HOME > Chowhound > Wine >


Help Getting Past White Zinfandel

We have dear friends who are stuck on white zinfandel. Every time they try to order a glass in a NYC restaurant, the waiter cringes (okay, I cringe too). I'm not sure what about dry wine doesn't work for them. We decided to send them 4 bottles of other white varieties that they should try, reisling comes to mind, but what else will help us wean them off white zinfandel? Try to keep the total of the 4 bottles under $100. Suggest away.....

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The only problem with Riesling is the different sweetness levels and choosing one they may like. If they don't like what you get them, they may think they don't like Rieslings period.

    I'd go with a Cremant bubbler and a rose wine. Bandol makes a great, albeit expensive rose. JK Carriere makes my favorite rose, although it will likely be difficult to find. I know Domain Chandon makes a cremant, but it will likely be difficult to find and I'm not sure on the price. Merlot is a typical entry to red wines for those that don't like them. Whitehall Lane makes a solid Merlot for about $30. Finally, Sauv Blanc from New Zealand may fit their flavor profile. Matua or Kim Crawford may fit the bill for $15 - $20.

    1. >>> We decided to send them 4 bottles of other white varieties that they should try, reisling comes to mind, but what else will help us wean them off white zinfandel? Try to keep the total of the 4 bottles under $100. Suggest away..... <<<

      Personally, I have always believed in "baby steps," rather than starting off by running in the Olympics. And while Terry is correct about the different levels of sweetness in Rieslings, and though he suggested some very nice wines, there isn't one of them I would suggest for your friends.

      Now keep in mind that I am presuming one of the things your friends like about White Zinfandel is that they are, for the most part, off-dry and quite fruity. There are hundreds of off-dry, fruity wines out there of *significantly* better quality than your average White Zin. Some people simply do NOT LIKE dry wines, and to (metaphorically, at least) pour dry wines down their throats may end up costing you friends, rather than recruiting new wine drinkers . . .

      IMHO, the four wines should be just different enough from their "usual" to open their eyes and peak their curiosity, and not so different as to scare them away . . . as such, I'd look towards California for most of the wines, as it's already a somewhat familiar place. But I wouldn't limit myself just to white, as I would include one *true* rosé to show them that women shopping at Victoria's Secret are not the only people who "Love Pink."

      If, in fact, you have access to NYC (though I think you live in CT), the first step is to talk with a good retailer -- there's little point in recommending wines from California that you can't find in NewYork. Explain what you want to do, and have them help you.

      That said, here are some suggestions anyway -- if you can't find these specific wines, ask the retailer for something in a similar style. And remember . . .

      >>> I'm not sure what about dry wine doesn't work for them. <<<

      . . . since dry wine doesn't work from them, stay away from bone-dry wines!

      For a comforting color, start with a rosé made from Grenache grapes from the Côte-du-Rhône region of France or the Rioja region of Spain. Look for producers such as Domaine de la Mordorée, Château de Ségrèis, Vega Sinaloa, Muga, and others. This should run you between $12-20, depending upon the specific producer. Keep it simple; don't go for "the best," and certainly don't go for the most expensive or most esoteric.

      Now, I actually *would* look for a Riesling, but I'd avoid Germany, Austria and Alsace. The wines from these regions, while excellent (indeed, I enjoy them very much, and with some frequency!), are probably too minerally, too acidic, and not fruity/fleshy enough for them. Rather, I'd look for an off-dry Riesling from grapes grown in Monterey County or Santa Barbara County -- something like Ventana Vineyards, Storrs, Bargetto, etc. Again, well under $20 . . .

      I would honestly get them a bottle of "buttery" California Chardonnay to try -- again, not too expensive -- even something like K-J, Wente, or Robert Mondavi. You want a middle-of-the-road, "starter" wine.

      For the fourth bottle, you have lots of options. I'd avoid a straight Sauvignon Blanc; IMHO, it's too austere in many cases for your friends right now. Perhaps later. You could get them an off-dry California Chenin Blanc, say from Pine Ridge, or a Spanish Rueda, a French Pinot Blanc from Alsace, or even a Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc (e.g.: Guigal), or something like a Beaujolais Blanc from Brun or Jadot . . .

