Fireworks, picnics and a moment to recall the immigrant ancestors from around the world and the commitment to individual freedom that has made America great: What better way to celebrate the Fourth than to accompany a holiday picnic meal with wines that reflect this heritage?
There's nothing particularly fancy - or terribly expensive - about the honest, hard-working wines that we feature today. They're both hearty reds from California, made to go with steaks, burgers and picnic fare, that speak with a strong American accent and yet - like most of us - stand squarely on the shoulders of those who came across the oceans to get here.
Both wines contain a significant portion of Zinfandel, the once-mysterious grape that we now know came originally from Croatia but that the United States has made its own.
And both are made in the tradition of old-country Italian "field blends," made from a variety of grapes all grown together in the vineyard, where the grower didn't really much care (and, in older times, may not have even known) what specific grapes went into the press, as long as the wine was good.
Happy Fourth! Wherever your family came from and wherever you've ended up, may this day be a good one for you.
Marietta California Old Vine Red Lot No. 31 ($10)
Made "in the tradition" of old-style field blends, Marietta's Old Vine Red is not issued with a vintage year, but rather a "Lot Number," each batch varying somewhat from its predecessors. The current Lot No. 31 consists of 60 percent Zinfandel, 25 percent Carignane, 10 percent Petite Sirah and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from old-vine patches in several California regions. Very dark reddish-purple in color, it shows perfumed "dusty" aromas with plummy fruit and grace notes of pepper and spice. Warm and mouth-filling flavors focus on black plums and a hint of sweet brown sugar from the oak, with a tart edge of acidity gaining presence in the finish. I find the Zinfandel character muted, but the wine is full and textured, a "Mediterranean-style" red from the New World. (July 3, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with red meat or picnic fare; it was an excellent match with juicy lamb-and-beef burgers.
VALUE: Good value at $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although it's not meant for aging, it certainly wouldn't suffer from a year or two in the cellar.
WEB LINK: You'll find the winery's fact sheet about its current Old Vines Red here:
Cosentino 2000 Tenero Rosso Lodi Red Wine ($10)
Although the conventional wisdom has long dismissed California's agricultural Central Valley as the source of forgettable "jug wines," there's increasing evidence that specific pockets such as Lodi can produce more serious stuff. This traditional "field blend" from the region's Norman Knoll Vineyard, an unexpected mix of Napa Gamay, Mourvedre, Zinfandel and Sangiovese, stands out. Zinlike in character, it's a clear, rather bright cherry red, with fresh mixed-berry aromas, ripe and full. There's a load of raspberry and strawberry flavor on the palate, full-bodied yet juicy and refreshing. It doesn't seem as strongly alcoholic as the label discloses (14.6%), something to keep in mind when its luscious, up-front fruit makes you want to gulp it. (July 3, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Juicy lamb-beef burgers show it at its best.
VALUE: Excellent value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Full body and strength will help it hold for a year or two, but all the exuberant fruit suggests drinking it reasonaby soon, before it starts to fade.
WEB LINK: The winery Website doesn't appear to have information about the 2000 Tenero Rosso, but a fact sheet about the 1999 vintage is online at
Hitting the wine trail?
Planning to hit the wine trail for the holiday weekend? If a winery visit is on your agenda, you'll find a cellar full of helpful hints and tips in Natalie Maclean's new article, "How to Get the Most From Your Trip to Wine Country Anywhere", now online at
From planning your visit to pacing yourself to the fine art of tasteful expectoration, Nat gives you all the tools you'll need to maximize the enjoyment of wine touring and winery visits.
Frequent WineLoversPage.com contributor Natalie MacLean's free wine newsletter, nominated as one of the three best food and wine newsletters in North America this year by the James Beard Foundation, is available at
The California Wine Club:
Reds, Whites and You Sale!
The California Wine Club is having a special "Reds, Whites and You" sale - but only until July 10. You can save up to 60 percent off regular retail on an intriguing selection of wines. Choose from a vertical tasting of Paso Robles Pinot Noirs, Napa Valley Merlots, Cabernets and, of course, lots of great Chardonnays to enjoy during the upcoming summer months.
The list of sale wines is only available via E-mail. Call 1-800-777-4443 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to tell them you are from The 30 Second Wine Advisor and they'll be happy to send you the list of wines in their "Reds, Whites and You" Sale!
If you're looking for cool summertime sippers at hot prices, call or E-mail The California Wine Club before July 10!
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Friday, July 4, 2003