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Unshackled at Vittorio's Prisoner wine dinner
The Prisoner Wine Company's "Unshackled" series is “made for those who are looking to break free from convention, stereotypes, and perception.” The Coast News graphic/Photo by The Prisoner Wine Company
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‘Unshackled’ at Vittorio’s Prisoner wine dinner

One of the challenges with writing a column is finding a catchy title. At least for me, once the title is in order, the rest just seems to flow.

During last month’s Prisoner wine dinner at Vittorio’s Italian Ristorante last month, I had the title of the column in my head when I heard the name of the first wine being poured. Vittorio’s owner, Victor Magalhaes, along with narrators Amanda Salmon, field sales manager for Constellation Brands, and David Sheline, a certified sommelier, launched the evening with “Unshackled” sauvignon blanc.

“I got it,” I told co-producer Frank Mangio. “I need to use ‘Unshackled’ in the title when I write the column.’

“Unshackled came from The Prisoner’s original winemaker David Phinney’s belief that Napa Valley could produce luxury red blends vs. the region’s single varietal go-to cabernet sauvignon,” Salmon said.

Phinney created Prisoner’s original (and unlikely) blend with primarily zinfandel along with cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah, and charbono.

Phinney attributes the Goya painting his mom had in his bedroom for his humor and creativity that extends to his winemaking prowess. Phinney liked the Goya so much that Prisoner wine labels are etched with Goya artwork (after lots of negotiation, of course).

Luckily for The Prisoner Wine Company, Phinney was able to share his blending secrets and skills with Jen Beloz, the second winemaker, who passed on the trade secrets to Chrissy Whitman, director of winemaking at Prisoner.

Unshackled at Vittorio's Prisoner wine dinner
David Sheline, left, of Southern Glazers, Amanda Salmon, center, of Constellation Brands, and Victor Magalhaes, owner of
Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Another interesting fact about Prisoner wines is that the brand does not own a single vineyard. Instead, fruit is sourced from more than 100 California small producers that grow unique varietals.

The Unshackled line gives recognition to and is “made for those who are looking to break free from convention, stereotypes, and perception.” The Unshackled White (2019) is predominantly sauvignon blanc (93%) with splashes of viognier, chenin blanc, and roussanne providing acidity and a textured mouthfeel. This paired well with the first course of crab and shrimp chowder.

The second and third courses included Prisoner chardonnay (2019) served alongside portobello mushroom ravioli for the second and 2019 pinot noir with crispy duck and sour cherry compote the third course.

The chardonnay fruit is sourced from Carneros, which has cooler temps and more wind making it more accommodating for the thin-skinned chardonnay grape. It is blended with splashes of roussanne and gewürztraminer giving the chardonnay blend extra minerality for food-friendliness and a good pairing with the ravioli’s walnut cream sauce.

The pinot noir was blended with syrah giving the (also) thin-skinned red (versus white) Sonoma Coast fruit meatiness and boldness. The typical cherry pinot noir palate had hints of spice, making it a complementary partner for the duck’s sour cherry compote.

Unshackled at Vittotio's Prisoner wine dinner: Grilled New Zealand lamb chop atop a bed of polenta with grilled French beans and dijon rosemary au jus.
Grilled New Zealand lamb chop atop a bed of polenta with grilled French beans and dijon rosemary au jus served with Prisoner cabernet sauvignon (2019). Photo by Rico Cassoni

The main course featured grilled New Zealand lamb chop on a bed of polenta with grilled French beans and dijon rosemary au jus. This was paired with a new 2019 cabernet sauvignon-blend dominated by cab sauvignon vs. zinfandel as in the case for the original Prisoner.

The blend was mixed with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, malbec, petite sirah and charbono. The cab’s black cherry and red plum palate with hints of vanilla was a perfect match for the grilled lamb and its au jus. See The Prisoner info at

Throughout dinner, Salmon and Sheline spoiled guests with The Prisoner wine raffles.  And The Crosby Baker, Kary Favish, further indulged guests with red velvet cupcakes filled with chocolate ganache and topped with piped crème frosting. Great dinner Magalhaes, Chef, Salmon, Sheline, and Favish!  Find more info on the Crosby Baker at

Wine Bytes

— Family Winemakers will host its annual tasting of family-produced and hard-to-find California wines 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on March 13 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The Sunday tasting is a one-day event featuring award-winning, family-owned wineries that create wines from many of the state’s fabled wine-growing regions.  Tickets start at $55 for entrance at 2:00pm. Early access tickets are $75 and allow access from 12 to 4 p.m. Tix at

— Morton’s The Steakhouse in San Diego’s Gaslamp District is hosting a five-course “A Taste of Two Legends” wine dinner featuring Morton’s world-renowned cuisine paired with bold & complex wines from Lodi’s Michael David Winery on Sat, March 5, 2022, 6:30 to 10:30 PM. The main course is blue cheese-crusted filet mignon paired with Rapture cabernet sauvignon. The cost is $149 per person and includes tax & gratuity. RSVP at or (619) 696-3369.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading commentators on the web.  View their columns at Go to recent columns.  Reach them at [email protected].