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Flora proprietor Sal Ercolano, left, with Peter Flanagan, a sales consultant and sommelier with Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Prisoner wine dinner at Flora draws crowd

At the first of two Prisoner Wine Company dinners at Flora Bar & Kitchen on Dec. 14, Frank and I were among a record 82 in attendance.

Peter Flanagan of Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits, who narrated the dinner, reminded guests that PWC’s Dave Phinney started his career as a temporary harvest intern at Robert Mondavi in 1997 a few years before changing the industry with his famous red blend dominated by zinfandel. This was bold and unheard of for Napa Valley wineries.

Phinney wanted to create a wine with fruit that others did not want. At the time, this was primarily anything other than chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. He wanted a label as controversial as his nonconformist red blend zin and chose a Francisco de Goya sketching of a prisoner to grab buyers’ attention and match the mystique in the bottle.

A fun fact that Flanagan shared was that Phinney hated his first two vintages and did not release his 1998 or 1999 wine. In 2000, he released 375 cases, which has now grown to a massive 375,000 cases under the ownership of Constellation.  Constellation has held to Phinney’s mantra of sourcing from underutilized fruit from small family vineyards. Today, Chrissy Wittmann is PWC’s director of winemaking.

Dinner started with bacon-wrapped dates, coconut shrimp and mini pizza bites. This was served with 2018 Unshackled Brut, a chardonnay/pinot noir blend with floral notes and palate of green apple and pear, creating a crisp brut with minerality. It was made tirage style, where the carbon dioxide bubbles given off during fermentation are captured for three years in the bottle.

The second course had another PWC white, the 2021 Blindfold Blanc de Noir. Flanagan shared, “The 2021 is a shift from the roussanne/viognier/muscat blend that was deemed over-oaked. The new version is made with pinot noir, viognier and gewürztraminer fruit.”

We all noted that the gewürztraminer created a nice pop for the blue fin carpaccio with capers, dill and basil with an EVOO drizzle.

Next up was sea scallop risotto with porcini mushrooms topped with a seared scallop. This was a perfect pairing with the 2019 pinot noir blended with syrah sourced from Russian River/Carneros and 16 months of 40% new French oak aging.

Nice cherry and herbs with a hint of cinnamon on the nose with a palate of strawberry and cherry and a dash of vanilla made this my favorite pairing of the evening.

The main course featured slow-cooked, braised short rib in a red wine reduction with a creamy polenta alongside the 2019 cabernet sauvignon blend sourced from Oak Knoll, Spring Mountain and Carneros. Splashes of merlot, syrah, malbec, petite sirah and charbono were blended in, which PWC is notorious for.

The cab blend had 15 months aging in 55% French/American oak. The American oak imparted hints of vanilla along with black cherry and plum on the nose. The palate was filled with blackberry, spice and some cocoa.

Dinner ended with the PWC 2021 Red Blend. This was served with an array of cheese, acacia honeycomb and toasted almonds. The dessert was light and the PWC blend added body and well complemented the dessert plate.

The 2021 Red Blend dominated with zin was rounded out with cab sauv, petite sirah, syrah and charbono. More details at

At dinner, Flora proprietor Sal Ercolano announced that he has added Studio Diner in Kearny Villa to his growing restaurant empire.

He also shared his 2023 wine dinner lineup and joked that he is already working on 2024. He is starting the new year with two blockbusters at Flora:

On Jan. 12-13, Markham Winemaker Dinners with winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls featuring Peppered Moscovy Duck breast paired with 2018 The Altruist Red Blend. Price is $105 per person plus tax/tip;

On Feb. 8-9,  Daou Wine Dinners featuring pan-seared venison paired with Daou’s flagship Soul of a Lion Bordeaux Red Blend. Cost is $115 per person plus tax/tip.

RSVP online at

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

The 3rd annual Palm Springs Passion 4 Pinot Noir Festival is Friday- Saturday, Jan. 27-28, in Rancho Mirage. The festival is a premier event on the international wine calendar and is hosted in one of the world’s most dramatic and awe-inspiring hotels, the Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa.

This is a unique opportunity to engage with 75 of the top winery owners and winemakers and other leading wine personalities and enthusiasts from all over California. Get tickets and info at


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