How cheap can a wine get and still not suck ball bearings through a straw?
Try three bucks.
If that sounds cheap enough to you, try the 2009 Down Under Cabernet Sauvignon. For less than it would cost to sniff the cork of some fancy-pants wine with a name you can't pronounce, you can get a full bottle of surprisingly decent -- actually astonishingly decent -- Cabernet that's sourced from Australian grapes and produced by California wine impresario Fred Franzia.
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If that name's not familiar to you, try this one: Two-Buck Chuck.
Yes, Fred Franzia is the guy behind the $2 Charles Shaw wines that sold like crack cocaine despite hugely uneven quality and the near-universal disdain of professional cork dorks. To put it mildly, Franzia is not exactly the most popular guy in the California wine business, but in an industry that's being beaten like a gong by our current recession, he's built a thriving, profitable company by getting good juice (much of the time, anyway), turning it into wines people like, and selling them at prices that make most other California vintners want to drown their sorrows... in beer.
Now, this "three dollah koala," as some smarty put it (there's an illustration of a koala on the label), won't call up any memories of Petrus or Latour. But it is an eminently drinkable wine -- light- to medium-bodied, simple and grape-y, tasting of fresh, ripe red cherries. Unlike many inexpensive Australian wines (and California ones, for that matter), it's neither cloyingly sweet and fruity nor egregiously overoaked and alcoholic.
Then there's this: three bucks.