Dinner with my parents is an occasion; they are rarely home together for a meal so when we are all available we need to make it special. My mother always has plans to create something thoughtful, tasty and not too time-consuming and I am always left in charge of the wine-pairing portion of the meal. This time I had an ace in the hole, or so I thought with the Prisoner—bin number 235.

I have to admit that I was a bit intrigued with the offerings of wine from Orin Swift; the eye-catching labels fastened to the elegant and rather heavy bottles really call attention to themselves on store shelves. This Prisoner sprints off the wall in the Whole Foods where I work, having to refill frequently the vacancy where it was nestled. Next to the other Orin Swift projects like the Palermo Cabernet Sauvignon, the Abstract Grenache, Papillion and even his latest endeavor the Department 66—a French Grenache—the entire oeuvre creates an aesthetically pleasing block, dynamic and striking. Gorgeous artwork aside I have remained doubtful and almost counter-culture to the Orin Swift phenomena. There is one element to his wines that remains a steady fixture of his style and a serious deterrent for me as a consumer; probably the reason why so many others love his wines and that is the ABV. Those wines regularly tip the scales at 15 plus percent alcohol which is heavy enough to require a nap after drinking a bottle.

I was lucky enough to have my boss purchase a bottle for me recently because she said it was too popular for me to not know what it tasted like. I agreed, and was incredibly thankful for the gesture. The educational value—aside from the literal price—was extremely high and I was totally willing to be a guinea pig, experimenting with the massively popular wine. Like a guilty pleasure, secretly listening to Miley Cyrus (maybe not that bad?!!!).

When I arrived in Long Beach to have dinner with my parents I quickly opened the bottle to allow for maximum breathing time (about an hour before we ate). I wanted to experience this wine in its best form and so I pulled out the Schott Zwiesel Bordeaux stemware to enhance the showing. It was an occasion after all.

My mother prepared fillet mignon, asparagus and a baked potato for each of us, it was looking like a Ruth’s Chris-kind-of-night. When everything was ready to eat we dug our noses deep into the opulent glassware and smelled some dark ripe fruits, baked compote with a sifted dusting of cocoa. I felt a minor singe of alcohol burning on the inside of my nostrils as I tried to pull out everything from the glass. The first taste yielded similar notes with a big body, moderate tannins and a heavy coating in the mouth feel, I readied my mouth for the first bite of steak. It was a respectable yet boring match for the dinner and the Prisoner was not making me a fan—it was too much—with its overabundance of alcohol and borderline cloying, with overripe fruits until dessert. We had some homemade dark chocolate truffles to finish off the night. That was the saving grace; the alcohol was moderate in comparison to the fortified wines I was used to pairing with chocolate but the dusty cocoa notes inherent in the Prisoner really synched beautifully with the rich dark chocolate.

The Prisoner was unable to make me a believer; instead my dubious attitude toward the wine was validated. Although it was a hit with truffles, the wine was out of balance, favoring a big bang rather than a subtle approach that I find much more satisfying. No depth but a lot of brawn, I could see why this wine has been locked up.