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Enjoy this top $10 California red tonight

TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch finds unusual complexity in Foppiano's Lot 96 and says it's best with casual summer meals.
/ Source: TODAY

There’s plenty of $10-and-under red wine out there. The problem is that most of it just isn’t very interesting, especially wine from California, which tends to be soft and one-dimensional at this price.

A wine called Lot 96, Bin 002 from Foppiano Vineyards in Sonoma County is an outstanding exception. The best inexpensive California reds tend to be blends, and that’s what this one is, combining seven grape varieties led by sangiovese, petite sirah and zinfandel with smaller amounts of carignane, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. The wine is also non-vintage, meaning that the grapes are from more than one year, mainly 2004 and 2005, and the appellation is “California,” which conveys that the fruit came from more than one area, although primarily from Sonoma.

Now, it doesn’t matter that this is a fairly big-production wine, with some 20,000 cases made, although this guarantees that it will be widely available. What does matter is that Lot 96 shows an unusual complexity for a $10 wine, thanks to its diverse blend and pleasant integration of oak.

I twisted off the screw cap late the other night and was struck by its jammy aromas of red and dark berry and plum, accented by touches of cedar and black pepper. The wine had a bright quality on the nose that carried through in the mouth with notes of raspberry, black cherry and vanilla. There was a bit of tannic structure (unusual at this price) and good balance between fruit and acid, suggesting, along with relatively modest alcohol of 13.8 percent, that the wine would match well with food.

And it did. This is a wine for just about anything that calls for red, from the turkey pot pie I enjoyed it with the other night, to an open-faced grilled cheddar sandwich with which I had another small glass at lunch the next day, to grilled meats, barbecue and pasta sauces, including tomato.

Enjoy this excellent value wine with casual summer meals and as a house red that’s easy to pour with its screw cap — and easy to drink. Lot 96, by the way, refers to the year the family-owned Foppiano Vineyards was established, in 1896. Bin 002, which you’ll find in tiny print on the upper left corner of the back label, refers to the second edition of the wine, which was initially produced just last year.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at