      Again, explain what you want to do to a respected wine retailer, and he/she will have lots of on-target suggestions for you.


      6 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        There are a lot of decent NY state Reislings as well. Some of them are too sweet for me, but possibly perfect for weaning people off of white zin. One that comes to mind is Hermann Weimer.


        1. re: zin1953

          Great information Jason, just curious if you think an off dry Gewurztraminer might work on the white side or perhaps a Lambrusco steering them towards a red.



          1. re: PolarBear

            Gewürztraminer (GT) is one of the very few wines that truly is an acquired taste. Well, no, that's not it exactly. But if you smell a Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet, Pinot, Zin -- almost any wine -- it "tastes like it smells." In other words, the aromas of the wine lead one right into the taste. But, quite often, GT is a schizophrenic wine -- like smelling from Glass A, but tasting from Glass B. That is, or at a minimum *can be* disconcerting to someone newly exploring the world of wines. (Viognier -- well, the ones that smell like pine -- is the same way.) It is for this reason ONLY that I did not mention GT in my original reply.

            Lambrusco, and Merlot, are two "gateway" wines -- the trouble with Lambrusco is that you really want them to try a *good* one, and not one made for the mass market.


            1. re: zin1953

              I'm curious about Lambrusco because I've never had one. But I already like serious wine. Does that mean I shouldn't try a Lambrusco because it's just a "gateway" wine and I'll be disappointed.

              1. re: omotosando

                Let's see . . . I also said Merlot was a gateway wine --> does that mean you should never drink a Merlot because you "already like serious wine"?

          2. re: zin1953

            Yes, a fruit-forward Chard would be a likely suspect, and one that I just failed to mention in my reply. The K-J Vintner's Reserve would be a possibility, especially with the RS (Residual Sugar). Another, and in the OP's price range, would be the J. Lohr Riverstone Chard. Not sure if there is any RS, but flavor profiles are somewhat similar.

            Good thoughts,


          3. I think a pinot grigio on the sweeter side would be a great gateway to more dry whites.

            3 Replies
            1. re: inaplasticcup

              there are "sweet" pinot grigios? really?

              1. re: lifeasbinge

                Well, I don't know of any . . . unless we're discussing Pinot Gris Sélections des Grains Nobles from Alsace.

                1. re: lifeasbinge

                  Not sweet like white zins, but on the sweeter end of the spectrum for pinot grigios. I guess I wasn't clear enough in my original expression.

              2. One final detail I just learned. They live in Pennsylvania and it seems they have draconian wine
                delivery laws. Anyone out there expert in sending to PA? It seems mean to send a gift that they then have to pick up at a liquor store. Is there any roundabout way to have the wine delivered to their door from a wine distributor? Thanks

                10 Replies
                  1. re: meinNYC

                    WOW. So you mean to say that the post office/UPS/FedEx can't deliver wine to a PA resident?

                    Those poor, poor Pennsylvanians... :(

                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                      I deal with this all the time. You have to send it to an address just over the state line. I send wine to New Jersey for my brother in Philly. I've checked the prices to send direct to PA and the price for shipping for each bottle was $25.

                      1. re: inaplasticcup

                        It is ALWAYS illegal to use the US Postal Service to ship alcoholic beverages.

                        UPS and FedEx will only accept shipments to certain states.

                        1. re: zin1953

                          Interesting! Thanks for the info, zin. I would never have thought...

                          1. re: inaplasticcup

                            And........... further to zin1953's post, UPS & FedEx will only take wine shipments FROM licensed entities like wine retailers and wineries. You, as an individual, are not allowed to ship wine..... period. You can, however, ship olive oil or juice....;o))))).

                            1. re: Midlife

                              Well it wouldn't be the first ridiculous regulation we've ever had to live by... :|

                              1. re: Midlife

                                <You can, however, ship olive oil or juice....;o))))).>

                                Or "glassware."

