The stories behind Orin Swift’s quirkiest wine labels


Phinney’s most haunting label, which graces bottles of his Napa Valley red blend Palermo, is a chilling photo of a mummified priest wearing a red cape and a black hat known as a ‘biretta’, taken by National Geographic photographer Vincent J. Musi in a 16th century catacomb in Palermo, Sicily, after which the wine is named.

The arresting image is one of a series taken by Musi for National Geographic and reflects Phinney’s reverence for Cabernet Sauvignon. “There is such a sense of power and dignity to the image, which is how we think about great Cabernet. We just really respect it. It think it makes a statement about the wine,” says Phinney.

Palermo is made from Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec from Rutherford, Saint Helena, Atlas Peak and Coombsville. Using fruit that also goes into Phinney’s top reds, Mercury Head and Papillon, Phinney describes it as his most approachable Cabernet”, and “a true representation of Napa”.

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