The Prisoner 2019

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Orin Swift Cellars was a relative newcomer on the California wine scene, having been established in 1998, but not by “Orin Swift,” as I had long assumed. Rather, it was by the now iconic, and iconoclastic, winemaker David Phinney. Orin is Phinney’s father’s middle name and Swift is his mother’s maiden name.

Phinney, a native Californian, was born in Gilroy (the “Garlic Capitol of the World”), the son of a botanist and a college professor. However, within a week he was in Los Angeles, where he spent his childhood, and finally an adolescence in Squaw Valley. He enrolled in the Political Science program at the University of Arizona, with an eye towards a law degree, but before long became disillusioned with both. At this juncture, a friend invited him on a trip to Italy, and while in Florence he was introduced to the joys of wine, and soon became obsessed.

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H. Billiot Brut Rosé

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Ambonnay, one of the top five Grand Crus in Champagne, is located in the heart of the Côte des Noirs, on the southern slopes of the Montagne de Reims. Its hillsides are renowned for the richness of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the two essential Champagne grapes.

In 1896  Eugene Billiot, a miller by profession in Ambonnay, purchased five acres of land and planted vines. The grapes were sold to major Champagne brands throughout the region.  Today, the grape varieties of the vines are around 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.

Champagne Billiot was established in 1937 by Louis Billiot as more of a side hustle than a real Champagne house.  But after the war, his son Henri founded Champagne H.Billiot & Fils at 1 place de la Fontaine in the center of the village to realize his dream of becoming a winemaker rather than just a grower.  Henri was succeeded by his son Serge, and now fifth-generation Laetitia runs the operation.

Current production is about 32,000 bottles a year, with all of the work being done by the family. Continue reading “H. Billiot Brut Rosé”

Aged Eggnog


Aged eggnog?!  WTF is that?  I had never heard of such a thing until I stumbled across a recipe for it on Alton Brown’s web site.  As it turns out, it is indeed a real, if arcane, preparation, even covered by Cook’s Illustrated, which researches all things food.  The idea is that the nog ages for at least two weeks, and up to a year.   One benefit of aging is that after three weeks, the alcohol renders the eggnog completely sterile.  Some writers suggest that is plenty of time; longer aging means that the nog loses its eggy freshness and becomes aggressively boozy.  I don’t think I will be able to confirm that.  I expect the batch I made to only last a month or so.

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Ridge Lytton Springs Red Blend 2019

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Ridge Vineyards is actually two distinct wineries, the original and more prestigious one is south of San Francisco and east of San Jose, and the other in Sonoma county is just north of Healdsburg.

Since this wine is from Sonoma, here’s just a brief history of the older San Francisco operation.  In 1885, Osea Perrone, a prominent doctor in San Francisco, bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello ridge.  He built a winery and released his first vintage in 1892.  At some point the winery was abandoned (my guess is that Prohibition caused its demise, along with almost every other US winery).

In the 1940s, theologian William Short bought the property, and extensively planted Cabernet Sauvignon.  In 1959, Short sold to three Stanford Research Institute engineers.  They were joined in 1969 by the iconic Paul Draper, a philosophy graduate turned winemaker.  Under his guidance and “hands off” approach, the quality and reputation of Ridge wines was established.  Draper made the wine until 2016.

The Lytton Springs property was acquired in 1991, although Ridge had been sourcing fruit from there as far back as 1972.  Where the southern operation focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon, in Lytton Springs Zinfandel holds court.  Some of the ancient vines date as far back as 1901.  The grapes from the vineyard are a true field blend; the vines are mixed varietals, planted right next to each other.  Some of the vines were only recently correctly identified after DNA testing.

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