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Mar 19, 2008 01:47 PM

Suggestions for someone who has never had wine before

I have to admit as interested I am in wine, I have no clue where to start. I don't live near anywhere that offers free sampling, so that is not an option for me. Any advice on what type of wine to start with? I know it's a very broad question, but maybe someone has a bit of advice or personal experience to give as input.

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  1. Lizzo -

    If you have little or no experience, then, in my opinion, the best way to start with wine is to try a lot of different wines to find out what types you like. A good book that teaches about various wine varieties and styles is Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Immer (now Robinson). It is less than $30 at most on-line retailers. Wine for Dummies also offers plenty of good advice for a beginner.

    If there is not a place near you that does tastings, then finding a place that has a good choice of wines by the glass may be an option, at least to try some different grape varieties.

    For me, wine is a very social hobby. We truly enjoy sharing good wine with friends and exposing friends to something good they may have not tried before. If you have any friends that are in a similar situation to yourself, getting a group together to explore wines can be a fun experience. If everyone brings a different wine to a group tasting, you can economically taste a lot of different wines. If, for example, the group decides to try Chardonnay, then you could read up a little on chardonnay, and everyone could bring a different chardonnay (California, Australia, France, oaked,unoaked, etc). Same goes for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.

    If there is a good local wine merchant near you, they can often be very helpful in suggesting new wines to try. You can also learn a lot on this board and other boards from fellow wine enthusiasts. At one time or another, everyone on this board was in the same situation as you.

    2 Replies
    1. re: scrappydog

      What an awesome idea for a party. People can bring a bottle of wine and a cheese that pairs well with what they are bringing.

      1. re: scrappydog


        I could not agree more. I even had to check the post a few times, wondering if I had written it, and just forgotten.

        Along the Immer lines, a good starting point would be with GR Riesling. This not to disparage domestic Rieslings, or FR, or any other, but the GR wines offer low alcohol, good acid for food and a gob of fruit, so that they seem to be sweet, even at the Kabinett level. Even though this is the first step, I'd keep the price points up a bit, as there is a lot of inferior GR Riesling in the US. A good QmP Riesling will probably run US$20, but will likely be so much better than a DTW, or QbA Riesling.

        To echo, buy that book and taste along with Andrea. You will get so much info, and besides, it's FUN!


      2. lizzo -
        i'll just tell you what worked for me, and you can decide if it sounds like it might work for you.

        after years of having only terrible wine, i visited coppola's winery in napa. i had a great time, and started trying all of the different varieties sold by the winery both in grocery stores and on the website. it's an approach i recommend for two reasons. first, the wine is pretty easy to find. you can get it in most decent grocery stores. second, they make a ton of different varietals. and i found that tasting through these varietals taught me a lot about each of them.

        now i'm not saying this is my favorite wine by any means, but i find them to be very approachable, food friendly, and don't require any special aging or anything. and truthfully, i don't really drink them very often anymore.

        at the same time, as lame as this may sound, i bought 'wine for dummies.' just kind of skimmed it, but learned a ton in just a few hours.

        hope this helps.

        1. dog and wan provide good, thoughtful advice. I'd add that you might keep a small notebook to record what you've tried and your impressions--in your own words. Obviously, you'll quickly describe wines in terms of sweet, dry, acidic, tannins, or "tastes like an old shoe" or "smells like a wet dog...". You initially don't need what to non-wine drinkers seems to be esoteric jargon--although you may well grow into using what are now widely shared descriptors. Just note your impressions so that you can compare and review as you go along tasting new wines.

          1. Lizzo,

            You right, in that it's a very broad question, but that just means you have a number of ways to go! ;^)

            Scrappydog has a great idea for a "wine tasting party" which could very well turn into a regular, once-a-month thing with you and your friends. But for the purposes of this post, I'm going to assume that this is something you're going to do on your own . . .

            I don't know where you live, but if you're in the US, there are any number of colleges and universities -- or even community (junior) colleges and city-sponsored adult education programs -- that offer Continuing Education classes to adults, and many of these will offer an "Introduction to Wine" type of class . . . these are typically four to six weeks in length and, if the instructor is any good at all, can provide you with a solid foundation from which to explore. If the instructor is great, you couldn't ask for a better beginning!

            Another way to start is to find a good wine bar nearby. It doesn't have to be fancy, just a place that pours a number of different wines by-the-glass from all over the world. Ask if you can buy a "taste" rather than a whole glass (this will be roughly 2 ounces, rather than 4-6 ounces). If you can, and say they're pouring six different white wines that night, order tastes of all six side-by-side! Get a little notebook, and write down the names of the wines, and what you think -- how #1 compares to #3 and #4 -- and so on. Another night, try their red wines. A week or two later, go back and try the new whites that weren't there the last time. And so on and so on. That little notebook will be invaluable. I know lots of people who started this way, including a number of professional winemakers!

