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8 Years in the Desert

Zinfandel Blend,

$44.99 $41.99/bottle

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8 Years: That’s how long a hiatus David Phinney was required to take from making Zinfandel as part of his non-compete when he sold his popular brand, “The Prisoner.” Phinney pays homage to his “time in the desert” with his release of 8 Years In The Desert

Variety: Zinfandel Blend
Region: Saint Helena, California
Winemaker: Orin Swift
Size: 750 ml
Alcohol: 15.6%

Winemaker's Notes

An opaque core with a red amethyst rim, the wine opens with ripe raspberry and blackberry, dark plum preserves and hints of black pepper and clove. An entry of heft, the palate is packed with blueberry and sweet black cherry along with a touch of fresh herbs – thyme, savory and tarragon. Long on the finish, the ripe tannins, a dash of ash, and notes of black tea round out the wine

John's Notes

Particularly in the US and Puglia (S. Italy), Zinfandel is a hugely popular grape whose wine is delicious on its own and even more compelling with food. But what makes this variety interesting?  Did you know …

  • Zinfandel is California’s #4 produced grape by volume behind Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, but in front of Merlot. In fact, many consider Zinfandel California’s signature grape particularly given that many vineyards include “old vine” Zin in excess of 100 years-old
  • Known as Primitivo in Italy, Zinfandel’s bunches in Puglia are looser with smaller berries than in California which accordingly provides greater disease resistance
  • Zinfandel can be challenging to produce as it is prone to uneven ripening such that bunches often contain ripe AND underripe fruit making sorting very important. In addition, it buds early (risk from spring frost), is prone to drought, and can exhibit poor flowering and fruit set in rainy or humid years
  • When done right, Zinfandel can exhibit a range of juicy red and black fruit notes (raspberry, blackberry, blueberry), have an affinity for oak (vanilla, cinnamon, toasty, mocha), and delivers medium+ intensity fine grained tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ to full body, and high alcohol. Yum!
Nerdy Details

Winemaker: Orin Swift Cellars

  • The history of Orin Swift Cellars dates back to 1995 when on a lark, David Swift Phinney took a friend up on an offer and went to Florence, Italy to spend a semester “studying”. During that time, he was introduced to wine, how it was made, and got hooked
  • A few more years of university led to graduation and eventually a job at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1997 as a temporary harvest worker. Deciding that if he was going to work this hard, it would eventually have to be for himself, he founded Orin Swift Cellars in 1998; Orin is his father’s middle name and Swift is his mother’s maiden name

Variety:  53% Zinfandel, 23% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 4% Grenache

Region: Saint Helena, California


  • Climate in California is less about latitude and more about the extent to which various cooling influences affect the vineyards
  • In some locations, California’s valleys act as a funnel for the cold Pacific Ocean air to reach sites far inland. That cold air, often accompanied by fog, can significantly lower nighttime temperatures.  In addition, it can take several hours to burn off the fog which accordingly extends the cooling influence well into the daylight hours
  • In other locations, the coastal mountains shield the vineyards from the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean. Vineyards with no such cooling exposure (e.g. Central Valley) have a much hotter, drier climate that typically requires irrigation


  • Working with Zinfandel requires use of the Goldilocks principle— pick it too early and you end up with a stemmy wine; pick it too late and you risk a stuck fermentation; pick it just right… well, what do you think? Zinfandel tends to have more acidity compared to other grapes at the same sugar levels, therefore making it necessary to let them ripen more than usual. As a result, alcohols are rarely seen below 15% – some of ours much higher
  • Sourced from vineyards of pedigree, such as Monte Rosso, Bismark, Korte and Frei Ranch, the wine exudes the ethos of 8 Years in the Desert: a heart and body of Zinfandel with nuance and complexity from Syrah, Petite Sirah and Grenache
  • Aged for 8 months in French and American Oak, 37% new

Alcohol:  15.6%

Pairs Well With:  Burgers fresh off the grill, Portobello mushrooms, dried meats


Wilfred Wong (92): The Orin Swift Cellars Eight Years in the Desert is David Swift Phinney’s testament to the wine world. He took his first two tons of Zinfandel in 1998 to a brand of significance. The 2018 vintage is massive, yet stylish and restrained. This is a mouthful of wine that explodes onto the palate with the strength of a complex medley of berries. Pair it with slow-grilled baby back ribs. 9/19/19

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (92): Composed of Zinfandel with Syrah, Petite Sirah and Grenache, the 2018 Red Blend 8 Years in the Desert was aged for eight months in American oak barrels (37% new). Deep garnet-purple colored, it comes roaring out of the glass with notions of baked black cherries, raspberry preserves, blueberry tart and potpourri plus hints of garrigue, tobacco leaf and cinnamon stick. Full-bodied, the richly fruited palate has a pleasantly chewy texture and loads of savory layers coming through on the finish

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