Saturday, August 30, 2014

Vintage Napa Reds vs Bold Barolo

Vintage Napa Reds vs Bold Barolo

For a spontaneous dinner on the patio at our neighborhood trattoria Angeli's Italian with friends Bill and Beth, I took BYOB two vintage 1996 Napa reds - Paradigm Oakville Cabernet and Liparita Howell Mountain Merlot. Bill brought a bruising Barolo that showed its muscle as a complement to the Italian sausage and pasta. This was an interesting contrast in new world and old world varietals as well as a nine year old vs eighteen year olds that one might think are nearing the end of their years.

We still hold almost a case of Paradigm Cabernet from several mid-nineties vintages so I am tracking their aging and drinkability with interest.

We visited Paradigm during our Napa Wine Experience back in 1999. I recall tasting the Liparita from barrel at the Oakville custom crush facility with then winemkaer Gove Celia during our Napa visit back in 1998. Both of these wines are showing their age, probably beyond their apex, or any chance for improvement, but still within their drinking window. Both show some diminution of fruit, giving way to non-fruit charcoal and earth tones. Yet, each revealed some of its native fruit character at some point during the evening.

Liparita Napa Valley Howell Mountain Merlot 1996

We know that to bear the Howell Mountain appellation that the fruit for this wine had to be sourced from vineyards above 1200 foot elevation, the level of the normal fog line. I don't recall, or perhaps never knew the source. This '96 surprisingly showed bright and vibrant red berry fruit after being open for about an hour.  As written in this blog, we tasted this wine from a magnum from our cellar last year and those notes indicated more stable and complexity in the fruit - another indicator of the enhanced aging of wine in a larger format bottle such as a magnum.

Notes from magnum tasting - Dark garnet colored - medium-full bodied - black cherry, black berry fruits still holding for this seventeen year old - perhaps aided by larger format magnum, tones of cedar, spicy oak, subtle leather and earth - moderate smooth well integrated tannins on a lingering finish. $66 at Dean & Deluca in Napa (upon release)

(Then) RM 89 points. Tonight this wine rated 88 points due to the slight diminution of fruit as noted above.

The current Liparita label is under different ownership from the label around the milenium. 

Paradigm Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

Despite having a case of this wine in various vintages from this era, my only record of tasting this wine was during our Napa visit back in 1999. This was our last bottle from 1996, the remaining bottles are from 1994, 1995, and 2001-02. Ren & Marilyn Harris have owned the property since the eighties, producing wine under the Paradigm label since 1991. Today the winemaker for Paradigm is the legendary Heidi Barrett.

I opened, decanted and then rebottled and recorked this wine an hour before setting out for the restaurant. Upon decanting it released huge aroma's of berry fruits and some floral. After opening for serving the fruit was a bit muted for almost an hour before revealing black berry, black cherry and hints of sweet black raspberry, giving way to a layer of charcoal, anise and spice. Tannins were moderate on the lingering finish. This wine is still showing okay but should be consumed over the next few years.

RM 88 points.

Franco Molino Barolo Villero Riserva Nebbiolo 2005

From a country with a mind-boggling 600 different grape varietals, one of the better known and more popular is Nebbiolo which produces lightly-colored red wines which can be highly tannic in youth with scents of tar and roses, that soften and become more approachable with some age. Nebbiolo grapes are characteristically found in red wines from the Barolo DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) or appellation in the northern Italian region of Piedmont.

Bill's tasting notes from Cellartracker - "Big, bold and fruit forward. Took some time (about an hour) for the "heat" to blow off but when it did we were left with a nicely balanced Italian with notes of raspberry, cherry and a bit of pepper. Finish was medium in duration. Really delicious with a spicy sausage, pasta dish. An interesting comparison side by side with a pair of '96 Napa wines."

WCC 88 points. 

Bright dark ruby colored, full bodied, moderately complex, concentrated flavorful forward red and dark berry fruits with hints of spice, creosote and leather, finishing with firm structure and a smooth polished tannin backbone.

