Posted on 12/12/2013 12:01 EST
The first tablet to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of the general public was the iPad from Apple, whose price tag made a tablet under $100 seem like a pipe dream. An iPad is still a triple-digit proposition, as are several other high-end tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tabs. Amazon shook up the tablet world with its Kindle Fire, a very good, functional tablet that costs several hundred dollars less than the iPad and other popular competitors. Barnes & Noble has also released a Nook tablet that is priced in the Kindle Fire's ballpark.
Insignia Flex 8
Many consumers are drawn to these name-brand devices, either at the high end or in the middle of the price spectrum, but we found several ultra-cheap tablets under $100 that consumers appreciate for what they are.
- One of the best deals running right now is for the Insignia Flex 8, on sale at Best Buy for a mere $99.99, half its usual sticker price. Buyers say the build quality is good and the price hard to beat.
- The E Fun Nextbook 7P12 will set you back only $69 at Walmart, where more than 1,000 reviews give this ultra-cheap tablet four or five stars. Users consider the Nextbook to be an excellent basic device, and many report having bought one for their children or grandkids.
- Walmart shoppers who have picked up an RCA 7-inch tablet have positive things to say in reviews of this model, as well, particularly given its $69.99 sticker price.
- The Visual Land Connect 9, a 9-inch tablet for $89, also at Walmart, earns slightly more tempered praise from buyers. Reviews say the budget tablet works just fine and the relatively large screen is a welcome feature, although some express disappointment with responsiveness and image quality.
E Fun Nextbook 7P12
There's no doubt that tablets under $100 are an impressive value, but predictably, tablet makers cut corners to keep retail prices so low. The processors that power these ultra-cheap tablets are fast enough to get simple jobs done, but are not on par with processors found in higher-end tablets from Samsung and Apple. Most tablets under $100 have a single-core CPU that runs at about 1GHz, whereas more expensive tablets use dual-core CPUs running at 1.2GHz to 1.5GHz.
RCA 7-inch Tablet
Pricier tablets generally sport better screens as well; that is, with higher resolutions and true HD compared with the typical 800x480 resolution found on entry-level tablets (although the Insignia Flex 8 boasts resolution of 1024x768). Expensive tablets also contain more built-in storage: 16GB to 32GB versus the 4GB to 6GB commonly found in budget models. Note, though, that ultra-cheap tablets mitigate this disparity by including SD card slots that increase their memory. And finally, most tablets under $100 do not include cameras, as their upscale counterparts do.
Visual Land Connect 9
Budget tablets are built on Android 4.0 or newer operating systems, as are pricier versions. Almost all tablets at the bottom of the price scale include USB 2.0 ports, and some offer Bluetooth connectivity. Mini HDMI ports are rare but not unheard of (the E Fun Nextbook, for example, has one). A tablet could hardly be called a tablet without a touchscreen and Wi-Fi capability, and these essentials are present in tablets under $100.
Some people may still prefer to shell out hundreds of dollars on a tablet, but anyone in the market for a second device, or one for the youngsters, won't sacrifice much in performance or quality by stepping down to a cheap Android model. It may be a tiny step slower than the big-name machines, but will serve its purpose.
Posted on 12/12/2013 11:37 EST
This week's top picks for health, fashion, and beauty deals include Arganesse hair treatment, an American Apparel voucher, a Weight Watchers deal, and an Amazon 1 cent shipping deal.
1. Arganesse Hair Treatment 75% Off
This moisturizing formula draws from argan oil to reduce frizz and strengthen hair without leaving a greasy feel. Shipping and returns are free.
Arganesse Hair Treatment
(Groupon $29.99, 75% off from $120.00 - $90.01 savings)
2. American Apparel 50% Off
Purchase a voucher good for 50% off clothing either in-store or online while supplies last.
American Apparel Voucher
(American Apparel - 50% off)
3. Weight Watchers Deal
Jump start on a weight-loss plan: Save $25 when you buy the 3 Months Savings Plan on WeightWatchers.com!
Weight Watchers Deal
(Weight Watchers - $25 off)
4. Amazon Wine Shipping Deal
Get great discounts on wine with one cent shipping for a limited time during the holiday season.
