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Developing a palate for wine...

I grew up in a family where alcohol was never consumed (not for any religious reasons). Recently, I have found myself in company that drinks and enjoys wine, and I am completely ignorant about anything to do with wine! I don't particularly enjoy it, but I have been told it's for an acquired taste.

My question is, that if it is true that one would need to develop a palate for wine, what would be the best way to go about doing it? I mean, are there certain wines that one could start with...a "beginner's" wine, if you will? Heck, is this adage even true, or am I wasting my time trying to like something where my efforts will prove to be fruitless?

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  1. I think a great beginers wine would be a reisling. It's fruity and depending on who makes it the wine can be anywhere from dry to a bit sweet. Reisling generally has a very light taste so it won't overpower anything you are eating along with it, but what you are eating may tend to overpower the reisling. I find that it goes best with apples, pears, stone fruit, aged cheddar, gruyere...

    1 Reply
    1. re: jpc8015

      thank you for the suggestion! I will pick myself up a riesling next time :)

    2. First of all, you have to learn HOW to drink wine. It isn't popped like a shot, or glugged like Pepsi or beer. The whole mouth gets into the act.

      I would enlist your friends who enjoy wine for a little Wine 101 evening. The other thing I suggest to wine newbies who want to begin learning about it, is to find an amiable wine merchant who regularly does tastings in the store (free). and go to them. Make friends with the merchant, and you will have a valuable ally who will help you develop your palate.

      You are only wasting your time if YOU think you are. For me, wine is one of the most interesting of all subjects, that provides more than one lifetime of learning experiences.

      5 Replies
      1. re: ChefJune

        I think this is the best suggestion. If you give a wine merchant feedback on how you like the bottles you get from him/her, he will help you branch out from the things you like. This way, you'll be able to develop a repertoire of things you like, things that you can order at restaurants, wine types you know you can enjoy with your friends.
        I would suggest finding a merchant who has free tastings. This way, you can give immediate information about your preferences in a very concrete way. He can help you work from there.

        1. re: ChefJune

          Amen, sip slowly. Trust me.

          Quick note on the Rieslings: try to get one low on acidity. If you do not know (you probably won't) ask. Most merchants love talking about wine, whether to newcomers or the more experienced and look forward to seeing you again.

          1. re: Icantread

            he can try both "low acidity or not" , why force an untrained palate into one direction; let him discover.

            1. re: Maximilien

              Low acid Riesling sounds like it would be completely unbalanced. It's predominantly a cooler-climate grape, so higher acidity is natural. Perhaps a trocken could handle lower acidity, but definitely not a spatlese+.

              1. re: Maximilien

                It's not forcing him in one direction. Most people with "untrained palates" have difficulty with the flavor of more acid and food friendly wines. Riesling can be very acid. For me, it was easiest to learn through less acid offerings and move towards them as I learned to taste.

          2. In most areas there are wine tasting classes, some free, some for a fee. They're often hosted in wine or upscale food stores. Some universities, colleges, and community colleges offer classes. And if you're fortunate enough to live near vineyards, they are a magnificent resource. Check around. There is a lot to be learned about wine that ranges from how to use your eyes, olfactory receptors and taste buds for optimum tasting pleasure, as well as lots of information about the grapes, the wine making process and types of wine and pairings. You have a LOT of fun ahead of you. Happy taste buds!

            1. You just have to drink, and accept that it's ok to not like wines that other people tell you they are supposed to be good.

              There are no 'beginner's" wine (with some exceptions)

              Go to a store, pick one in your price range, and go home, drink it, and next time go to the store and tell them that you bought X and you either liked it or not, then ask for recommendation that is similar or different, and continue your journey.

              remember, there are no good or bad wines (except when technically bad), only wines you like or not.

              And like everything in life there are exceptions to the rules.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Maximilien

                "There are no 'beginner's" wine "

                True, but definitely there are "no beginner's wines"

                Like, I wouldn't recommend focioncroci to get started with a d'Yquem.

              2. It really depends how "into it" you want to get. Depending on where you live, there are plenty of wine classes, retailers that have tastings from time to time, and you and your wine-drinking friends can always get together.

                The main thing is to taste taste taste.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Brad Ballinger

                  I'll just add to Brad's suggestions by also recommending that you find a nice wine bar with an owner/bar tender that is actually interested in wine

                2. Well, as far as how "into it" I want to get, I mostly just want to be able to have a glass and enjoy it. I don't ever care to be able to identify flavours in wine, or anything like that.

                  I guess what I am getting at with my question is where to begin. For example, what kinds of wine would a person like me, who doesn't have a palate to appreciate wine just yet, be more likely to enjoy? i.e. which wines are best suited for someone who needs to be eased into the process of drinking wine?

                  I don't know if a wine class is for me because the best I can do right now is say that if I had to choose, I would say I like whites better than reds. But even at that, I don't quite like the taste of whites. I've gone from completely disliking it to tolerating it, which I guess is progress. Reds on the other hand, that's a different story...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: focioncroci

                    I was exactly like you at one point. I could tolerate a glass of light bodied white wine but I wouldn't even consider touching anything red. Now days, I drink almost exclusively red wine. The big bodied stuff: cab, zin, syrah, etc...

