Buy the right wine from the right region
Some wine regions have been growing and vinifying certain grapes for so long that they can churn out tasty varietal wines in their sleep. Think Bordeaux for cabernet sauvignon, California for chardonnay, New Zealand for sauvignon blanc, Rioja for tempranillo, Germany for riesling, South Africa for chenin blanc, Argentina for malbec, and Chianti for Sangiovese. Who benefits from those multiple decades of experience? You do. At $15, these areas are going to deliver more often than not.
Obscure grapes can be a better value
Ever hear of pinot noir or nebbiolo? They’re finicky grapes to grow, and go into some of the world’s most expensive wines. How about arinto, loureira, nero d’Avola, cariñena, or albariño? No? Well, wines made from more obscure grapes are usually cheap, but not because the quality is lacking. Try 'em -- you might just take home your new favorite grape variety (at your new favorite price).
This goes for wine regions, too. The more well-known it is, the more you’re likely to have to pay for it. Right now, Spain and Portugal are your bank account’s friends. Some areas, like Northern Italy and France’s Jura, are hot with wine geeks; don’t go there, because you’ll pay for that cachet.