Man, sometimes things just break right for a guy. It was one of those beautiful winter days masquerading as spring when I dropped in on Brian Herrera over at Kirby Wines and Liquors. I'd meant to pester him about something else entirely when I stumbled into a small tasting of the flagship label and three new wines from The Prisoner Wine Co. of Northern California. Then I promptly forgot what it was I'd meant to ask him.
Back in 2003, David Phinney put his vast knowledge of the Italian-American winemaking tradition and his contacts in the community to use to produce the first vintage of his now famous blended red — The Prisoner. It's primarily a zinfandel, but they don't like to call it that. It's a red table wine that sticks to its powerful profile — the make-up changes every vintage in light of harvest conditions. The endgame here wasn't to produce a devoted varietal wine, but to recreate the flavors of what the original Italian settlers of Napa Valley called "mixed blacks." Or what we would call a "blended red."
This is not, however, the point where I describe Phinney taking a Zen-like walk around his old-growth vineyards. First of all, Kirby Wines is over on Quince, and second, while I've never met the man, Phinney's not a grower. The Prisoner Wine Co. works with vineyards across Northern California to source their grapes. This gives the company the freedom to make a vintage as its winemakers see fit. Whatever it is they envision, it seems to work.