As I am writing this piece, the dreaded Nor’easter is again pounding the usual parts of the East Coast, while the overnight temperatures here in Coachella Valley are dipping into the 40s or so—which is a nice respite from our warm desert weather.

So before things heat up (like in about 3 hours) let’s take advantage of the season’s momentary cold-spell and talk about some comforting red wines to cozy up with at the table, simply sip by the fireside, or to accompany a nice nibble in bed  These are some of the wonderful red wines I’ve been working with to write on:

The Prisoner Wine Company’s 2014 Thorn Napa Valley Merlot, and, 2015 Cuttings California Cabernet Sauvignon:


Most California wine enthusiasts know the Orin Swift/Dave Phinney/The Prisoner Wine Company brand and story.  Dave Phinney’s Orin Swift project started with his famed “Prisoner” wine, then went on to sell it funding other vino ventures that include acres of vineyards around the globe. The company has ultimately gone to the huge Constellation Brands stable. 

However, what the enthusiasts always can count on is Phinney’s “bombastic winemaking style” influence that remains at The Prisoner Wine Company.  So many of you are on board with this fruit-forward style and the wines from Prisoner have even assumed a “cult-status” position.  And for all the muscle these wines exhibit, they’re wonderfully complex and balanced with good acidity to keep things lively.

The 2014 Thorn ($45) is around three-fourths Merlot from both Carneros and Atlas Peak vineyards, and, the other fourth is a combo of Napa Malbec & Syrah.   As one could imagine, these varietals bring bright fruit notes of blackberry, cherry, plum along with savory spices, cedar, cocoa, and vanilla from the French & Hungarian oak barrels used.

This is a big time Merlot with all of the trimmings that show up in a $45 bottle.  It’s a treat. It’s delicious with a lasting robust finish.  I brought it to an early Oscar party and the wine went well with all the non-seafood appetizers.

The 2015 Cuttings ($45) is 80% high altitude Napa/ Sonoma/Mayacamas hillside Cabernet Sauvignon along with the characteristic “Phinney” field blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Zinfandel.  You fans of Orin Swift’s Papillon and the like will easily line-up to this Cab, and it will probably sell out sooner than later because it is a full-on extravagant red—the type which usually sells for twice the price.

It’s an intense Cabernet that’s so smooth and satiny with aromas of fresh roasted coffee, black currant, vanilla bean, brown spice, and wild berries and a fruit palate of robust blackberry, dark cherry, ripe plum, blueberry, mulberry, mocha, crème de cassis, peppery spice, and forest floor.  One would think that a 2015 should lie down for a while, but this wine owns plush tannins already and is capable of enjoyment now—crazy as that sounds.

2014 Charles Krug Generations Napa Valley Estate Grown Family Reserve ($60).  That’s a long title for a bottle of wine, but it’s on the label—so that’s alright.  I’ve always been a fan of the Peter Mondavi Family Krug portfolio.  Their wines always own a complexity of flavors and textures of old school Napa charm.  Back in the day—at an auction, I happened on a case of their 1968 Cab for around $100!  Man—was that some tasty juice that kept on aging magnificently.  Not that I had to be told, but I the ‘68 Krug Cab is considered one of California’s Hall of Fame wines.

Generations—created to honor our family’s past, present and future” is your Bordeaux-style blend; this of course means we’ve got all of your favorite Bordeaux varietals chiming in except for Cab Franc.  Almost 85% Cabernet Sauv, with Petite Verdot following at 9%, with the remaining Merlot & Malbec. 

Wine Spectator gave this baby 93 points!  And I find their comments right-on, stating, “Supple, plump and juicy, with mouthwatering plum, cherry, currant, and blackberry flavors evenly displaced, maintaining focus and charm (told you!) ending with silky tannins.  Drink now through 2032.”

I’m enjoying a glass right now with cayenne roasted chicken: I’m getting aromas of black cherry, a little coffee bean, blueberry, mint and eucalyptus.  As to flavors, ditto above, and there’s a long ripe berry finish.  It’s California for sure, but it does have a Bordeaux feel—a very impressive wine, special occasion stuff.

I’d also like to do a shout-out to the 2014 Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($24).  The 2014 vintage was another wonderful year for Napa Valley wines and this Sterling is a great example of such—so reasonably priced as well! It is brooding with big fruit aromas of blackberry jam, ripe plum and notes of cassis.  It’s richly textured with flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and ripe plum.  All the while, it’s balanced with good acidity making it a terrific wine to pair with grilled meats and comfort meals.

Of course you’ll remember our New Year’s “Bubbly with an American Accent” piece on the delicious Sterling Vineyards sparklers: the Blanc de Blancs and Rosé.

In the column we spoke with Sterling winemaker Harry Hansen; sounds like we’d like him back to discuss more of his proud portfolio.  Stay tuned—Cheers!

Rick is the valley’s somm-about-town entertaining and conducting at restaurant venues, wine events and tastings. He’s a member of the Italian Association de la Sommellerie Internationale and recently moderated at the Rancho Mirage Wine & Food Festival Trade Seminar.  He is also the brand ambassador for the Historic GalleanoWinery. Contact Rick at