RM 89 points.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Unique Wine Highlights Gala Celebration Dinner

Unique Wine Highlights Gala Celebration Dinner

Readers of this blog know we favor big bold red wines and grilled beefsteak.  When we gathered with friends Bob and Gloria and Bill and Beth for a gala celebration dinner, one could pretty well imagine what to expect. It's hard to imagine getting any better than this outing - great fun, food, friends, fellowship - capped by an extraordinary wine. We dined at Ruth's Chris steak house in Chicago.

As noted herein last week, L & I are celebrating a decade anniversary, Bill & Beth celebrated their anniversary last month, Bob had a birthday, one of the kids got engaged, another started a new school program, another accepted a new job - many blessings over which to rejoice and celebrate.

Never-the-less, a highlight of the evening was the BYOB selection from Bill and Beth - a magnum of Cliff Lede Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon - 2001!

If you follow Cliff Lede closely, you'll note that he acquired the S Anderson estate and vineyards back in 2002. This wine would have been in the estate inventory in barrels at the time. Since they hold the juice in barrel for up to two years, when bottled, it was likely THE, or one of the first bottlings under the Cliff Lede brand and label.

It should also be noted, that this would wine would likely be a blend representing the entire estate property with its various vineyards, each with its own exposure, elevation, composition - aka character or terroir. Today, many of the vineyard fruits are set aside for special designated bottlings from the Lede portfolio.

Bill obtained this bottle at the winery on a recent visit having tasted it from standard size bottle. He had the wisdom and forethought to obtain a bottle in magnum format which he says ended up being more stable, balanced, polished and fruit filled - all manifestations of having been aged in a larger format. A special tasting at the winery was a highlight of our visit during our Napa Wine Experience 2009.

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

The '01 Cliff Lede Napa Cabernet was dark ink colored, full bodied, complex, concentrated and chewy, yet smooth, polished and harmonious. Initially it had a layer of earthiness and leather with a hint of funkiness that burned off after an hour to explode with forward ripe dark berry, plum and currant fruits, accented by tea and spice before giving way to a milk chocolate tone on the silky supple lingering finish. This accentuated fruit subsided a bit after another hour turning to tones of black cherry and tea, but was still delicious none-the-less.

RM 94 points.

To start the evening wine festivities, we ordered from the winelist a sparkling (white) wine.

Domaine Carneros Sonoma Estate Brut Cuvée Sparkling Wine 2010

This is from the magnificent picturesque estate along the Sonoma highway that connects Napa and Sonoma in Carneros, down as the bottom of each of the valleys, at the top of San Pablo Bay. Despite the fact this California producer/estate is owned by the French Champagne house Taittinger, it is appropriately called sparkling wine.

Moreover, despite being produced in the classic tradition of méthode champenoise, being from outside of the Champagne appellation in France, this is still referred to as sparkling wine. Only wine produced within the classic French region/appellation may properly be labeled or marketed as Champagne.

Under the classic méthode champenoise process, the effervescence or sparkling bubbles is produced by secondary fermentation in the bottle. As the name suggests, this is used for the production of Champagne, but is slightly more expensive than the Charmat process. In this popular process, the bubbles are introduced in bulk vats or tanks, in which the wine undergoes the necessary secondary fermentation that produces such, and then is bottled under pressure.

This is sourced from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruits that are 100% from the Carneros appellation. The Brut was aged in the bottle for three years before release. 

This was golden platinum colored, medium bodied with an essence of sweetness, with aromas and flavors of golden apple and hints of honey giving way to zesty lemon zest and brioche.

RM 88 points.

For the starter courses and as a lead-in to the headliner Lede Cabernet, we opened a red wine blend from the winelist.

Pahlmayer Jason Red Wine Blend 2011 - Pahlmayer Pinot Noir 2011

I am more than a bit irritated that despite my specificity in ordering this wine, and then having questioned the accuracy of the wine being opened, not until I looked at these pictures of the wine labels the day after, that I realize we were served the wrong wine.

