AWG Correspondent

Anthony Marocco

Orin Swift Cellars Photos

Orin Swift Cellars Review

Regions: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California

Reviewed: June 14, 2014 by Anthony Marocco
Published: July 20, 2014

During our most recent trip to Napa, we came across a little time to take a stroll around St. Helena. This is a gorgeous, small town located in the center of historical Napa Valley that provides visitors with boutique shops, restaurants, and cafes along the route to the surrounding wine country. It was during this stroll through St. Helena that we came across the newly opened Orin Swift tasting room.

The origins of Orin Swift as a brand dates back to 1995 when David Swift Phinney accepted a friend's offer to study abroad in Italy. He instantly fell in love with wine and everything surrounding it. After graduating, David worked as a vineyard hand during harvest with Robert Mondavi Winery. After finishing harvest, it became evident that the hard work he provided, coupled with his passion for world-class wines, would have to be his primary focus. Hence the formation of Orin Swift in 1998 - Orin being his grandfather's first name, and Swift being his mother's maiden name. Over the next decade, David consulted for many other wineries while growing his own brand, which included the sudden rise of popularity of his most famous wine, "The Prisoner."

David is known for his unique and nontraditional blends that have developed into cult classics. A couple of years ago, David sold the rights to "The Prisoner" and one of his other brands to Huneeus Vintners Group, but has not slowed down a bit. Aside from his California venture, he also owns a large amount of acreage in South-Western France and has projects rolling in other countries, including Italy.

During this visit, we were introduced to many unique blends and single varietals of both white and red, as well as the stories behind the interesting labels and designs. The labels are a nod to the art world and feature interesting photographs and collages from names such as Greg Norman, celebrity photographer featured on the label of his Papillion wine, and a drawing by the famous artist Goya that is on his former wine label "The Prisoner." From the label to the artistic approach to his blends, his wines are a true, one of a kind experience.

The tasting room, which is conveniently located right next door to the St. Helena Wine Center, is a dimly lit, minimalist space and nothing short of perfect for the experience. An elegant polished stone tasting bar and stoned wall to your right are complimented by stone slabs on your left with a basic, smooth, brown stone floor all set the stage for what should be your primary focus with no distractions, the wine.

The tastings consist of multiple flights options, including a $10 flight of "Heads" or "Tails" containing three wines a piece capped by a dessert wine pour or the $20 "Finite Few" of Orin Swift's smaller production, high end wines. Being as there were four of us, we each chose a flight and were able to taste almost all of what was offered on this day in May. Most, if not all, of the red wines were excellent, and the whites showed decently. Overall, there were a few outstanding wines that I really need to share with you - starting with the 2011 Abstract ($29). The black collage style label with embossed etching proved to be a heavy hitter of Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Syrah sourced primarily from hillside vineyards along Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. Aromas of toasty oak, leather, and bacon give way to smooth vanilla and toffee lined dark fruit that is capped with bold spice and firm tannins while displaying a soft and round palate structure.

Up next was the 2012 Palermo ($38), which combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, and displays aromas of leather and spice while adding in nuances of sweet tobacco that set the foundation for dark cherry flavors that are finished off with charred oak notes and gritty, bold tannins.

We swiftly (no pun intended) moved onto a vertical of the D66 blend ($32) of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan from 2011 and 2010. The 2011 was slightly bready and hot on the nose showing some dried prune, raisin, and plum with a concentrated presentation as it finished hot, but structured. The 2010 displayed dried plum aromas that gave way to much of the same while adding elements of cigar box and spice as the finish was outlined with warming tannins, and a smooth, supple, and soft structure. Overall, excellent reds.

We concluded our tasting with a taste of the Non-Vintage Muté ($30), which is a dessert blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Tina Cao, 6% Tina Madera, 6% Tinta Madeira, and 2% Souzao coming in at about 19% ABV. Aromas of cocoa powder and ripe blueberry lead to much of the same, but layers of caramel and sea salt chocolate finish smooth with hints of sweet tobacco on the finish - a dynamite conclusion to a great tasting.

We finished our tasting and also picked up a bottle of the 2011 Abstract that has been a very difficult bottle to keep out of our glasses at home. If you get a chance to stop by Orin Swift, do not hesitate to do so. We suggest a stop by Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen to grab an amazing bite while you are in the area, as well.

Address & Contact Information: 1325 Main Street St. Helena, California 94574. Telephone: 707-967-9179, email:, website: Tasting Hours: See website for wine tasting details..

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