Wine review: Marietta Old Vine Red Lot Number 53

Twenty years ago, when I started writing about cheap wine, there were dozens of red wines called field blends. The term dates to the early days of California wine making, when the same vineyard was planted with different grapes and it was often difficult to tell which was which. Zinfandel might be mixed with petite sirah, which might be mixed with carignane. There were two reasons for this: First, the early days were long before DNA testing, and grapes look alike, even to experts. Second, it really didn’t matter what the grapes were, since the winemaker was trying to make red wine, not a specific kind of red wine. (See Gallo’s legendary Hearty Burgundy.)

These days, the cheap field blend is mostly gone. Consumers are leery of wine that doesn’t have a varietal name on the label (though they seem more than willing to accept a wine labeled as pinot noir that doesn’t taste like pinot noir and has 24.9 percent syrah or grenache in it). The Marietta, though, carries on — the 53 ($12, purchased, widely available) is an old-fashioned field blend, mostly zindandel. As such, it’s non-vintage, which means the grapes have been harvested in different years. Since a field blend is about blending, vintage doesn’t really make much difference.

The Marietta isn’t quite as rough as it was in the old days (a quality I missed, actually), and it was a little sweetish when I opened up the bottle. But the longer it was open, the more zinfandel-like it became, with red fruit and black pepper. There wasn’t a lot of depth, but it’s well made and solid throughout. It’s exactly the kind of wine for a Fourth of July barbecue.

Note: Prices for the 53 ranged from $10 to $15 at the four or five stores I checked. I have no idea why that is, especially since this isn’t the current vintage. It’s as little as $8 or $9 elsewhere in the country.

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