This is disappointing since the wine I ordered is one that I know well and like, but the wine we drank was underwhelming at best. I now realize that expecting a Bordeaux varietal Red Blend, we were served a Pinot Noir. This explains my observations of the wine at the time, being more flat and lacking the more bold forward fruit that I was expecting. I rationalized it at the time as being a function of the here-to-fore untried vintage.

My irritation and disappointment is further exacerbated by the fact that I was expecting a bottle having the name Jayson, the name of Bob and Gloria's son (albeit spelled differently), the subject of one of our evening's celebrations. I have purchased and am holding several vintages of this wine, in anticipation of such an event with our friends.

Lastly, I questioned the bottle at the time but in the dimly lit room and press of the waitstaff, I succumbed to the events. I know better and shame on me for accepting a lesser bottle of wine, that didn't harmonize or compliment as well with our other wine or entree selections, that I fear was significantly more expensive.

In light of these sentiments and circumstances, I'll reserve comments on this wine, and the attentiveness and approach of the waitstaff, other than to express that I now understand one of mysteries or anomalies of an otherwise near perfect evening.

Lastly, and to add to the irony, this is another example where confusing branding and imprecise or obscure labeling detracts from the wine experience. While this is certainly not on the level of my writing on Owen Roe and Orin Swift the last couple of weeks, the point is further noted about confusing of rather obscure labeling detracts from the wine experience.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Shea Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2009

Shea Wine Cellars 'Estate' Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2009

Since 1996 Dick & Deirdre Shea have been producing a range of vineyard and block designated select Pinot Noir labels sourced from their large 200 acre Yamhill-Carlton estate in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Previously, they had already developed a reputation as growers of some of the finest Pinot Noir fruit in Oregon providing fruit to more than 20 producers including Penner-Ash, Ken Wright, and St. Innocent. Most of their clients bottle their Shea sourced wines under vineyard designated labels, more often than not, they are the best wine in their respective portfolios and the ones that sell out the most quickly. The Shea's keep about 25% of the fruit they produce for their own bottlings. Today their wines are made by the talented Drew Voit and the vineyards are managed by Javier Marin.

This 2009 Pinot Noir Estate label bottling is blend sourced from each of their vineyard blocks. It consists of fruit across their vast vineyards with their variety of topographies and exposures. It was awarded 94 points from Wine Spectator and a "Highly Recommended" designation.

Dark garnet colored and medium bodied, the complex black cherry and black raspberry fruits were a bit muted, overshadowed by notes of bacon, cedar, rose petal, smoke and spice box. Smooth and textured it finishes with supple lingering tannins.  I found it to be a bit tight and closed, perhaps going through a period needing some more age before it reveals its true character and potential. May need a couple more years.

Interestingly, I read this comment from a noted reviewer about the 2010 vintage. "It should be worth following for at least the better part of a decade and will probably open up and display greater complexity after another 2-3 years." That may represent the condition I'm citing for the 2009 as well.

RM 89 points.

This was a perfect pairing with home-made thin crust pizza with garden fresh veggies and herbs and grilled pork loin (shown below).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Owen Roe Abbott's Table Red Blend 2008

Owen Roe 'Abbott's Table' Red Wine Blend 2008

 For a gorgeous waning summer evening on the patio we grilled steaks and opened a Columbia Valley Red Wine Blend. We've written about Orin Swift the last couple weeks, and the confusion with a similarly named and branded Owen Roe. Tonight we opened Owen Roe "Abbot's Table" Columbia Valley Red Blend.

Owen Roe "Abbot's Table" Columbia Valley Red Blend 2008
The 2008 vintage in Washington was cool and long, creating some classic wines including this Owen Roe's Abbot's Table, a melange-blend of Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, Cab Franc, Blaufrankish and Malbec. Talk about a chaotic or schizophrenic blend of grape varietals!

