Let's face it, we're all after the same thing: the best possible bang-for-your-buck wine we can find. Nobody wants to spend $50 on a bottle when they can get something just as tasty for $25. But there is a significant gap between "cheap" wine and "value" wine, and knowing how they're different can help guide you as you're selecting the best bottle within any budget.
First, let's talk about "cheap" wine. The word "cheap" is a misnomer, actually, as it has nothing to do with cost. When we're talking about "cheap" wine, what we really mean is that it tastes "cheap" and not that it actually might be inexpensive. In basketball, we say the "ball don't lie" and the the same goes for wine: the "juice don't lie". You can't mask wine imperfections or cost cutting measures very easily - if you don't pay attention in the vineyard, it's going to show in your wine. If you aren't meticulous in the winery, no fancy label or catchy name is going to hide the fact that your wine is nasty. These things are the common denominators in "cheap" wine, and you will definitely know it when you try one.
"Value" wine, on the other hand, is something that punches above it's weight class. Ultra high-quality juice masquerading as inexpensive plonk because it doesn't have the "right" name on the label. It's a $45 Meursault Rouge that drinks like a $90 Volnay because it sits right on the Santenots border, and both are made by the exact same producer. It's $20 Bourgogne Tonnerre instead of $50 Chablis, Cremant over Champagne...literally ANY other rosé besides Domaine Ott (no disrespect to Ott, but $40 a bottle when there are hundreds of other awesome Provençal options out there for $15-20 is a no-brainer).
So where does one go to find these values? In all honesty, they can be found throughout the world, but there are some areas/regions where these values seem to be concentrated. For reds, the corridor of northern Spain (Galica across to La Rioja and Catalunya) over to southern France (Languedoc-Roussillon to the Rhone Valley) is absolutely stuffed with awesome values. There are $15 Mencia-based wines from Ribeira Sacra that drink like $75 Napa Cabs. Anyone that loves traditional Bordeaux varietals should check out the reds grown east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State (the AOCs of Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and Horse Heaven Hills). The massive mountain range protects these areas from the Pacific influence, and creates ideal growing conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot!
White wine values follow a pretty straight forward formula - find areas you like, then look for neighboring spots that don't fit the zip code but are growing the same varietals in the same climate and in the same soils. The Bourgogne Tonnerre / Chablis example is a good one, but also look for declassified Sancerre in wines in other parts of the Loire Valley, or Portugese wines (Alvarinho or Vinho Verde) as high-quality, world-class alternatives to their more expensive counterparts. And when it comes to sparkling wine, there is a seemingly infinite amount of options that don't break the bank like Champagne can (though you can still find outstanding values in Champagne from smaller, "grower" producers). Everything from Cava to Prosecco to American Sparklers to French Cremants all offer tremendous bargains when compared to true Champagnes - and most importantly, many of them are absolutely delicious!
The bottom line is that there are tons of well-made, value wines available in the market and nobody should ever waste their time or money on something they don't like. It takes a bit of research, and some time trying different things (boo-hoo, you get to try a bunch of wine!) but the effort will be worth it - both your palate and your wallet will thank you!