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A $10 California Cab gets it right

Wine of the week: L de Lyeth ripe, jammy and ready to drink
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California’s wineries make some superb high-end Cabernet Sauvignons, often with sky-high prices to match. But a California Cab loaded with character and delicious fruit — for just $10? That’s a rare wine, indeed.

And yet, the 2001 Sonoma County Cabernet called L de Lyeth hits the mark and soars above most California Cabernets and other reds I have tried at this price and even somewhat higher. In wine, fortunately, there are always unexpected turns.

After a tentative first sip or two the other night, I had no hesitation making this budget Cab the main wine with a simple, delicious dinner of thick grilled lamb chops, late-summer corn on the cob and sautéed zucchini. It was all the more satisfying because here was an inexpensive wine playing a great supporting role in a dinner whose ingredients cost considerably more than the wine.

L de Lyeth, which made its debut a few months ago with the Cabernet and a Merlot, is an offshoot of the familiar Lyeth label, which was started by the late Chip Lyeth (pronounced Leeth) in 1981 and became well-known for its so-called Meritage style in which various Bordeaux varieties — mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the reds — are blended, as they are in that part of France.

Lyeth’s wines (red and white Meritages and a red Reserve in addition to the new offerings) are made from grapes purchased from vineyards in Sonoma County. The L de Lyeth is actually a blend itself of 85 percent Cabernet and 15 Merlot, with most of the Cabernet from Sonoma’s famed Alexander Valley.

As I took in a breath, the wine gave off the unmistakable signature of a nice Cabernet — a ripe, jammy, fruit orchard aroma with hints of raspberry and toast. Blackberry and plum emerged in the mouth and the finish was long and peppery. The wine had fairly soft tannins but decent structure. In other words, it was ready to drink.

For $10, you couldn’t ask for much more. Lyeth, by the way, was purchased in 1992 by the Burgundy-based Boisset, France’s third-largest wine company. Lyeth, however, remains relatively small, producing 30,000 cases a year, including 6,500 cases of the L de Lyeth Cabernet.

In his understated way, a friend who suggested that I try the wine described it as “drinkable.” It’s actually a very good, inexpensive wine worth seeking out.