I've reviewed a few Big House Wines over the years, but I recently made contact with the winemaker, also known as "The Warden", Georgetta Dane. While a name like that sounds right at home here in the south, she's from Suceava, Romania where she worked in the historic wine industry of the region.
She and her husband Corneliu won an immigration lottery and moved to Monterey, California to work for Kendall-Jackson and eventually she became the winemaker for the eclectic and mischievous Big House wines, designed and marketed around a prison theme. To this day there are people that still think the wine is made on the grounds of a state penitentiary and the grapes are picked by convicts, but this is not the case. Frankly I'm more curious if there's some Fetească Neagră or Tămâioasă Românească growing in some experimental patches.
Here are two recent releases, which were tried in the 750mL bottle form, but they are also available in the convenient 3L Octavin packaging.
2009 Unchained Naked Chardonnay
$10, 13.5% abv.
Light apricot aroma, mild body with just a touch of lemony acidity. As the name implies, this gets no oak, and it provides a mellow and light drinking experience. Very refreshing, and perfect with my little grilled chicken salad and fruit.
2009 The Usual Suspect Cabernet Sauvignon
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Grenache
$10, 13.5% abv.
Bacon fat and cherry, spice cake on the finish. Touch of tobacco, medium tannins. Interesting splash of Grenache in this wine, and it's always cool to see how Cabernet Sauvignon gets blended without French-style restrictions. I had this with some grilled flank steak tacos and found it to be a good pairing for the hearty beef flavors.
Note: These wines were received as samples.