                    For me it was a matter of figuring out that wine could greatly enhance the enjoyment of a meal. Now, I plan my meal around what kind of wine I want to drink.

                  2. I have found that many people who think wine is OK learn really to like it if they drink a lot and experiment, but people who don't really like it to egin with rarely acquire a taste for it.

                    That said, German Riesling is where I would start for whites. Maybe CA Red Zin for reds.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: whiner

                      There are definitely no beginner wines.

                      If you don't like the wines you've tasted, there may yet be many wines out there that you would like if you had the chance to taste them. Do you like fruits and fruit juices? Apple juice or cider, grape juice, cherry or plum? All of those flavors are common in wines.

                      In the world of wine, and this is a gross oversimplification, but there are new world styles and old world styles. Whiner suggest Zinfandel, which is new world. I never drink zin, because I prefer old world wines. I mostly drink wines from Europe.

                      If we knew where you lived, we might be able to suggest a retailer. Most retailers, like most consumers, aren't that savvy about wine. But nevertheless, that advice is good -- find a good retailer. They have a vested interest in finding wines that you will like.

                      The best way to learn about wine is to taste with someone who knows more than you. The trick is to find someone who really knows more than you, as opposed to just talking a good game.

                      Taste at every opportunity, and when you find out where the wine people are in your town, you'll find that there are plenty of opportunities, no matter where you live.

                      1. re: Chris Weber

                        I'm also trying to develop a palate for wine, and I agree that trying all different types of wine with someone/something to guide you (ie "here, try this drier white," etc.) is probably the best way to understand what wine flavors/tasting notes are. Whether it's because I'm a complete newbie or I just really like the "beginners'" wines like semi-dry whites, I don't know, but I feel like rieslings and such are looked down upon by wine folk because they're so 'facile' and dumbed-down enough for newbies. But I like what I like!

                        If you can't get a somewhat knowledgeable wino to help, I'd suggest gathering some good examples of wine with pronounced differences in taste (from bone dry to sweet and light- to full-bodied), trying them out and deducing for yourself what these terms refer to. A good place to start culling names of some cheap but good examples of wines would be a thread like the "best cheap wines from Trader Joe's"-type ones.

                        I'm still working my way up to liking reds, as I seem to prefer light sparkly whites like vinho verde and gewurtztraminer or semi-sweet ones. Funny thing is, it seems that my wine tastes correspond with my tastes in food (these are said to be good with spicy Asian foods, etc.).

                        1. re: janethepain

                          If you like riesling with spicy Asian food I would think that your next step is sauvignon blanc with seafood. A grassy sauv blanc with sushi or sashimi is the way to go. Light flavors pair very well with sauv blanc.

                          1. re: jpc8015

                            Funny, I just had some sauvignon blanc at a dinner a few days ago and loved its fresh-grassiness.

                            1. re: janethepain

                              One of my all time favorites is oysters on the half shell with a squeeze of lemon a touch of Tabasco and a glass of good grassy sauv blanc.

                              If you enjoy sauv blanc and riesling, you're only a skip away from a lighter red like pinot noir or beuajalaise. Before you know it you'll be craving Cali Cab like me.

                          2. re: janethepain

                            Jane, I can only imagine the looks on the faces of the great German winemakers to hear you call riesling a "beginners" wine. In Germany a semi-sweet wine is called Halbtrocken or Feinherb.

                            There are no beginners wines. Zero.

                            Most wine experts will tell you that riesling is the greatest white wine grape in the world. I'd agree.

                            The only metric that matters is what you like. It's your money. Wines are made for people, they don't make kinds that won't sell. Or not intentionally anyway.

                            If you prefer light sparkly whites like vinho verde and gewurtz, you're ahead of the game -- you know what you like. Are you surprised that your wine tastes work with your food preferences? You shouldn't be.

                      2. There are several good books on the subject. I'd recommend Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Immer (aka Andrea Robinson).

                        1. I sort of trained myself by reading Food and Wine magazine. Every month I buy a bottle or 2 from their reviews and see how my taste of it matches up to their notes. This is how I found out I like Malbec better than Cab and Pinot Grigio better than Chard. Took a while this way, but now I know what I like.
                          Even though most of the bottles I tried were $15 or less, the knowledge does come in handy.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: iluvcookies

                            Wine tastings/classes at your local wine stores are a great way to introduce yourself to the world of wine. I think another helpful approach would be to start with the food you love and pair wines with them. Drinking wines on their own is very educational but drinking them with the foods they complement can be a real eye-opener. For example, we opened a botlle of pinot noir last night and it was so-so on its own; however, when we drank it with hubby's grilled wild -caught salmon, the wine came alive and offered previously undetected flavor notes. What do you love to eat? Do a bit of research and find out what wines pair well; begin by drinking your selection on its own, then try it with the food. Heck, go big and try several different varietals with the same meal -- talk about an eye-opening experience.