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Discovering new wines as a newbie (Or things you wish you knew)

  • j

Wine newbie here, starting to discover a very expensive hobby. My question to the forum is, what in your experience, is the best an new way to discover new wines.

Would it researching online/finding reviews, and hoping to find the same bottles locally? Would you recommend just walking in and trusting nearest reputable wine stores? Any thoughts on wine deal a day sites?

Lastly, if you have any other good wine sites, or perhaps apps you wish you had when you first started, those would be great.

Thanks!

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  1. For me, wine is totally about tasting, tasting and then some more tasting.

    When I became "hooked" on wines, I sought out a great, local shop, and befriended a salesperson. I bought many totally mixed cases, and drank, took notes, then drank some more.

    After that first case, I came back, notes in hand, and discussed things. I left with another mixed case. Again, I drank, made notes, and drank some more.

    This went on for some years, and I accumulated many notes. As I knew some folk "in the business," I got invitations to many trade tastings. Again, I took notes, and drank, and drank, and drank. At some point, people began to come to me for recommendations, and I consulted my notes.

    While I love reading about wines, actually tasting is the main way to develop a palate for it. Reading is good, and also fun, but actually tasting cannot be discounted.

    Enjoy,

    Hunt

    8 Replies
    1. re: Bill Hunt

      Agreed. Taste, taste & taste some more! All of the advise above is great.

      In the past, BW, (before wine), I always thought being a member of a wine club would be cool. The more I got into wine, I learned that's not the best thing to do. You never know what wine you'll get, if it's been stored at 100* on a truck for days, etc.

      I love to go to wine tastings, meet people who also drink wine, and you discover quickly what you like & don't like.

      I love Wine Enthusiast & Wine Spectator magazines. I've learned a lot by reading those.

      The wine app I use is "WineQuest". It will let you fill out a profile on yourself. Then, when you drink a glass/bottle, enter that wine in the search box, it will find the wine (most of the time), and let you rate it. The more you rate, the better. Because then, when you're at the store and find a wine you're not familiar with, type that wine into your search box, it'll come up and will let you know if you'll like that particular wine or not, based on your previous ratings. Plus, it'll give you the price, how it tastes, etc. And it also lets you make notes. I really like it.

      1. re: chloebell

        OK, that kind of "wine club."

        At first, I was thinking more of a "tasting group," where like-minded friends gather for a dinner (themed, or not), eat and drink wines (themed, or not).

        I belong to only three such "wine clubs," and only because their wonderful wines are not sold at retail, in my area, Phoenix, AZ, USA. I just dropped another, that is only partially represented at retail here (but their "flagship wines" are), and to "belong," was costing me about 8x the price of a bottle, due to shipping to my Napa locker, then shipping to me. That became a situation, that I just could no longer deal with. I mean, who wants a US $300 btl. of Sauvignon Blanc? Still, I love that group's wines, and when in Napa, will beg some of the "allocated" ones. I e-mail back and forth with them, and the day that they can ship to AZ, I will jump back in, with zero hesitation.

        For me, finding friends, who enjoy wines (maybe not what I love, or what you would love, but still, a love for wines) is very, very helpful. Wine should not be consumed alone, as RicRios mentions above. It IS a communal food, and is almost always best, when shared - just do not buy a half-dozen cases of it, because it seemed great, with your best friends, as the Sun was setting on the Mayacamus Ridge, on a lovely Spring day. [Grin]

        Hunt

        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Hunt, I can see where those wine clubs would be awesome - getting wines that aren't sold retail. I'm also a bit jealous, b/c I live in a state where wine can't be delivered to your door. Ugh.

          1. re: chloebell

            Chloe, most "wine clubs" are -- IMHO -- to be avoided . . .

            To vastly over-generalize, there are four types of "wine clubs":

            1) Winery-sponsored (general). Most U.S.-based wineries offer something like this. Basically, the winery ships its members approx. one case (12/750ml bottles) per year, broken up into 2, 3, or 4 shipments, consisting (typically) of their new releases, sold to you at a discount. Re-orders and the like are also discounted for club members. Many wineries will also make adjustments -- say, "only red wines," or "only Chardonnays" -- to their regular shipments based upon customer preference. These can work, but only if you like EVERY wine they make, OR they will tailor the shipments to your likes/dislikes.

            2) Winery-sponsored (winery-only). This is the type of club -- think "Ridge ATP" -- that offers special bottlings of wines that are either ONLY sold to club members, or otherwise sold only at the winery (i.e.: the only way to get these is to visit the winery, or belong to the club). Again, these can work IF you like all of the offerings.

            3) Retailer-sponsored. These are typically brick-and-mortar stores (but typically with an online presence) that offer a variety of "clubs." Look at the K&L Wine Merchant website, for examples of what I'm talking about here. The retail may offer clubs by price (no wine over $25; wines between $25-50; only wines over $50), or by category/country (only Champagnes; only Bordeaux; only Fortified wines [Porto, Madeira, Sherry]; only French, Italian, etc.). These can work -- again -- if you can tailor them.

            4) Online-sponsored. These are typically put together an online retailer, often featuring wines you've never heard of, as the shipments must be based upon price. Also in this group are the "vanity" clubs sponsored by airlines, department stores, etc. Personally, I feel these should be avoided like the plague.

            There is a 5th type that MUST be avoided at all costs! This is the sort of club that offers wines that appear to be one thing, but really are not. (Think Pierroth.)

            1. re: zin1953

              Please don't tell me Pierroth is still out there preying on the gullible and the ignorant.

              1. re: jock

                I f***ing HOPE not . . . but it never hurts to be extra cautious!

