$15 or less
WHAT: Dog House Checker's Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (red) Rating: NNN
WHERE: Central Coast, California
WHY: The marketers have done a lot of work on this one. They've made up a good dog , and the dog cartoon is very likeable. Luckily, they've also paid some attention to the wine. It's got a luscious blackberry bouquet and is very full and chocolatey in the mouth. The vibrating acidic finish requires some hefty meat stuff.
PRICE: 750 ml/$14.80
AVAILABILITY: At selected liquor stores (product #619478)
WHAT: Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2004 (red) Rating: NNN
WHERE: Beaujolais, France
WHY: Here's a nice little smoothy that may not rock everybody's world but will be right there when you're looking for some summer matchups that don't cry out for a big bloody barbecue wine. It'll go well with pasta made with ripe uncooked tomatoes, grilled salmon - you get the idea.
PRICE: 750 ml/$15.85
AVAILABILITY: At most liquor stores (product #365924)
Sips and Nips
WHAT: Smirnoff Penka Vodka Rating: NNNNN
WHERE: Jozefow, Poland
WHY: Can a $125 vodka be five times better than a $25 vodka? Probably not - unless you're drinking very bad $25 vodka. But Penka is a revelation. It's got that vodka bang, but right after that comes a very, very smooth, creamy mouth-filling richness. This is what disposable income's made for.
PRICE: 700 ml/$125
AVAILABILITY: At selected Vintages outlets while supplies last (product #604991)