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, a cacophony of  flavors that defies description, dark cherry, plum and red fruits with moderate tannins and ample acidity. This is a dinner table wine priced for every day drinking, what we might call a pizza wine. It was inadequate for our grilled steak, lacking complexity despite its plethora of varietals.

RM 85 points.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Family Celebration Dinner - Favorite Wines & Foods

Family Celebration Dinner - Favorite Wines & Foods

For a anniversary celebration family dinner we dined at Angeli's, our favorite neighborhood trattoria and enjoyed our favorite wines BYOB with family. Erin and Johnnie brought the special 40th Anniversary bottling by notable Napa Valley Cabernet producer Caymus Estate to honor the occasion.

Ryan and Michelle brought a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne to accompany the starter courses of  grilled calimari with capers and tomatoes in a lemon butter sauce, caprese salad and their butternut squash gnocchi served in a decadent brown sugar creme sauce. We added a favorite bottle from the cellar, Lewis Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with its signature 'L' label, a whimsical tribute to wife Linda.

The celebrants wore Ruby Red to honor the Ruby anniversary occasion. From the four dozen roses I bought for home, we brought roses for each of the ladies, Linda, Erin, Michelle, Lucy and Marleigh. The perfect summer evening weather accommodated dining al fresco on the front patio.

Before dinner, we also enjoyed two of our favorites of Angeli's signature features, their awesome Clam Chowder and Angeli's Special Salad with candied walnuts, apple and pear slices, blue cheese and raspberry vinaigrette.

For entree's we had veal and eggplant Parmigiana, Veal Piccata, their Shrimp Diavolo and their incredible mussels preparation.

After dinner we had a celebration white cake with chocolate icing. 

The wines were superb and perfect accompaniment to each course. As featured in this blog several times already, the Caymus is remarkably approachable even in its youth. The Lewis Reserve Cabernet 2003 was a perfect pairing and was striking in its tenth year since release.

Caymus Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 - Special 40th Anniversary Bottling

As featured in my recent earlier blog journal tasting reports on this wine, this is the 40th release of this legendary label and it features a special 40th Anniversary release label for the occasion. The 2012 vintage release also  shows the classic characteristics of Caymus Estate Cabernet at its best - early approachability and drinkability as a young wine.

Typical Caymus Cab style - dark ruby/garnet colored, medium to full bodied, nicely structured, complex but smooth, well balanced and polished, it opens with sweet ripe blackberry and raspberry flavors highlighted by layers of milk chocolate, subtle tones of cinnamon, vanilla and hints of caramel, giving way to a smooth lingering modest tannin finish.

RM 94 points.

Lewis Cellars Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

This is the flagship of Lewis Cellars lineup which includes several Estate Cabernets and blends. The 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot. The fruit if sourced from vineyards up on Pritchard Hill, in Rutherford and Oakville hillside vineyards.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, intense complex concentrated currant, berry and ripe plum fruits accented by a layer of cognac essence of oak, vanilla, and caramel with hints of spicy mocha, turning to firm supple spicy tangy lingering tannins.

RM 92 points.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Seven on Prospect Dinner Features Big Red Wine Flight

Seven on Prospect Gala Partner Dinner Features Big Red Wine Flight

For a gala partnership dinner at trendy Seven on Prospect in Peoria Heights, we sampled a big red wine flight. Two Napa Valley Bordeaux varietals were from the wine list which features a nice balanced collection of American wines - Whitehall Lane Merlot 2011 and Freemark Abbey Cabernet 2010. The flight of big reds was a perfect accompaniment to the perfectly prepared filets of beef.

The server at Seven did a wonderful job being attentive to and thoughtfully attending to our wine tasting. She offered to decant our bottles, provided multiple glasses, and served caringly and effectively. Kudo's to her and the proprietors at Seven for creating a wine friendly and effective service atmosphere and experience. While it seems simple, amazingly often, restaurants and servers fall short in addressing the basics, let alone the nuances of a wine dinner/event for wine aficionados. We'll definitely look forward to planning another wine event there.