              2. re: zin1953

                Over the decades, I have experienced each of those.

                I am now down to four, and they are category 1, or 2, by your definitions.

                In my personal case, those still work for me, where others were usually cast aside, after the first year.

                Hunt

              3. re: chloebell

                Well, Arizona, though "next-door," has so many limitations, that it is not funny.

                We also get only portions of many portfolios, though our distributors. What that means is that we do get part of it (usually, the "usual suspects"), but because we do, we do NOT get the rest of it. Jos. Phelps is a perfect example. We get the Napa Merlot, Napa Cab, the Insignia at a 300% markup, but never the Ovation Chardonnay, the Viognier, the Marsanne/Roussane, or much of anything else.

                AZ is an odd market, and I often have to buy from a source, like K&L, or have someone ship wine to a friendly retailer.

                Still, I can get my Robert Biale, my Larry Turley, my Lambert Bridge and my Stephens & Walker (Trust Wines), so all is not lost. Now, if I could only find a retailer with a full Port selection...

                Hunt

        2. JB: Check your other thread on the corkage wine-matching question:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/895628

          That is EXACTLY what you should be doing to discover new wines on the fast track, IMO.

          There's a thread somewhere on here a few months ago where there was an extensive discussion / debate over how a newbie should learn to match food and wine. Perhaps someone can find that thread for you, there are a lot of good ideas on there, especially mine :

          )

          As for wine deal sites, I never went that route, they might be okay but I've seen alot of lower-quality vineyard product sold through some of them, like anything you have to be selective.

          Look at it in sequential steps:
          1: Find the best YEARS for each varietal in each region... for example I answered your question about which riesling to buy by directing you not to specific bottles, b/c I have no idea what's in your city, but to a year and a region (2009 and Mosel, Germany). Just don't buy wines from poor vintages, period.

          2: THEN find great bottles from that vintage, either ask the wineshop, or read the wine mags, or go to a site like cellar tracker where drinkers share their tasting notes and ratings...

          3: THEN match that wine to the best pairings for the wine. You can have the greatest vintage year, greatest vineyard, but if you're matching it wrong, that is just a crime...

          Follow those 3 steps you'll never go wrong and you'll definitely be on the fast-track to learning.

          1. JB . . . welcome to the Wonderful World of Wine . . . .

            >>> Wine newbie here, starting to discover a very expensive hobby. My question to the forum is, what in your experience, is the best an new way to discover new wines. <<<

            TASTE! Anything and everything.

            >>> Would it researching online/finding reviews, and hoping to find the same bottles locally? <<<

            No.

            >>> Would you recommend just walking in and trusting nearest reputable wine stores? <<<

            Yes, yes, a THOUSAND times YES!!!

            >>> Any thoughts on wine deal a day sites? <<<

            (Run away.)

            >>> Lastly, if you have any other good wine sites, or perhaps apps you wish you had when you first started, those would be great. <<<

            Hmmmm . . . .

            JB, NOTHING will help you more than a solid, knowledgable retailer. Ask him or her questions. Give the person a budget-per-bottle that you are COMFORTABLE spending. Tell them what you like in a wine, and try to be specific about what wines you've had in the past that you've liked (and haven't liked!) -- in other words, don't just say "I like Chardonnay" (for example), but say, "I liked the 2018 Cache Phloe Vineyards Chardonnay"; don't just say "it was good," but say, "it had nice fruit and not too much oak, it was smooth and not hot." etc., etc., etc.

            Don't worry about what words you use. Just remember that "specific" is better than "general."

            Listen to what the salesman has to say, has to suggest, recommend. Try two or three of his/her suggestions. Then, and this is MOST IMPORTANT, go back to the same store -- talk to the same person. Tell him/her what you thought of the suggestions -- whether you liked the wine(s) or not. In other words, the more feedback you can provide, the better future suggestions will be . . . think of it as zeroing in on the bull's-eye of a target.

            There are several books I would recommend -- Andrea Immer Robinson's "Great Wines Made Simple" is one. But AT THIS POINT, it's probably better to avoid websites and apps . . . .

            1 Reply
            1. re: zin1953

              JBG - this is best advice you will ever get.

            2. <>>> Would you recommend just walking in and trusting nearest reputable wine stores? <<<

              Yes, yes, a THOUSAND times YES!!!>

              I cannot repeat this loudly enough. Basically, it's the whole story. Probably for the first year of your journey. Hopefully that store also has frequent (free) tastings. Attend as many as you can, and ask as many questions as you can. Be sure to make notes of what you do and don't like every time you drink a glass or even a tasting cup. Discuss everything you've tasted with your wine merchant. He/She will quickly understand your palate (maybe even better than you!) and can point you in tasty directions. As you develop wines you like, start trying similar wines to begin branching out into different directions.

              Bear in mind that your palate will be constantly changing and developing. Nothing about wine is written in stone.

              1. Add my yes, yes a thousand times yes to the chorus about trusting a reputable shop.

                Reviews are only good if you know the reviewer to have similar tastes to your own -- I absolutely respect Robert Parker, but we've found that we probably won't like the wines to which he awards his highest scores -- he prefers a very different style of wine from what we like, and that's okay. (but his reviews serve their purpose, albeit in a rather twisted fashion....)

                We have very dear friends with whom we do a lot of tastings -- our tastes are night and day from theirs, but we've all actually gotten quite good at picking wines the *other* couple will like! (and we do have a number of wines that all of us like, which is a happy medium indeed!)

                Taste, taste, taste -- then drink what YOU like, regardless of what anybody else writes, thinks, or says about it.