Amazon Wine Shipping Deal
(Amazon Wine - 1 cent shipping)
Posted on 12/12/2013 8:30 EST
If you're like me, Amazon consumes your front doorstep, especially as the holidays near. In the month or so beforehand, I get a big brown box or two several times a week. As an Amazon Prime member, I have even ordered just a package of batteries or new socks for my toddler during the rest of the year simply because I will have it sooner than if I had to find time to stop for "just" that. And until now, I've always thought that shopping Amazon wasn't only more convenient, but that it was cheaper, too. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.
Lesson learned after I researched a variety of products, ranging from slow cookers to kids' tricycles. I found that, across departments, the sticker price on Amazon is often a few dollars lower than the retail store. But it is the lack of coupons and price-matching at Amazon that makes this mega-retailer less the deal than we think it is. Sure, the item is shipped right to our front doors, which saves time and possibly more money by foreclosing the possibility of impulse buys once in the store. But on the whole, Amazon isn't saving us much, if anything, on the items in our carts.
This is especially true when comparing Amazon prices against those of certain retailers that are notorious for an ongoing flood of coupons -- Bed, Bath and Beyond and Kohl's are prime examples. In fact, I have a pile of BB&B coupons on my desk right now because the chain is especially gracious about accepting expired coupons, and often more than one per transaction. I also know I can bank on at least one, if not more, new Kohl's coupons nearly every week, typically one to use now and one for later.
Kohl's cash, an occasional promotion that offers $10 store credit to spend the following week for every $50 you shell out, is another lucrative way to save big bucks over what you would pay at Amazon. By the time you combine the coupons, last week's Kohl's cash, and the store's already low prices, you wind up with some true steals. For example, my husband recently scored two pairs of leather boots for a fraction of the price he would have paid had he ordered them online at Amazon. The sale price at Kohl's was similar to the price of a comparable pair at the online competition, but with a coupon worth 30 percent off and another $5-off bonus coupon we received, he acquired two pairs for the price of one on Amazon. Granted, shoes and clothes are not necessarily Amazon's strong suit, but replace the example of the boots with toys, household items, or small appliances and the scenario is the same.
Other retailers, such as Target and Best Buy, compete with Amazon by offering a price match guarantee. In other words, if you see the item for less at Amazon, these vendors will match the lower price. This is a particularly good deal because you also avoid shipping fees.
Shipping costs factor significantly in the Amazon prices versus retailers' prices equation. An Amazon Prime membership ($79 a year) includes free shipping on Prime items, which means you don't have to worry about the total amount in your shopping cart. However, if you are not a Prime member, your cart must total $35 (a $10 increase over the previous $25) to qualify for "super saving" shipping. If you only want something small or several low-cost items, shipping fees apply and boost the unit cost of each. Under this scenario, Amazon prices are more expensive than many big-box stores and others that aggressively discount with coupons and specials.
When you need something at a store that rarely offers coupons (e.g., Lowe's or Dick's Sporting Goods), however, Amazon could be your ticket. Prices are often comparable, and if the bottom line exceeds the $35 threshold (for non-Prime members), having the item shipped right to your front door is hands-down the better deal. It's hard to put a dollar value on convenience.
Amazon also holds the upper hand on products that make it to Today's Deals and Lightning Deals. These specials are Amazon's equivalent to a coupon system. The problem? You can't count on a certain item being discounted when you want or need to purchase it. When you do find a deal, though, the savings can be substantial. This, however, is the exception to the rule. Sigh.
Posted on 12/11/2013 10:21 EST
Most households already do a lot to keep their pets happy, safe, and healthy. During the holidays it's nice to wrap a few presents for the furry members of the family, as well. Inexpensive dog gifts can show love and bring comfort to a pet without stretching budgets too thin. Cost is relative, of course, but from homemade doggy treats to a new memory foam bed, there's something for every dog.
Dog owners who frequent Petco and PetSmart might start their search by checking Cheapism's in-depth comparison of prices, rewards programs, online platforms, and services. Although PetSmart came out ahead in the services category (e.g., daycare and veterinary care), Petco generally posts lower prices, operates a more appealing e-commerce site, and maintains a more rewarding loyalty program.