For fun and to play on the 'security' theme of our discussions and dinner, and to play to our host Zac's fondness for big bold and expressive French blends, I took two bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape (CDP's). This also allowed for some fun with the mystery puzzler regarding the purpose of the 'notch' in the base rim of the bottles. Chateauneuf du Pape bottles feature the crossed keys emblem of Chateauneuf du pape molded into the glass of the bottle.

Normal or typical 'blank' wine bottles have no 'front' or back, the label can be affixed in any alignment on the bottles axis, and only then does the label determine what is the front face of the bottle. Chateauneuf du Pape bottles have the crossed keys molded into the glass (shown left) thereby determining the front face of the bottle. In order to ensure the label is affixed correctly to align with the glass feature, the bottom of the bottle has a notch in it to allow the automated labeling machine to detect and right the bottle accordingly so that the label is affixed squarely with the bottle feature.

Have some fun and challenge your dining guests to explain the notch in the bottom of the bottle the next time you serve such a bottle. Its a light hearted brain teaser.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 

We've collected Freemark Abbey wines since the eighties and have added the 2010 Cabernet to our vertical collection. We've visited the winery on several occasions including our visit during our Napa Wine Experience 2009. While Freemark Abbey has been taken over by well known Kendall Jackson, longtime winemaker Ted Phillips remains at the helm of wine making duties. Freemark Abbey sources fruit for this Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards with diverse terroir in the Rutherford, Altas Peak, and Mount Veeder appellations. The 2010 bottling is blended with 13% Merlot and 3% Petite Verdot and spent 22 months in 40% new French oak before bottling.

Dark inky purpose color, full bodied, flavors of ripe dark cherry, red plum and blackberry fruit give way to spicy cinnamon, clove and hints of cedar, anise and pepper. After about an hour it burst with tones of sweet oak. It has firm but smooth finely integrated dry tannins on a lingering finish. This is exuberant in youth and will likely gain polish and balance with some age.

RM 91 points - 92 points from Wine Enthusiast and 91 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Merlot 2011

The family owned and operated Whitehall Lane sits prominently on Hwy 29, St Helena Hwy, at Whitehall Lane, south of the town of St Helena as you approach from the south.

The 2011 vintage of Whitehall Lane's Merlot includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah, which provide depth and structure to the wine. Aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels for 18 months. The grapes were grown in the winery’s Estate Vineyard in Rutherford and select vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

Dark inky garnet colored, medium bodied, slightly forward cherry and dark berry fruits on the front palette fall off to a modest mid-palette, hints of spice and a layer of sweet oak on the moderate tannin finish. While not flawed, it lacks for a bit of body and depth of flavor. A bit obtuse, this wine may also settle and become a bit more approachable with some age.

RM 87 points.

Finally we poured this Chateauneuf du Pape which rose above the Cabernet in power and intensity.

Domaine de la Solitude (Lançon Père et Fils) Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 

A classic CDP blended from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre with a bit of Cinsault. Dark garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated powerful rich sweet black and red fruits, ripe plum and dark cherry with tones of kirsch, mixed with spice, leather and smoke with a firm tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Thanks Zac and team for a stimulating and productive day and for a delightful wonderful evening!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Napanook and Caymus Napa Reds Anchor Family Reunion Dinner

Overachieving Napanook and Caymus Napa Reds Anchor Family Reunion Dinner

For our gala family reunion dinner with sister Jan and girls visiting from SoCal, Ryan brought a Napanook and I opened the Caymus 40th Anniversary special bottling 2012 Napa Cab. Celebrating two anniversaries, a promotion, and transcontinental family reunion, we feasted on grilled pork chops, kabobs of chicken, strip steak, red peppers, onions and whole mushrooms. Side dishes included corn on the cob, baked beans and salads.

We started with a Bonomi Sparkling Wine. The only dark spot on the day was the absence of Bro-in-law Bill, laid up and unable to make the trip, and son Alec, remote, out in NYC.