            Then, presuming that there are a variety of merchants within, say, a half-hour's drive of where you live and/or work, you might want to try this approach . . .

            Step One:

            Go to an office supply store, and get a three-ring notebook and filler paper. Get some notebook dividers, too, and label them (e.g.) Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Riesling, etc. Everytime you have a bottle of wine, either soak the label off and tape it to the upper right-hand corner, or copy down all the info in the top right-hand corner of the page. On the top left-hand corner, write down (if you remember) where you bought it, how much you paid for it, and the date you drank it; if there is information as to the blend of grapes, the time in oak, what the alcohol level was, etc., etc. -- write all that down, too.

            On the rest of the page, write down what you thought of the wine -- whether or not you liked it. Indeed, you can often learn more about wine from one you don't like than you do from one you love.

            This notebook becomes your own personal wine diary. Take it with you when you go wine shopping. It doesn't matter what words you use; you're the only one who will read it. Use this as a guide to explore the World of Wine.


            Let's say the wine you had is a:

            Chateau Cache Phloe
            Sonoma Valley

            If you liked it, you may want to try other wines from Cache Phloe. Or other 2012 Chardonnays from Sonoma Valley. Or perhaps another 2012 Chardonnay from a different location. Or other types of wines from the Sonoma Valley. Or . . . or . . . or . . .

            Step Two:

            Here's where the wine merchant(s) come in . . .

            Bring your notebook with you when you go to buy wine. It just makes it that much easier to tell the wine merchant that you liked this wine; you didn't like that one; etc. AND you can -- by looking at the notes -- be able to describe WHY you did (or didn't) like it. This sort of information is of immeasurable assistance in helping he or she recommend wines to you.

            Try the wines that sound good to you, based upon the recommendations you receive, Then, after you try the wines, go back and talk to the same individual that helped you previously, and tell the individual what you thought about the recommendations . . . again, whether or not you liked them.

            OK, if you truly hated each of the wine you purchased, don't go back. But the odds are, you'll really love some, like a few, and may not like one or two. Give the merchant feedback, the the next round of recommendations will be even better. Do this two or three times, and every recommendation should be a 7 through 10 (on a 0-10 scale).

            If not, find another store.

            But never stop looking for another merchant anyway! Why? Easy . . . if you only shop at one store, you may never discover that there's a better shop right around the corner.

            General theory (the more serious you are about wine, the more this applies): when you find a great merchant, buy somewhere between 50-66% of your wines there . . . for at least a couple of reasons. One,they know your taste, and the recommendations are good. Two, being a valued, regular customer, the store will often set wine(s) aside for you, or call you and say, "Hey -- we just got in some of ________; we don't have very much, but i really think you'll like it." These are exactly the kinds of wines that will sell out long before any wine writer/critic ever writes them up.

            BUT . . . the remaining 33-50%, buy in lots of other stores . . . Not only, again, you may find a better store, but more importantly you may find better wines. When you only shop at one store, you are limiting yourself to the selection of that one merchant, and let's fact it, no one merchant can carry everything. There are -- not there might, but there are -- great wines that you will love that your one wine merchant will not carry. They can't -- there isn't enough room inside their store! -- so you need to shop in more than one place . . .

            This is not an impossible task. It takes some thought, and some effort, true . . . but it pays HUGE dividends!

            One more thing, but it's the most important: HAVE FUN!!!


            4 Replies
            1. re: zin1953

              Had I been thinking clearly, I'd have recommended that Lizzo just hang with you for a week! [big grin]

              Sage advice, as always,

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                This may be past the point, but the best way I found to learn to drink wine is with food. Dine at a restaurant with a good sommelier and tell them what your needs are and enjoy. Easy easy and then if you enjoy the wine with your meal - then - - spend the money on books, classes and whatnot. (sorry jason)

                1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                  I cannot argue. While I enjoy wine, both with, and without, food, when they work together, the result is sublime.

                  Very often, I'll pair, based on the "regional nature" of the cuisine. In the cases of much of Europe, 600 years of food and wine should have been highly refined.

                  Advice to any wine newbie: go slowly, sample a lot in small quantity, and be very patient. One day, hopefully, it will all come together around one bottle - one dish, and the rest will be but history. After many years of so-so wine tastings, it happened for me, and in a very big way. I have recounted with dozens, maybe hundreds, and it was the same, or very similar for them. When things come together it is a wonderful experience.


                  1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                    I totally agree with this generally. However, when I was 21, the restaurants that I frequented (and could afford) did not have sommeliers.

              2. Lizzo, per your profile, you enjoy "good, loose teas". If you could tell us about which teas you like and why, it'd give us a basis to determine the kind of flavors you most enjoy. :)