Inexpensive cabernet sauvignon tends to be obviously flawed in one way or another -- too much oak or poorly done oak, too much fruit (or way too much fruit), uneven tannins, or green, unripe fruit. That's because cabernet is not always easy to make and it's almost always more expensive to make than other wines. So, when a winemaker is trying to hit a price below $15, something has to give.
Which was not the case with the Mandolin ($12, sample), which showed up quite unexpectedly and was almost overlooked when it did. Wines that I've had before or that I know don't fit a review go into the giveaway box. For some reason that I don't remember, this was going in the giveaway box but never got there.
That's my good fortune. The Mandolin is well-made, quality $12 wine from California's Central Coast. As such, it's much better than so many others of its kind and on a par with solid sub-$15 cabernets like Avalon and 337. Look for some cherry fruit, but not too much, and appreciate the balance between the acid, tannins and oak in a wine at this price. Drink this with any red meat, including meat loaf and burgers.