Dominus Napanook Napa Valley Red Wine 2010

The second wine of the ultra premium Dominus Estate by Christian Moueix, this might pass as a 'poor man's Dominus', as this was complex and refined in the Dominus style. Yet, it is more approachable at this age than the classic long lived Napa Bordeaux (varietal) Blend, and was more polished, sophisticated and elegant than my earlier experiences with this wine. This is a blend of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot.

James Suckling said this is 'one of the best Napanooks ever', a sentiment that echo's my view as well. Not surprising since the 2010 Dominus flagship received a blockbuster perfect 100 points from Robert Parker. This may be turn out to be an extraordinary high QPR (quality price ratio) cellar selection. I've purchased the 2010 Dominus as a signature collectable for my first grandchild, Lucy, in the tradition of collecting special birth-year wines for my offspring (as featured in my Wine Spectator interview).

I've written here about drinking twenty-five plus year old Dominus and exclaiming, "Oh, that's what its supposed to taste like!", after already having consumed a half dozen bottles or more from the case over the previous decades and realizing I had drunk them too early. One of our more memorable tasting experiences was a Dominus vertical tasting with the producer at Binny's Catacombs Clark Street tasting room one wintry December night back in 2005.  

Bright ruby colored, full bodied, forward expressive, complex blackberry, currant and black cherry fruits with layers of mocha, spice, and hints of licorice, tobacco leaf, herbs and tea. its well-integrated tannins on a long smooth moderately firm finish promises many years of enjoyment and evolution to come.

RM 92 points.

Caymus Vineyards Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 

As featured in my recent earlier blog journal tasting reports on this wine, this is the 40th release of this legendary label and it features a special 40th Anniversary release label for the occasion. The 2012 vintage release also  shows the classic characteristics of Caymus Estate Cabernet at its best - early approachability and drinkability as a young wine.

Typical Caymus Cab style - dark ruby/garnet colored, medium to full bodied, nicely structured, complex but smooth, well balanced and polished, it opens with sweet ripe blackberry and raspberry flavors highlighted by layers of milk chocolate, subtle tones of cinnamon, vanilla and hints of caramel, giving way to a smooth lingering modest tannin finish.

RM 94 points.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Orin Swift Red Wine Flight - Unique Labeling - Imaginative Wines

Orin Swift Red Wine Flight - Unique Labeling - Imaginative Wines - A Lesson in Wine Marketing and Branding

For a another casual Friday night wine and cheese plate tasting, we sampled a flight of Orin Swift Napa Reds.  After our Orin Swift Abstract Red Wine Blend tasting last week, DOC in Yorktown Lombard offered a Orin Swift Red special flight. Once again we had the Butcher's Plate with a pairing of cheeses - aged cheddar and Old Amsterdam, with pate and cured salmon. While his wines tend to carry his innumerable style of bold expressive somewhat eclectic blends, his branding is confusing and disjointed.

As a student and practitioner in marketing, and a wine geek, I'm regularly studying and commenting on wine marketing. After tasting and writing about Orin Swift wines twice last week, it was natural to try this special offer flight. I had no knowledge of the three label names on offer - Orin Swift 'Saldo', 'Machete' Blend and 'Palermo' Napa Valley Red Blend wines. As an avid wine collector, writer and taster, I thought I knew something about Orin Swift wines. While I had no knowledge of any of these labels. after tasting, I asked the server to pull the bottles so I could see their labels and packaging. Only then did I realize I recognized and had seen all the labels, but I never associated them with or knew them to be Orin Swift offerings. Such the essence of a failure in typical or classic branding - or is it unique madness or genius in branding?

Last week, when I wrote about Abstract, I also wrote about a tasting where I took two Orin Swift wines, the 'Prisoner' and 'Papilllon'. While I have seen these three labels before, and recognize these labels, not until tonight's tasting experience did I associate all these labels with being from the same producer, let alone associate them with these other rather well known ones. If I fail to make this connection, with all the attention I pay to wines, a casual or typical consumer is lost on the brand. To complicate or confuse matters further, the Prisoner brand, which has taken on a loyal almost cultish following has been sold and is no longer an Orin Swift offering.

