruit and the balance and sense of composition on display. Opulent dark berry and plum fruit characters up front with mulberry and raspberry top notes, dredged deeply with exotic spice, purple floral notes, wild herbs and graphite. Deep and resonant with plentiful tannin provide support to the ripe, bright fruit. No shortage of latent horsepower here but it is a wine that is kept in check and shows lovely balance and an inherent drinkability & savoury edge that is very appealing. (Zinfandel (56%), Petite Sirah (34%), Syrah (9%) and Grenache (1%) , Sonoma and St Helena AVA’s)