Here are several ideas that will do you and your favorite dog proud:
Sometimes it's the little things that count the most, and stockings are often filled with these. Treats, new bones or toys, and a trendy new collar all make good stocking stuffers for pets. Sneaking in a few vitamins might be a good idea, too (they'll thank you later). Perhaps inspired by the cookies left out for Santa, some pet owners have taken to baking holiday dogs treats. Check here
A New Home.
Dogs often become attached to their homes, but sometimes after years of use it's time for a change. Although a new home may be scary at first, it quickly will provide safety and comfort. One master with dimes to spare has installed television, automatic water and food dispensers, temperature-controlled
rooms, and a sound system into the dogs' home
. The rest of us, though, can provide a favorite dog with an everyday holiday gift that is right-sized
, warm, soft, and cheap. Personalize the home with a picture of yourself and a pillow made out of an old piece of clothing. The familiar scent will help keep the pup at ease.
After a long walk or a big day at the park, a quick bite and long nap are in order. But when aches begin to plague an older furry companion, resting on a worn-out
mattress just won't do. A memory foam bed can be pricey, but mature dogs with joint problems will be forever grateful. High-end
holiday gifts start with TempurPedic-branded
dog beds, which range from $275-$425. Large pet-centric
chains, along with Amazon, offer more affordable orthopedic memory foam beds for less than $40.
Getting outside and enjoying a brisk walk is important for dogs no matter the time of year (smaller dogs might appreciate a vest or sweater during the winter). A new ultra-comfy
leash is an excellent holiday gift for a dog. Wag.com
leashes that stretch to avoid stress on the dog's neck and garner four- and five-star
reviews from owners. Leashes start at $17 but the site regularly offers discounts (search for a code if you don't see one) and includes free delivery on orders greater than $49.
The holidays can be hectic for everyone, including pets. With guests running around, new smells filling the air, and the excitement of gift-opening
, all the activity can be a lot to handle. Pet Expertise
offers several options designed to calm anxious, scared, or hyperactive dogs, from training tips and collars to shirts, music, and diffusers filled with "dog-appeasing pheromones." Calming sprays, shampoos, and treats are also available at some pet stores.
Posted on 12/10/2013 12:00 EST
In the art of negotiation the question of whether to state your bottom line first is a frequent topic of discussion. During most shopping excursions there's really no issue because the price is the price. But that tradition is changing. "Name your price" shopping is in, and oftentimes consumers can name the price they're willing to pay for things like concert tickets, electric guitars, and hotel rooms. It's up to the seller to decide whether to accept the offer.
A new member of the "name your price" crowd, Greentoe lets users place an offer on new merchandise and retailers decide whether the offer is good enough. Greentoe currently features products from five categories: baby, home theater, appliances, music (instruments, headphones, and microphones), and photo. Select the item desired -- a dryer, say, or Fender guitar -- and enter a price that includes the cost of the item, tax, and shipping. Greentoe uses a color-coded
meter to advise whether or not an offer will be accepted by a retailer. Users are usually notified within one to three days if they scored at their named price. All products come with a guaranteed 14-day return period that may be extended depending on the retailer.
We spoke with Joe Marrapodi, a co-founder of Greentoe, who told us that users often place winning bids that are 7-12 percent less than the asking price for the product on Amazon and 18-22 percent less than the average price at the top 10 retailers. Although shoppers don't know who the seller is until the transaction has been completed, Marrapodi says "they are reputable companies" known to consumers. Often these retail stores cannot legally advertise an item for less than a set price but are willing to sell it for less and make a small profit.
invites travelers to name their own price when booking hotel rooms, rental cars, and airplane tickets. The catch: The buyer doesn't know which hotel, rental company, or airline will bite until the bid is accepted. For rental cars this is a smart way to save because the vehicles are generally of very recent vintage and in good condition no matter the company. When bidding on airplane tickets travelers can only choose a departure date (takeoff is guaranteed between 6am and 10pm) so they must be extremely flexible to make bidding worthwhile. For lodging, users specify a region and a star-rating
for the hotel they desire before entering a bid. If the bid is accepted the deal is locked in, but a counteroffer may be possible if the bid is rejected; otherwise, users must wait 24 hours before bidding again on the same selection.