Indeed, on my Rick's WineSite(TM), I have a Wine Label Library that features photos of thousands of wine labels from my collection, tastings and encounters. On the library page, I feature a section on Art & Artist Series Wine Labels and another section on Notable Wine Labels. The former are chosen for their distinctive style and branding affinity. The latter are chose for their notable and memorable branding - both good and bad or certainly uniquely different.

Some of the artist wine label libraries are classics such as perhaps the two most notable, Chateau Mouton Rothschild with its annual label featuring original art from a famous artist, and Marilyn Merlot Series featuring the famous Hollywood starlet.

Orin Swift Palermo Label
Notably, I have featured Orin Swift Palermo (shown left) on the second page as an example of a 'bad' label idea. Yea, tonight when I ordered the wine flight and tasted the wine, I did not associate it with that label until the server presented the bottles afterwards upon my request.

It doesn't help that there is another producer with a similar name with the same penchant for weird, sometimes outrageous wine labels. I now realize I often confuse those wines of Orin Swift with those of Owen Roe!  Such is the ultimate in poor or unique branding.

On my 'bad' wine label page, I show the Orin Swift Palermo label and Owen Roe's 'Sinister Hand'. You need to read the back label on that bottle for the story that explains the ghoulish name. I write on my page, "Another instance of 'what were they thinking?' Easy to confuse Orin Swift (Napa) and Owen Roe (Columbia) (above) - same dark perspective or approach ... Many of the Orin Swift labels have an eery sense about them .."

In the end, its all in the eye of the beholder. You be the judge. In the same way, that wine is just grape juice, the labels are mere marketing and promotion of the bottle and brand. Like the case where bad publicity is better than no publicity, perhaps memorable bad wine labels are better than unmemorable labels. After tasting Orin Swift Palermo, I wanted to see the label. After seeing the label, I am not sure I'd be drawn to taste the wine!

Talk about branding confusion, not until after I write my piece above, do I read the Orin Swift Machete website when I pull down the link below, that says, "**Bottled with 12 Different Labels, you may not receive the one pictured**." It links to a pdf with pictures of twelve labels of various poses of a scantily clad woman and a vintage old Cadillac, brandishing a machete in various poses, plus one totally different label of alpha graphics. See a portfolio of a selection of these labels below. Perhaps there is genius in this label madness if the collection of Machete labels become collectables in their own right. In any event, there is uniqueness and fun, if not weirdness in the selection of shots from the photo shoot. Perhaps it is working since I'm writing about it here, and featuring his selection of labels below, and you are reading about it.

The Wines ...

Orin Swift Palermo Red Wine Blend 2012

A Bordeaux blend of predominant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Dark inky purple colored, medium bodied, nicely balanced, moderately complex vibrant expressive black berry, black and sweet red currant fruits, sweet tobacco, hints of vanilla, cedar, oak and touch of cocoa, with a medium firm tannin lingering finish. Bright vibrant fruits almost taste like a Shiraz on the front.

RM 91 points.

Orin Swift Machete Red Wine Blend 2012

A blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache. I think its the Grenache that takes on the slightly metallic minerality that detracts from the fruit. Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, complex forward slightly disjointed competing flavors of ripe blackberries, black raspberries, toasty oak, dark mocha tones with hint of expresso on a moderate tannin finish. 

RM 89 points.

Orin Swift Saldo Zinfandel  Red Wine 2012

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, rather simple narrow focused flavorful sweet dark berry ripe plum and cola flavor with tones of mocha, vanilla and spice.

RM 88 points.

A blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.

Another examples of Orin Swift unique labeling is their premium label Mercury Head which features an actual American Mercury Head dime coin affixed to the bottle.

Orin Swift Veladora Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Orin Swift Machete Label Library