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Summer time is grilling time and there is not a better part of the year for some charcoal fire and beef!

If you’re a wine person that means you need a bottle of Cabernet. Now, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Syrah, and more could match with your roasted beast. But nothing says summer like a great rib eye and a bottle of the king of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Grape Sense LogoBut what if you’re on a budget? Or maybe you just don’t have the palate or inclination to splurge on an expensive bottle of wine. Never fear, your faithful wine columnist and his Wine Dudes are here to help.

Yellowtail, Mondavi, Fetzer, Beringer, and Bogle wines can be found on most grocery store shelves and many wine shops and liquor stores. These wines ranged from $6.99 to $11.99. Those labels represent some of the biggest – and some would argue the best – in value wine.

My wine buddies got together recently to determine the best of the lot. All four wine drinkers are pretty serious about their vino and took the task seriously. I purchased five bottles of wine from a local Kroger and then bagged them. Another of the wine guys mixed the bottles up and then everyone picked up a number at random and stuck it on a bottle. So no one knew what we were tasting – we took notes.

We had a great time and great discussion about wine. But, to borrow a phrase, I wanted to kick it up a notch. So I added a sixth wine that was a $100 bottle of Bello Family Vineyards 2008 Napa Cabernet. That bottle was also wrapped, and randomly numbered.

The first task was to pick out the $100 bottle. I had told the guys I was including one and would never do that again if I repeat the exercise. Two of the four were able to pick out the $100 bottle rather easily. As I recall, the other two had the expensive bottle as their second pick.

The moral to that story is even experienced palates can be wrong or confused.

But what about the under-$12-value Cabs? All five wines were 2012 Cabernets. Keep in mind most had a little bit of Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot or whatever in the blend but were at least 75 percent Cabernet.

There was unanimous agreement that none of us cared if we ever tasted the value Yellowtail or Fetzer Cab ever again. Ever!

We probably disagreed the most on the Beringer Cab. The group loved it and hated it. That put it in the middle for us in the number-three slot. The Beringer needed time out of the bottle and just kept improving. Two of the group hated it, I think it’s a very solid choice for the price point.

The top two were Mondavi Central Coast Cabernet and Bogle Cab. The Mondavi was smooth with a balanced mouth feel and good Cabernet characteristics. Seldom do wines at this price point have much of a finish – or a pleasant one – and that was true with this bottle. A serious wine drinker would call the Mondavi thin. Still for a beginning wine drinker, I’d offer up the value Mondavi line to any one with great confidence.

So that means our winner was Bogle, but it was close. The Bogle could be described much like the Mondavi but with a little bit ‘more’ across the palate. The fruit was a bit bigger, there were secondary characteristics, mild tannins and a satisfying finish.

I’d call the Bogle pretty darn good juice. Try it with a rib eye.

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