The Winos’ Tasting Series — brother, can you spare a cabernet?

By Jesse on August 1, 2008

Jordan and I apparently are suckers for Orin Swift bottles following a Vendome tasting. In an unintentional homage to our Papillon tasting of last spring, we recently stumbled out of the venerable Studio City vendor — where we’d just enjoyed a pleasant and affordable flight of varied Sauv Blancs — clutching a bottle of thoroughly unaffordable Cab Sauv from one of our favorite Napa producers.


Always a fan of the distinctive packaging, owner/winemaker Dave Phinney has really outdone himself this time — he’s affixed an antique Winged Liberty Head (or “Mercury Head”) dime to each and every bottle. Apparently, if various nerdy websites are to be believed, the Mercury Head dime is one of the most admired US coin designs ever minted. But would this wine prove to be one of the Young Winos’ most admired Cabernets ever minted?

We headed back to my place, settled into the dimly-lit “wine nook,” and dispatched a couple of glasses. The 2005 Orin Swift “Mercury Head” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) opened with a nose of cocoa, some dark chocolate, an unexpected splash of bright red fruit, and a slap of leather. Jordan picked up some gamey elements, while I found that these mellowed out into chocolate syrup. (It smelled like a $75 CaliCab, lets just put it that way.) The wine looked luscious in the glass: totally opaque, with a red taillight rim.

140_4051.JPGInto our mouths it went. The palate failed to disappoint, and we found ourselves treated to many of the delights promised by the nose: tremendous chocolate and cocoa, dark berries, dried plums, a velvety mouthfeel, and even some pubescent acidity on the back end. Jordan stuck to his previous theme, harping on the gaminess in the glass, which he claimed “cut through the brightness of the fruit.” (To its credit, the wine effortlessly masked its 15.5% alcohol content.)

Our common gripe was that the flavors all seemed a bit at odds with each other. Yes, there was a lot going on, but it didn’t seem quite focused. The wine’s choco-berry opulence reminded Jordan of the similarly-priced 2004 O’Shaughnessy Cab, but he lamented the lack of the rounded precision he’d experienced tasting that bottle. However, the Mercury Head’s saving grace is that it’s still quite young. With plenty of subtle tannins and acidity dancing around on the palate, this wine promises good things to come for those who are willing to wait. We have no doubt that the manic fireworks we experienced on this first tasting will have mellowed out into a smooth, cohesive flow within a couple of years.

mercury_dime.jpgThe “Mercury Head” dime, which was designed by Adolph A. Weinman, was minted from 1916 until its replacement by the current Roosevelt dime in 1946. Contrary to popular belief, the winged figure on the front isn’t Mercury, but is actually Liberty (I feel like we’re at a used car lot). Our dime bears the date 1943, and, according to the aforementioned nerdy websites, that would place its value at about two dollars. If, however, the coin was minted in either Denver or San Francisco, rather than Philadelphia, it could command more of a premium; regrettably, discerning such would require examining the back of the coin to check for a “D” or “S,” and neither Jordan or myself are in the habit of removing a wine’s label just to check for hidden goodies on the back.

140_4056.JPG 140_4052.JPG 140_4072.JPG

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


  1. Great notes. Thanks. I am also a huge fan of Orin Swift, but have not yet picked up any ’05 MH. If you’ve had the 03 or 04 Mercury Head, how would you compare the ’05 to them?

    Comment by 949er — September 26, 2008 @ 10:26 am

  2. This is our first Mercury Head experience! I’d be down to try an ’03 or ’04, though, just to see how they change up after a few years.

    Comment by Jesse — October 6, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.