The three "P"s of selecting wines are Price, Preference and Pairing. Keep these in mind when visiting your local wine merchant and you will likely come away with a winning wine.
The price you are willing to pay (or not pay) for a bottle of wine is a key determining factor in selecting a wine that is right for you. Gone are the days when you could only buy a "good" bottle of wine for over $30. In today's market there are plenty of great wines available for around $15, some for considerably less. So rest assured that you won't have to drop a bundle of money to experiment with various wines. A decent wine merchant will be able to give you plenty of suggestions in your stated price range.
Ahh, preferences. We all have them and they often change in a moments notice, but with wine preferences let them be swayed by what you will be drinking them with or who you will be sharing them with. For example, if you are hosting a happy hour get together, your preferences might lean towards "safe" reds and whites. For people that may not be accustomed to heavier-bodied, heartier wines, give them a break - buy a softer Merlot or Pinot Noir (sometimes referred to as "Starter Reds"). For a white, who doesn't enjoy a refreshing Gewurztraminer? If you are seeking to experiment with a new varietal, then talking to your local wine merchant about wines, styles and labels, that you have enjoyed in the past and asking for specific recommendations should provide sufficient direction for another great find. If you are new to wines and are looking for a few suggestions - try a Riesling , Gewurztraminer, or a Muscat dessert wine if sweeter wines suit your fancy. If you prefer a dry white wine then look for a Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. As for reds, starting with a Gamay, Pinot Noir, or Merlot if you do not want anything too complex or full-bodied. If you are looking to turn up the complexity meter, then go with a great California Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (or Shiraz if its from Australia) or a Zinfandel.
If you are looking for a wine specifically to pair with dinner tonight, then take into account what the key ingredients will be. Will it be white or red meat? Will you be using fresh or dried herbs and what types? Will the dish be spicy or fruit-filled? These questions can play a key role in deciding which wines will pair well with specific entrees. In general, white wines accent lighter flavored meals really well; while, red wines often compliment heartier meals a bit better. Keep in mind that pairing foods and wines is 99% personal preference and 1% science.