For in-depth information on regions, grapes and food compatibility, visit your local bookstore or library. Download "Fool-Proof Wine Values" by Ed Gandia, which provides a list of good inexpensive wines. The "Oxford Companion to Wine" is another good reference.
Magazines such as Wine Spectator and Food and Wine regularly have columns focusing on wine bargains, food pairings, rankings and guides to favorite selections. Pick up a hard copy or visit their Web sites for online versions.
Look for whatever is less popular. You'll get a better price on wine from a less trendy part of the U.S. or a country where land costs are lower. If you're in the U.S., that my mean looking for wines made in Washington. The state offers the most reliable, inexpensive wines. They're mass-produced and don't have as much prestige as those from California.
Lesser-known regions like South America produce nice under-priced wines, with Chile offering some of the best quality at an affordable price. Australian wines offer a better value than similar wines from France.
In general, warmer climates, where grape yields are dependable every year, produce better inexpensive wine than colder climates, where the harvest could be iffy. For example, Burgundy and Bordeaux wines are usually more expensive because both regions in France are challenged by weather that can delay ripening of the grapes.
Get creative! Throw a party where everyone brings a favorite to share. It will give you the opportunity to explore a variety of wines and makes for a fun evening. Your gathering can focus on a particular grape, a certain region of the world or a particular price point.
In-store tastings let you try before you buy. For a fixed admission price of $20 or so you can taste the offerings of multiple wineries at food and wine festivals. Or you can visit area wineries. Many offer tours and tastings free of charge.
If you know something about wines and like trying different ones on a regular basis, join a wine club. An "expert" chooses a set of wines that are offered to club members at a reduced price. You might want to start your own club if you're just getting interested in wines. Begin by setting a monthly budget. Keep your wines under $20 a bottle. Choose a theme for each month, like California cabernets or wines from Spain. Develop a rating system, and take notes.
Most important, get in touch with your own palate. Figure out what you like, what you can't tolerate and what you can afford. And always remember, when you're looking for a good inexpensive wine, what you like is really all that matters.