Naming a price for hotel rooms is a relatively safe proposition thanks to the proliferation of online resources that take the mystery out of the bidding process. Sites such as Better Bidding help travelers get the best deals on hotels (or cars) using Priceline or Hotwire, the latter a site where bids aren't accepted but hotels and rental cars are offered at a discount and the company name remains hidden until after booking. Forums on Better Bidding are broken down by state, and commenters offer productive strategies and tips, as well as past winning bids. With the correct technique Priceline bidders often can know in advance which hotel they will be assigned (or at least narrow the options to just a few). The Bidding Traveler lets users search for hotels by city or town and check-in/check-out dates and see hotel retail prices, which Priceline bids have been accepted, and which hotels are available given the specified region and star rating. A post on the travel forum Flyer Talk suggests best practices for naming your price for hotel rooms via Priceline.
Shows and Sporting Events.
Lastly, Score Big
features tickets or sports games, concerts, and theater shows with prices set by the buyer. Spectators can search by city and event type and available tickets pop up in tiers depending on proximity to the stage or field. Prices vary depending on the popularity of the event, and are accompanied by a 10- to 60-percent-off sign indicating the expected deal. Users choose an event, an approximate ticket location, required number of tickets, and the per ticket offer price. In addition to indicators for the accepted price range, a color-coded
meter shows the likelihood of an offer being accepted. Once an offer is placed, it is immediately accepted, countered, or turned down. Bidders must wait 24 hours to place another offer on tickets in the same location if a deal isn't reached.
Posted on 12/10/2013 8:30 EST
Stocking stuffers, hostess gifts, and presents for teachers are generally relegated to the "inexpensive" column at holiday time. Then it turns out you need to buy a lot of them, and as the numbers mount, the prices don't seem so cheap anymore. Dollar stores are the ideal shopping solution -- they carry gift-worthy items that are always less than $20 and often cost no more than $5 or $10.
We checked out Family Dollar and Dollar General for ideas about holiday gifts that will appeal to many people on your list.
Increasingly dollar stores are trying to be on trend with toys, gift items, and holiday décor, says Bob Giles, a vice president at Family Dollar. That means, for example, stocking popular brand-name toys because kids know the difference between the real thing and the wannabes. Bottom line: Shopping the dollar store aisles lets holiday gift givers save money without seeming chintzy.
Large Building Blocks
1. Toddlers might be too young for Legos, but they still like to build. Family Dollar sells a bucket of 25 large blocks for $5. This might be a bit bulky to stuff in a stocking, but it's sure to get a workout once retrieved from under the tree.
2. Believe it or not, Cabbage Patch Kids are making a comeback. Retailers such as Toys R Us are selling them for up to $35, but you can find the dolls at Family Dollar for $10.
3. Action figures are ever popular with boys, and dollar stores are full of them. You can find Power Rangers at Dollar General for $7 and large Marvel toys like the Hulk and Iron Man at Family Dollar for $12.
4. If you're ever stuck on what to give a young boy, try anything with wheels. Racing cars, demolition trucks, motorcycles, auto carriers with cars are available at dollar stores for $5.
5. For girls of a certain age, Monster High dolls are glamorous yet bizarre -- an enticing combination that makes them immensely appealing. Pick up one at Family Dollar for less than $15, which beats the price at big-box chains. Dollar stores also stock accessory sets, tagged at about $5.
Emerson Touch 4 GB MP3 Video Player
6. Older kids (in the ‘tween and teen years) are notoriously hard to please. Dollar stores come to the rescue with over-ear headphones, another blast from the past now back in vogue. Family Dollar sells a neon-color set that comes with a 4 GB MP3 player for $20; less adorned versions go for $5. If a cell phone or tablet is the centerpiece holiday gift, dollar stores can help out with tablet accessories and cell phone covers in fashionable colors for less than $10.
7. Active kids will appreciate basketballs, footballs or soccer balls. You can spend up to $35 a piece at venues like Sports Authority, but dollar stores carry these items for $10 or so. Games are always a hit with active kids. Family Dollar sells a variety of table-top games, including air hockey, pinball, pool, and foosball, in the $10-$20 range.
