Finding a deal on wine is a bit like finding a deal on an apartment: Whether you're in the market for a subway-accessible studio or a fancier townhouse, bargains are in the eye of the beholder, and they correlate to how much you're willing to spend.
Because there's a wine producer to meet every need and taste -- from Trader Joe's "Two-Buck Chuck" to the priciest Dom Perignon -- finding a deal on a great bottle can be tricky. We're looking for everyday, flavorful table wines that don't cost much more than $15. (Is that too much to ask?)
"No," says Wine Enthusiast's executive editor, Susan Kostrzewa. "We're committed to wines that regular people can afford and find."
The magazine for wine lovers gives high marks to great wines that won't burst your budget. It recently released its "Top 100 Best Buys 2012," and many bottles are priced at $9. And because the magazine's Web site, winemag.com, lets you to search for highest-rated wines at any price, you can find a bottle to fit your budget and taste.
Kostrzewa gave us tips on how to shop for delicious, relatively inexpensive wines that you'll be proud to serve.
Look for older vintages
Retailers need to move product relatively quickly, year-round, to make room in a store for newer vintages, or the current year's wines. So ask a retailer whether there are vintages that it's trying to move out.
"In most cases, you don't even need to cellar them," Kostrzewa said of older vintages, meaning you can drink them the day you buy them. She said it's always a good idea to look for higher-end or mid-priced wines when they're being moved to make space.
Shop region, not brand
A lot of wine lovers shop for brands that have good reputations. But Kostrzewa recommends that you shop by region and look for lesser-known producers located near the famous ones.
"I encourage people to look for not-so-well-known brands, especially with higher-end wines," Kostrzewa said. "If a certain producer is highly rated, look to the same region for other producers that might be producing the same wine as their neighbors."
For example, the magazine rates Echeverria 2008 Reserva Syrah highly, calling its $13 price "unheard of." More famous brands from the Maipo Valley in Chile would cost much more.
Shop emerging regions
Everyone knows about Tuscany and Bordeaux, but there are many regions and countries that make great wines that rival Italy and France. Because there are more wine drinkers in America than ever before, new regions of the world are producing and exporting to meet the demand.
"I feel strongly about trying wines from emerging regions: Argentina, Austria, Portugal, Greece, South Africa. Now is the best time to buy value wines from these emerging regions."
The magazine just rated Caves Velhas 2008 Catedral Reserva, a Portuguese red that sells for $10, as one of the top 10 "Best Buys" for 2012.
Know your retailer
If you're buying at a neighborhood wine shop, get to know the owners and build a relationship. So much of finding great wine is based on timing and peer recommendations. An expert at a store can help you choose value wines.
Buy in bulk, year-round
There's no bad time to buy wine. Kostrzewa says demand is high year-round, so you can find deals year-round, unlike seasonal drinks and foods. But to ensure a great deal, you should buy in bulk. How much bulk?
"A case or two of a wine is probably doable, then you're not making a huge commitment," Kostrzewa said.
Many retailers, including grocery stores, give discounts if you buy six bottles. Chances are, if you're buying one bottle, you could use six. Buy knowing you'll be drinking (or gifting) wine in the future.
Shop online with caution
Kostrzewa recommends shopping online, but freight can add significant costs to a purchase. Many Web retailers offer free shipping if you buy in bulk. Kostrzewa recommends Wine-searcher.com and Snooth.com for online purchases -- the sites often offer free shipping.
The deal with wine clubs
Kostrzewa doesn't caution against wine clubs, which send bottles of wine to your doorstep each month. Wineries have their own wine clubs, and there are independent clubs such as "Wine of the Month," which are popular gifts for wine lovers. But you're paying for convenience: You could often find the wine for less.
Do your research
How much do you want to pay for wine? Wine Enthusiast has its rating system down to a science, where you can choose your price, region, the vintage, the producer and the rating experts give the wine. Want to know about the great red wines for less than $10? Use Wine Enthusiast's Web site to search by price for recommendations. You're often only a few clicks away from a great deal.
The bottom line
With increasing demand for wine around the world, you can get great deals on wines from emerging regions. Buy in bulk online or ask for the older vintages from a trusted neighborhood shop. And buy last year's vintage: Trust us, deals on those wines taste just as sweet (or bold, smoky, chocolaty ... you know the drill).