Five tips for scoring great value wines

Ask your fellow oenophiles how they go about finding deliciously drinkable value wines and you're guaranteed to get four different answers. That's because their criteria for making that determination is likely to be as unique as their individual personalities, wine cravings and budget.

When querying most peeps, though, the consensus seems to be that value wines are defined as A) costing south of $20; B) crowd-pleasing; and C) satisfyingly delicious for its price. And that's all well and good, but sussing out the aforementioned values while tending to your weekly wine shopping chores isn't necessarily a straightforward endeavor.

What separates a bottle of cheap swill from a truly undiscovered gem is your knowledge of the following no-fail, kick-ass-wine-value-seeking tips and tricks.

1. Join the club: And by club, I mean signing up for your favorite wine purveyor's email newsletter. Think about it: The buyers at many liquor stores and wine shops can get paid to taste anywhere from forty to one hundred bottles of wine each week. If you're willing to stroll in and buy wines off the shelf with little more in the way of guidance than some brightly-colored tag screaming about how many points the wine rated in a magazine, shouldn't you be just as eager to trust the judgment of the people in charge of placing most of those bottles on the shelf in the first place? Most stores have a weekly email distribution list -- join it, and you'll get recommendations from pros on what's fit to drink at great prices.

2. Know your importer: In the likely event that you've never given a lick of thought to figuring out who the hell imports your favorite labels, prepare to be enlightened. Let's say you're a fan of French wines. Within just a few minutes of research, you could simply spin that bottle around and search for the name of the importer, usually found in the fine print -- thereby familiarizing yourself with the company responsible for bringing that very wine to the store you bought it from. If you're a Francophile, seek out Kermit Lynch or Robert Kacher-selected bottles. Madly in love with Spanish wines? Jorge Ordonez is your guy. Determine which importers bring in the reasonably-priced bottles you already adore and seek out even more of their picks.

3. Become a label whore: Should you be of a slightly higher-falutin' wine persuasion, yet continue to find your preferences curtailed by budget shortages, take heart. One of the best ways to discover wallet-friendly bottles is to scoop up lower-priced wines made by the chi-chi labels you've already sampled. How's that? Well, in some cases, producers of pricier wines sometimes find themselves with a glut of grapes on hand after they've finished making their top-notch juice. Rather than making more of the same (spendy) wine, they may choose to blend those grapes in with other wines, the result of which can be sold at a lower price point. This means yummy wine for you, at a steal of a price. Other houses simply choose to make what you might think of as 'entry level' wines, intended from the start to make you a fan of their brand. Think you can't afford that cab from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars? Check out its Hawk Crest bottling of that very grape. Same with that culty Caymus: Pick up a bottle or four of its tasty and cheap Liberty School wines instead.

4. Attend tastings: One easy way to learn about new value wines is to just get out and taste 'em. Lots of local wine stores offer free weekly (sometimes more often that that) tastings specifically designed to expose their customers to what's new, cheap and supremely drinkable. And while you're in the shop, be sure and visit the '$20 and Under' or 'Wines of The Month' bin - just ask the staff what's best in the lot.

5. Buy in bulk: While it's unlikely that you can't find anything drinkable on sale, if all else fails, think big. Quantities, that is. Most wine stores offer decent to awesome deals on wines purchased in groups of three, six or twelve. Save up to 20 percent on your favorite picks by just buying more of an already-good thing. Cheers to that!