You've probably been invited to any number of holiday parties, so hostess gifts are on order. With the current emphasis on style trends this year, dollar stores are stocked with a good selection of items that would not be out of place at higher-end
8. Candles create a cozy holiday atmosphere, and mercury glass is totally of the moment. A set of small candles in mercury glass holders carries a $10 price tag at Family Dollar. Large candles with scents like gardenia or apple cinnamon fetch $5 at Dollar General.
Ferraro Rocher Chocolates
9. The time-honored gift of edible treats is always appropriate for hosts, teachers, and colleagues. Ferraro Rocher chocolates look classy in their gold duds and sell for $3-$4 at dollar stores. Russell Stover chocolates packed in tins cost less than $5 and tins of Pirouette wafers go for about $3… and the list goes on. Suffice it to say that dollar stores can be a life saver when you need these small tokens of appreciation at holiday time.
10. Heighten the effect by packing the gifts in a pretty, reusable bag or an attractive box that you can buy for a dollar (some come in sets). If you need gift wrap and neglected to stock up last year when prices plummeted after the holiday season, dollar stores are there for you with wrapping paper at about $3 a roll.
Gift Shopping Tips.
In case you're feeling overwhelmed, Leah Ingram of Suddenly Frugal
offers several tips that can help you sail through the shopping season with your budget intact.
Posted on 12/9/2013 10:36 EST
This week's picks for top technology and entertainment deals are a laptop sale, Buffalo network storage, and Kindle deals.
1. Laptop Sale 20% Off & More
Today only: save on a variety of laptops featuring the Windows 8 operating system. Brands include Dell, ASUS, Samsung, and Lenovo.
(Amazon 20% off & more)
2. Buffalo TeraStation Network Storage 52% Off
This compact network storage lets owners safely store and transfer large amounts of data in a private network. Multiple options are available with up to 85% off savings.
(Groupon $429.99, 52% off from $899.99 - $470.00 savings)
3. Kindle Deals 20% Off
Today only: get 20% off Kindle, Kindle Fire HD, and Kindle Fire HDX tablets.
(Amazon - 20% off)
Posted on 12/9/2013 9:25 EST
The Internet has made it so easy to sit home and shop. You can click on hundreds of online stores, browse categories, read gift guides, and find coupon codes. Some shoppers buy online because itï¿½s a way to dodge taxes and save a few bucks. Depending where you live and which online store you buy from, you may avoid the sales tax blues.
Some state laws require retailers to collect sales tax on orders shipped into those states where they have a physical presence. This includes merchants with both online and offline platforms, such as Walmart, and online-only retailers like Amazon that have warehouses or fulfillment centers in a given state. A New York State law enacted in 2008 that spurred a series of court battles highlights the importance of affiliates ( referring partners and third-party sellers) in the sales tax equation. This and similar statutes dubbed "Amazon laws" enacted elsewhere require online vendors to collect sales tax in states where affiliates are located. For example, a website based in New York that sends customers to Amazon and makes money from the referral constitutes an Amazon presence in New York. The New York law was upheld in lower courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided to pass on appeals by Amazon and Overstock.com. Still, challenges to the laws have succeeded elsewhere, as in Illinois.
With e-commerce sales totaling billions of dollars there is a lot of tax revenue on the line. Although consumers are required to report purchases and pay the requisite taxes when filing state income tax returns every year, few people do. (Amazon sends reminder emails with the grand total purchase amount to residents of states where it does not collect taxes.) The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that states lost more than $23 billion in 2012 alone due to unreported purchases. A proposed federal law called the Marketplace Fairness Act may alter the sales tax landscape, but until then online retailers will continue to collect state sales taxes only where they have a "nexus" (minimally, a physical presence of some sort, but the full definition varies by state).
Below weï¿½ve listed several of the largest online retailers, the states in which they collect taxes on purchases, and the combined state and average local tax rate, as reported by the Tax Foundation.
The largest online retailer, Amazon collects taxes on orders shipped to 16 states. Amazon has agreements with several states, including South Carolina and Tennessee, allowing the company to delay collecting taxes until 2014 despite the presence of warehouses.
