There has never been a better time in the history of wine to be in the market for that sweet spot $10 – $15 bottle. All wines produced today are significantly better than anything available even 15 years ago. There continue to be so many advances in technology, vinification, agricultural sciences and our understanding of how the grape is a product of its environment. All of this great knowledge makes for superior juice. We have gotten so much better at producing higher quality wines and have so much acreage is under cultivation around the world that some countries actually have a surplus of juice called a wine lake. Countries like France and Italy have so much product that they need markets to expand into, often flooding the market with very high value to price ratio product. All this is to say that you really can’t go wrong in your local liquor store or wine shop. Considering the factor of the bad economy into the picture, there are many producers of high quality wines that are sitting on their expensive juice because it is not selling right now. Many of those producers are using that juice to vinify high quality lower tiered wines. It is a bonanza of a time for the consumer. To extend your dollar look to wines from countries known for over-delivering on value: South Africa, Chile, Italy (especially southern regions), and Australia.
Without knowing what you want to do with that $10 bottle of wine I would suggest reading the shelf-talkers and backs of labels. Beware of wines that only describe the ancient family history. Ideally you want some language devoted to the flavors and aromas in the bottle, or at least a great story to suck you in. I started buying an Australian Peter Lehmann Seven Surveys Old Vine SGM (Shiraz, Grenache, Mouvedre – a Rhone style blend common in Australia) because I loved the story on the label about how the wine was dedicated to the generations old families who tended those Barossa Valley vineyards where the old vines grew. Be adventurous. Try something new – an Orvieto from Italy or Torrontes from Argentina rather than that Pinot Grigio standby. Try a Malbec instead of a Merlot, or give a Spanish Rioja a swirl around a glass. Bold suggestion of the day – since you do appear to be interested in learning about how to enjoy more wine – if the store where you are browsing appears to have a good selection of wines then chances are good that somewhere who works there knows something about the wines. Ask for a recommendation based on the occasion, what you may eat with the wine, personal tastes, etc. This is how you start to get to know more about wine. Whether you pop a cork, twist off a screwcap, or dispense it from a mylar balloon in a box, you’ve got to try a lot of wines.