The Winos’ Tasting Series: 2005 Papillon

By Jesse on March 10, 2008

Jordan and I are huge fans of Orin Swift’s “Prisoner” Zin blend, so when our Saturday tasting buddy Kevin Delin raved about Swift’s just-released 2005 Meritage “Papillon,” we were in no position to exercise restraint and resist popping a bottle. By that point, having just finished off a flight of foreign and domestic Pinot Noirs which ran a little hotter than we might’ve guessed, our combined B.A.C. was a bit loftier than would’ve been requisite for us to say, “gee, $56 is really too much to spend on a bottle we’ve never heard of until forty-five seconds ago.” So it was that we threw fiscal responsibilty to the wind and made our way home with our trophy wine.


“Papillon” is the product of wunderkind Dave Phinney via his vanity label Orin Swift (check out Vinifico for a brief descripion of the shingle). It’s an intriguing Bordeaux blend of 63% Cab followed by diminishing proportions of Merlot, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. The slightly precious label was photographed by post-modern photographer Greg Gorman… but that’s not really what we were interested in. To our credit, we allowed the Napa Valley monster to decant for a little under an hour; given the circumstances, that’s pretty impressive. Once we could no longer wait, we headed out to the wine porch and poured a couple of glasses. Thankfully, Doug was on hand to visually document the whole thing.

Jordan’s first impression on the nose was an unfortunate combination of blackberries and soy sauce. I didn’t think he was too far off, so I resolved to open the bastard up, and really gave it the washing-machine treatment in the glass. It wasn’t too long before reassuring dark chocolate notes began to emerge; emboldened, we ventured into the pal.

Initial berry notes on the tongue were tempered by an off-putting alcoholic element; at 15.1%, this puppy is no Juicy Juice. Again, we resorted to vigerous, maniacal swirling of the glass, and finally, the resplendant flavors began to reveal themselves. Delicious dark chocolate, tobacco, even some fresh-ground pepper on the back end, all shuttled through this beautifully full-bodied silkiness. We remembered Kevin’s wise musings: “the longer it sat in my glass, the better it was.” Word is bond.

By the bottle’s unfortunate end, the dark chocolate had melted into milk chocolate, and the massive berries were bursting with ripeness. The moral of the story? Allow this wine to decant, decant, decant. You figure, ok, Napa Cab in the $50-$60 range, give it a half hour and it’s ready to go. Here’s our advice: do not underestimate this wine. Treat it like a big boy. It will deliver in spades.

Again, for $56, this is not a wine you want to drink lightly. But if you’re in the market, and you’re willing to invest some time in the bottle, this is a solid buy and a really beautiful expression of what California is doing with Meritage right now. For the price, many of us would just as soon not fight our way through the intracacies of a Bordeaux when we can just bathe in this kind of opulence instead.

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The Young Winos of LA… edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005.


  1. […] March 10, 2008 […]

    Pingback by Young Winos of LA » What’s with that thumb-hole at the bottom of a bottle? — March 10, 2008 @ 4:20 am

  2. Forget the Meritage, I want to hear more about this Prisoner Zin!

    Comment by Andrew Lang — March 10, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

  3. We will be doing a Prisoner vertical tasting soon. Stay tuned.

    Comment by Jordan — March 12, 2008 @ 9:14 am

  4. We have had you winos under surveillance for a few months now. Keep up the great tastings! Your reports are a great source of intel and we want to recruit you guys as undercover Operatives… Hit us up any time.

    Comment by Agent Red — March 12, 2008 @ 10:40 am

  5. Thanks for the tips on this wine!

    I’m a HUGE Orin Swift fan and have enjoyed the 03, 05 and 06 Prisoners as well as the last 2 (or is it 3?) years of the Mercury Head. Sounds like the Papillon needs a bit of time, but I am intrigued.

    As for the comment on the Prisoner vertical, I’d give the 06 another few months before going that route – it is pretty rambunctious.

    Any help on other Zins or Zin blends that a fan of the 05 Prisoner might enjoy?

    Comment by CET — March 12, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  6. CET. Thanks for the heads up on the Prisoner 06 needing more time. We have a bunch of bottles stashed away and will keep that in mind. There is one Zin I had the other day that actually had 15% alcohol. And it was delicious. I don’t remember what it was but will be picking some up in the next two weeks for review so I will let you know.

    Comment by Jordan — March 12, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

  7. Other Zins people might like are:
    Turley Pesenti Vineyard
    Hanson Vineyards, Paso Robles

    Comment by John Mei — March 13, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

  8. Opened a bottle with friends this past weekend after dinner. It is true that it needs a bit of time , but well worth the wait. I just bought two more bottles today.

    Comment by J.C. — May 14, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  9. Was just given a bottle of this by my boss ( a fellow wine nut ) and got the same recommendation from her – let this fellow BREATHE. Impatience will mean a waste of your money. Will let you know how it unfolds later!

    Comment by Jesse — September 11, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  10. Is it me or does anyone elst think that Dave Phinney may have sold out a little and sacrificed some quality in the name of quantity with the 07 Prisoner? I see it everywhere now and although it is still young, I think there’s no way that the quality has held up to what it once was.

    Thanks for the comments on Papillon. I have several bottles and will definitely wait to crack them open.

    Comment by Thomas — March 24, 2009 @ 9:29 am

  11. Thomas — great question. A couple friends and I opened the ’07 Prisoner last weekend and found it a big tight and slight. It opened up after an hour or so, but not to the delicious level I recalled from previous vintages.

    The Young Winos are holding a vertical tasting of the ’05, ’06 and ’07 Prisoners soon. Check back to see how it went!

    Comment by Jesse — March 26, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

  12. […] The Winos’ Tasting Series: 2005 Papillon […]

    Pingback by Wine Pick of the Week: Orin Swift’s “Papillon” | Kasbah Style — July 14, 2011 @ 7:41 am

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