- Arizona (9.16%)
- California (8.38%)
- Connecticut (6.35%)
- Georgia (6.99%)
- Kansas (8.25%)
- Kentucky (6.00%)
- Massachusetts (6.25%)
- New Jersey (6.97%)
- New York (8.48%)
- North Dakota (6.52%)
- Pennsylvania (6.34%)
- Texas (8.14%)
- Virginia (5.00%)
- Washington (8.86%)
- West Virginia (6.04%)
- Wisconsin (5.43%)
Although Overstock originally sold excess and returned merchandise, it now offers new goods and items created specifically for Overstock. The site also features daily deals and in 2007 began O.co Cars that sells vehicles at "pre-negotiated, dealer-discounted
pricing." Taxes are collected in three states.
- Illinois (8.13%)
- New York (8.48%)
- Utah (6.67%)
Rakuten is the largest e-commerce
site in Japan and has been growing in the United States since acquiring Buy.com and rebranding the site. Shoppers earn "super points" when making purchases that can be put towards future orders. Taxes are collected in nine states.
- California (8.38%)
- Connecticut (6.35%)
- Illinois (8.13%)
- Massachusetts (6.25%)
- Minnesota (7.16%)
- Missouri (7.00%)
- Tennessee (9.44%)
- New York (8.48%)
- Washington (8.86%)
online retailer, Newegg sells hardware and software for computers as well as video game-related
products and cell phones. The site has expanded into automotive parts, office supplies, and even some sporting goods and jewelry. Newegg only collects taxes on orders shipped to three states.
- California (8.38%)
- Tennessee (9.44%)
- New Jersey (6.97%)
A great source for gifts for geeky friends, ThinkGeek sells t-shirts
and all sorts of geek-related
products. Offerings range from an R2-D2 nutcracker (think Christmas), a Doctor Who toothbrush holder, and a Star Trek pizza cutter. ThinkGeek collects taxes on orders shipped to five states.
- Florida (6.62%)
- Minnesota (7.16%)
- Ohio (6.80%)
- Virginia (5.00%)
- Washington (8.86%)
Ebay.com, Etsy.com, and other Marketplaces.
These two sites are marketplaces and the tax rules vary depending where the sellers live and whether they have affiliates working for them. If a seller resides in the same state as the buyer, the seller must collect taxes on the order. In states with "Amazon laws," sellers with affiliate relationships there are required to collect taxes on orders. The amount of the tax depends on the destination; a list of state taxes and average local taxes is available here
Posted on 12/6/2013 13:36 EST
The first big holiday shopping week is behind us and so is Cyber Monday. Celebrate with an inexpensive red or white wine while fashioning a DIY gift basket for someone special on your list. College students can rejoice when getting the upcoming year's finances under control. And save by renting party attire for festivities galore.
Callia Alta Malbec
Red wines are the classic go-to
drink with a hearty meal and also make excellent gifts. We surveyed the best cheap varieties of Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, and more.
As a complement for lighter foods, white wines are the best bet. Whether a Pinot grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, and so on, we found worthy contenders with price tags of $10 or less.
New Blog Posts:
We scoured the Internet for the best Cyber Monday deals and sales.
It's that time of year -- again -- for Christmas parties and New Year's Eve bashes. Are you wardrobe-ready
? Forget about purchasing expensive or sub-par
attire and try renting trendy and classy clothes for upcoming events.
The second half of the school year may put some students in a financial bind. Don't despair. There are options available to help cover costs.
Everyone appreciates a gift basket. We found baskets that suit an array of preferences and tastes and suggest ways to create a DIY version.
It's time for wines. Get festive with our ten top picks for red and white varieties.
Posted on 12/5/2013 11:38 EST
Wine is always appreciated as a hostess gift, but finding one that costs less than $10 while being drinkable is a challenge. We consulted several experts and held tastings to discover the five best budget red wines and five best budget white wines that you could serve with confidence. What you sacrifice at this price point is depth and nuance -- these wines probably wouldn't satisfy wine connoisseurs -- but they make for adequate table wines and help keep holiday parties joyous.