                            2. re: zin1953

                              And UPS/FedEx won't accept shipments from people not licensed to ship alcohol--businesses, that is, not private individuals.

                              @MeinNYC: another attraction to your friends besides sweetness might be the relative low acidity of white zin. I run into this a lot in people who like off-dry wines (as well as, conversely, opposition to roses because they are all believed to be that way). Pinot gris might be a better white choice than riesling, for that reason.

                          2. re: meinNYC

                            A gift certificate to their local wine store sounds like a fine idea, and a knowledgeable owner or employee will be able to ask the right leading questions.

                          3. Thanks all, I will work on your suggestions. They live in Central PA so hopping over the border to NJ is not an option. I guess they will have to pick up the gift at a local wine store.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: meinNYC

                              I have heard of people shipping "olive oil" into such states. I have heard that they take their sealed box of bottled "olive oil" into their local pack and ship and ship away. But be careful, "olive oil" can be temperature sensitive so use an insulated box and consider weather conditions.

                              The risks are that if the "olive oil" breaks or leaks insurance won't cover the "olive oil" because some states won't let you ship "olive oil" into them.

                              1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                Hoosier, don't forget homemade vinegars and "computer parts".

                                1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                  You also want to make sure that the "olive oil" bottles don't clink together (are packed quite securely) otherwise some employees from FedEx/UPS may wonder if it's really "olive oil," open your box and take your "olive oil"

                              2. I would start off with something less sweet, like Mountain Dew.

                                Actually, though it's a dessert wine, Brachetto might be a nice gateway.

                                1. I love NZ Sauvignon Blanc but wouldn't give it to White Zin fans, at least at first.
                                  Likewise, a Chardonnay may be something that they would hate - it took me a long, long time to get past some of the "aroma issues" let's say around Chardonnay.
                                  Lambrusco could certainly work, which then leads comfortably to Valpolicella, then to Montepulciano - I guess i'm saying that Italian wines are pretty approachable.
                                  A less expensive, friendly Pinot Noir could work.
                                  I'd hate to start someone off with a Merlot - just saying. Meh.
                                  A pretty gentle Shiraz could work, maybe.
                                  I also think that 4 bottles as a start might be a lot. How about beginning with one - I'd suggest the Valpolicella - and see how they like that?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: lifeasbinge

                                    They now make stainless steel Chardonnay which doesn't have the same challenging/difficult (depending on how you look at it) oaky notes. I know some people say what's the point of unoaked Chard, but I like it.

                                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                                      Yes, I think that's fine, and I like it too. It might work in this case.

                                  2. If your friends are still asking for White Zin, it is likely that they are not going to become wine aficianados. My mother is a white zinner also and she now just asks for Rose. Most restaurants with a wine list will have one by the glass. She seldom notices the difference in flavour from one to another, as long as it is pink. Asking for Rose avoids the looks.

                                    6 Replies
                                      1. re: inaplasticcup

                                        "Don''t you talk about my momma!" LOL
                                        Sometimes you learn which battles are worth fighting. If mom wants the pink stuff, then pink it will be.

                                        1. re: budnball

                                          Absolutely! The primary purpose of wine is to give pleasure to the drinker. If mom wants sweet and pretty, more power to her. :)

                                      2. re: budnball

                                        Interesting. I find, for example, a Tavel Rose and a white zin to be as opposite as can be, even if they are both pink. I'm surprised she's liked other pink wines. Maybe she's been "lucky" and the places have all figured out that she really just wants the WZ and given her that.

                                        To the OP: I doubt you'll change them. WZ drinkers are notorious for their lack of flexibility and their inability to branch out of their comfort zone. In fact, in wine polls, they're often not counted in the data, as they're almost certain to never try anything else. Hows about you send me that hundo instead? ;)

                                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                                          I really think it is the power of persuasion. If it is pink it must be sweet, so she tastes sweet. She has commented on some of my more dry Grenache Roses that they were a bit "tart" but after a few bites of food, that complaints changes to "ooh that's refreshing".

                                          1. re: budnball

                                            "...they were a bit 'tart' but after a few bites of food, that complaints changes to 'ooh that's refreshing...'"

