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Know the store
If you find a good spot to get quality inexpensive wine then keep shopping there. Lots of folks swear by Trader Joe's, for instance. If you have a wine shop that has a good selection of cheaper wines plus has employees that know their stuff then give them your business.
If you've found a wine that you really like see if the store offers a quantity discount and stock up once you've found a "treasure."
Where the grapes come from
Usually French wine will be more expensive than Spanish or Portuguese wines. Northern Italian more than southern Italian. Napa more expensive than anywhere else in CA. California more expensive than Washington state. American wines more expensive than South American wines. South Africa and New Zealand import lots of inexpensive wines to the U.S.
Likewise, if you've tried a few wines from a particular country, state or region and haven't liked any of them then it's time to move on.
Know how to shop different wines
If you've found the inexpensive Sauvignon Blancs aren't your thing maybe look for other semi-similar whites from somewhere else like Austria or Italy -- or try Chenin Blanc.
If you like big reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon look for generic red blends that might work. If you love Pinot Noir (and have discovered it's really expensive) try another light red such as Grenache or a Grenache-based blend (often called Rhone-style reds).
Again, if you've got that wine store you can trust tell them, "I like $20 Lodi Zinfandels, but don't like paying that much all the time" and see what they can come up with. Maybe an Italian Primitivo, Barbera, or Sangiovese. Maybe a $12 Lodi Zin that's just as good. Maybe a California red blend that contains Zinfandel.
Price you're willing to pay
If you've not been satisfied with the $8 wines you have purchased then maybe it's time to try a few $12 ones to see if there's an improvement.
Alcohol, oak, and sugar
These can all be used to mask a mediocre wine. The alcohol content is on the label. Higher alcohol will add a perception of sweetness and sometimes heat. Oak can add a perception of sweetness and other tastes to cover the off flavors of middling grapes. Sugar in the wine helps underripe fruit. Unfortunately, you can't determine oak and sugar by the label, but you can ask someone in the store. Just ask if the wine is oaky or has residual sugar.
|Don't do it!|
If you want to go under ten dollars then be careful as many of the really cheap ones give me a headache. You want something that's not too sweet and was done methode champenoise (fermented in the bottle). It will say that on the label.