Cheap Red Wines.
Look to South America for some excellent deals on red table wines, says wine merchant Ed Domaney of Domaney's in Great Barrington, MA. He is particularly keen on Malbecs.
Callia Alta Malbec
At his suggestion, we tried the 2011 vintage of Callia Alta Malbec (about $9/bottle), which held up well with our tasters who found it "exceedingly drinkable." While a few said it tasted a bit sweet, that proved to be a plus for others. On the whole, the Callia Alta Malbec was smooth and fresh with a hint of spiciness. There wasn't much complexity here, but Wine Enthusiast gives this budget wine a thumbs-up with 87 points.
From Chile, Carta Vieja Merlot 2012 (about $8/bottle) delivered a lot of richness for an inexpensive red wine. Tasters thought it would go equally well with cheese and other happy hour snacks as with meats and possibly even stews. It presented a bit of a peppery finish that most of our panelists enjoyed.
A rougher, heartier wine that would pair nicely with pasta was the 2011 Feudo Arancio Nero D'Avola (about $8/bottle) from Sicily. Although a bit acidic at the end, one taster said that after a glass or two you wouldn't notice and deemed it "perfect for winter." Another said this budget red wine tasted just like what you'd imagine of a Sicilian table wine, with interest arising from its jagged edges. Wine Enthusiast awards this specimen a hearty 87.
A surprise entry comes from Bulgaria, a country not often associated with wine. The 2011 Vini Pinot Noir (about $8/bottle) was a comparative lightweight, but tasters who didn't much like red wine really liked this one a lot. Panel members found it summery and soft and thought it would be good chilled. Perhaps this isn't the low-cost red wine you'd want to sip by a roaring fire, but it went down easily and earns an 86 from Wine Enthusiast.
Also easy on the palate, as well as the wallet, was another Chilean pick, Pepperwood Grove Cabernet Sauvignon (about $8/bottle). The more discerning panelists declared it unlike a traditional Cabernet because it was so light and smooth and slightly astringent. These qualities made it well-suited for just drinking or for paring with snacks; in other words, this is a good cheap party red. One taster said she had tried this wine in a restaurant and quite enjoyed it with dinner.
Cheap White Wines.
According to Ed Domaney, there's a glut of California whites right now, so finding a quality wine at a bargain price should be relatively easy.
2012 J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone
One California wine that qualifies is the 2012 J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone (about $10/bottle). Our panel members tasted lots of fruit and a bit of oak. They agreed it was fine for an everyday wine, and one said she wouldn't be ashamed to offer it as a gift.
Rex Goliath Pinot Grigio (about $6/bottle) is a Domaney recommendation and winner of three medals in California taste-offs. This very cheap white wine boasts a bright, crisp taste. It was fairly dry but not as dry as our tasters expected from the pino gris grape. Although some detected a slightly sour or off aftertaste, several said it was good enough to not be deterred by that. "I would definitely cook with it," one noted.
At the top end of the price range, the Austrian Berger Gruner Veltliner 2012 (about $11.50/liter bottle) was pronounced "lovely." This budget white wine was crisp and mild, without much acidity, although some thought it had a bit of a spicy kick. This wine would be an excellent summer tipple and a calming influence when paired with spicy foods.
Also hitting the end zone on price was a French Sauvion Touraine Les Eglantine 2012 (about $10/bottle). This Sauvignon exemplar was considerably drier than the other inexpensive whites we tasted but still "very fresh." Panelists said it would go well with fish or other seafood.
We asked our wine consultant about Rieslings but learned that at this price point it is hard, even close to impossible, to find anything worth buying. But he came through with a suggestion that some of us may remember from college -- Schmitt Sohne Zeller Schwarz Katz 2009 (about $8/bottle). This bargain white wine was sweet and fruity and seemed to be a match for desserts. Our tasters were won over, declaring it not just acceptable, but quite drinkable.
Tip: If you really want to lower the per bottle cost of good wine, check out the Zagat Wine Club. You'll get an early holiday present of 15 top wines for only $70. Club membership entitles you to a case every three months for $139.99 ($11.67/bottle), not counting shipping. You can cancel at any time, even after trying the introductory offer.