                                            That matches my experience. I have often heard that, too.

                                      3. Have you thought about a nice green wine/ vino verde? It is pretty easy on the palate, and pretty easy on the wallet. Although it may not be the most accessible in the state of Penn. Casal Garcia is one my favorites and about eight to ten dollars a bottle.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: adventuresinbaking

                                          . . . and vinho verde is classically described as light in body, tart, high in acidity, and (sometimes) pétillant.

                                          A subtle step away from a white zinfandel?

                                          1. re: zin1953

                                            Jason, do you happen to know the average RS level in White Zin vs, Vinho Verde? We've tried the Espiral Vinho Verde recommended here at Trader Joe's and don't find it nearly as "sweet" as what I remember White Zin being........... though it's been a long time. I guess my question is "How do you measure a subtle step?'.

                                            1. re: Midlife

                                              Round numbers for the sake of discussion: most California White Zinfandels are in the 1.5-2.0%+ range of residual sugar. I cannot recall EVER having a Vinho Verde that contained ANY r.s.

                                        2. Personally, if the patron wants a White Zin, then cringes should be kept in private. It is the tastes of the patron, that should dictate the wine choices. Now, if they are ordering for the entire table, you might want to add a different wine, to accommodate your preferences.

                                          As for changing the friends' choice, you might want to look to some Rosé wines, either domestic (US), or imported.

                                          Another possibility would be a fruit-driven Riesling, say at a Kabinet ripeness level.

                                          Vouvray, and especially an off-dry variation might be a good substitute.

                                          Also, there are several fruit-driven PN's, but many might seem "too big" to the friends, so keep that in mind.

                                          The best trick would be to choose some alternate wines, that pair very well with the dishes at hand, and let your friends explore those. They might hesitate, but if they try the food and wines, their minds might change a bit. If not, then I'd allow the White Zins, and accept them for who they are, not which wines they might choose.



                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            Thanks, Bill, for some common sense and fair play. I think a great food match will do more than anything to open their eyes to how wonderful wine can be, in ways that a simple white zin can't. If all they wanted to drink was, say, a rustic Madiran or a steel dry Picpoul de Pinet with everything, instead of a white zin, would we think any better of them ? I'd still let em. But not for the whole table.

                                          2. I'm having my own wine issue. I've always been a sweet drink girl and still am, but its not so cute to be drinking dessert wines like a beer....nor do my hips care for it :/
                                            I need to find a sweet red that I can tolerate! any advice?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Digmeg123

                                              You might want to consider re-posting this by starting a brand new discussion, as this thread is three years old. That said, it would be helpful to know a) specifically, what type of wines you enjoy now, and b) generally, where you live (what city). Also, what is it about dry wines you don't like, and why you are looking for a sweet red, rather than a white?

                                            2. It's been a few years since you asked the question but I have the same problem with a couple of friends. A lot of people have suggested less expensive California riesling and I would agree. I have been able to get them to move from White Zin to an inexpensive California Moscato like Kitchen Sink. They do not find Italian moscato to be sweet enough.


                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: GasperTheWineGuy

                                                Gaspar, they are probably liking the taste of added sugar and looking for an experience equivalent to soda pop. Awful.

                                                For digmeg, there's a brand called Jam Jar that was made just for people like you, but outside of a few things like that you're not going to find sweet red wine that's not a dessert wine. At bars, ask for a red wine spritzer--the bartender will cut a dry wine with 7-up or ginger ale.

                                                1. re: Neecies

                                                  >>> liking the taste of added sugar <<<

                                                  Except that it's illegal to add sugar to wine. Residual sugar, yes; added sugar, no.

                                                2. re: GasperTheWineGuy

                                                  For what it's worth, many supermarkets now merchandize sweet, or sweet-ish reds, whites, and roses in the same section, from white zins and moscato to blends that are designed to be jammy-sweet-etc. reds. You can tell from the labels how they're crafted, and for whom. I don't shop[ for these, but the selection appears fairly large, and at many price points and sources.