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Intro to wine - from a nondrinking family

Hello friendly CH denizens,

Yours truly has recently hit the 21st birthday milestone, and it's time for me to finally start drinking and cooking with wine. Hooray!

One catch: I have no idea where to start. I come from a teetotaler family - there was no alcohol in the house whatsoever while I was growing up, so I never tasted anything and therefore have no preferences.

I've attempted to Google first-time wine guides, but they're all too in-depth about grape types, regions and other things I'm not interested in at the moment. I do know a little about types.

I have bought two bottles so far: Beringer Red Moscato and Yellowtail Pinot Grigio. My initial impression is that the red is probably sweeter than reds generally are. The Pinot Grigio has almost no flavor, but provided the necessary ingredient for the shrimp scampi I made last night.

Where did you start with wine? What would you recommend for a newbie? Any favorites? I'm a college student, so my budget is sadly limited to bottles under $10, but I think that's workable.


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  1. I started with something from a box that had the temerity to call itself wine.

    Personally, I would start with a light, fruity white, maybe with the littlest bit of residual sugar, and work your way from there. Hugel Gentil, a very refreshing blend from Alsace would fit the bill perfectly. Or perhaps Donnhoff Riesling Kabinett, which is amazing after a hard day's work. They might be slightly just over $10, depending on where you are, but not much...

    1. It'll take some time particularly reds; due to tannins (that dry feeling or taste you get when you over brewed tea). I'd suggest to start something w/ noticeable sugar (what you're expecting from beverages at your age) yet still legit wines. Off dry Chenin Blanc or German Riesling.
      In regard to cooking w/ wine the opposite is usually true you'll wanna use a drier wine; since cooking drives off water and concentrates sugar in sweeter wines (which is all you'll taste in the meal). From wine you want the acidity in your meal. I used a lot of drier White Bordeaux (semillon sauvignon blanc) for seafood and other light meals.

      1. Not sure where you call home, but I agree with the assessment of fruity for drinking and a bit drier for cooking. Perhaps you can find a Nero d'Avola or Zweigelt for a red or a Torrontes or off-dry Viognier for a white? There are tasty versions out there well within your budget. Enjoy!

        2 Replies
        1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

          Nero d'Avola is a great light red to start with. I tend to like medium to lighter reds and also enjoy a Pinot noir.

          Avoid brands like Yellowtail and Barefoot which typically aren't very good. There are better inexpensive wines out there.

          1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

            Hi BWS,

            I live in Orlando, so plenty of options for wine retailers and the like.


          2. Speak: based on your post, I would strongly recommend starting with the FOOD you like... that will then lead to recommendations for wines to match that particular food... it will also start you out thinking in terms of food and wine in combination, rather than wine by it's lonesome.

            However great wine is by itself, it's just so much more chowish when combined with appropriately paired foods... and vice-versa!

            2 Replies
            1. re: TombstoneShadow

              Thanks! I plan to finish off the bottles I have now before I buy anything new, so tonight will be the last of the Pinot Grigio with some cheese fondue.

              As I said, I can't spend too much too often on wine; are there any approachable all-purpose wines you would recommend that pair with many things?

              1. re: speakhandsforme

                Speak: PERFECT example... next time try gewurztraminer with your cheese fondue... you'll never go back to pinot grigio with it.

            2. Until my parents' first trip to Europe in 1974, wine was a rarity at our house also. It became a major enjoyment with meals and sipping after my student trip to Europe in 1975. It is interesting that we are starting at the same price point. Between 1 and 1.5 hours of minimum wage.

              In a small town with only a few wine outlets, I discovered Barolo and Valpolicella reds and sweet German whites. Most California wines came in large bottles. Small bottle french were out of my price range. Interestingly enough, Pedro Domecq was widely available. I still have a taste for good sherry.

              Please keep a diary. A few words on taste, price and where drunk will be priceless years later.

              Try to taste a number from the same grape and region. Year would be even nicer. Try regions that are not in vogue. Columbia river gorge, Argentina, Chile, Sicily, and Greece are generally underated and thus sometimes show up in the clearence bin. And please do not forget your local vintners. There are some delightful surprises out there.

              1. Admittedly, I started drinking wine underage with the host family I spent time with in Spain. When I got back to the states I was fascinated by wine. I started drinking wine from as many different countries as I could. So, my advice to you is to taste as many different wines as you can.

                I second going the food + wine route, especially since it seems you enjoying cooking.

                Where are you located? Taking classes at a local university or wine store is a great way to learn about wine. It was a good experience for me and you make friends that you can explore wine with. When you split wine between 3-4 it is a lot cheaper.

                3 Replies
                1. re: JonDough

                  Hi JonDough,

                  I actually go to UCF in Orlando, so they may have something. I'll check around. Thanks!

                  1. re: speakhandsforme

                    The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil is a good resource too.

                  2. re: JonDough

                    +1 on taking a class, especially at a community college if not your current university.

                  3. I liked your post, and I understand how confusing and complicated wine can be since my family did not drink much wine as I was growing up. In addition, most of my life, I have worked in retail or been a student or a teacher, so I have drunk many bottles of inexpensive wine.

                    I also want to congratulate you on your judgment of the 2 wines you started with; a red moscato is too sweet for most people's taste and not good with most food, and a lot of Pinot Grigios – including Yellowtail – are pretty bland and tasteless. However, you really should not worry as most wines available these days are drinkable and pleasant, if not profound and magnificent.

                    The first thing to consider is where to buy wine. If you have a small wine retailer, you should start there. There is no dishonor in buying a wine less than $10. The wine salesperson wants repeat business and usually will try to recommend things within your price range. If you are lucky, you may have a large wine/beverage retailer available such as Bev Mo or Trader Joe's. These places should have more choices and often better prices, but sometimes the clerks are less knowledgeable and helpful. Of course, many of us live in places where supermarkets are the only place to purchase wines. In general, unless you live in a state that prohibits discounting, never spend full list price on a bottle of supermarket wine. If you look at a wine shelf in most supermarkets, you will see that from 20 to 40% of the bottles are on discount. That is pretty standard; therefore, a wine may be listed at $12.99, but a careful shopper will usually purchase it for $7.99 or $8.99. If it's not on sale, try something else. Similarly, wine and beverage retailers sometimes have to discount their merchandise to make room for new product or more recent vintages. In most cases, that is a good opportunity to expand your wine horizons without emptying your pocketbook.

                    In red wines, a beginner on a limited budget should consider trying a couple Shirazes or shiraz blends from Australia. That grape thrives in Australia and produces generally fruity and pleasant wines. Wines from Chile, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Carmenere, are also often good values. In American wines, there are a wide range of drinkable reds from California, but I would encourage you to investigate some of the wines from Columbia Crest, a large Washington state producer whose wines represent a good combination of taste and value – particularly the ones labeled Grand Estates. Their Merlot in particular is a favorite of mine.

                    Personally I drink fewer white wines, so I will have fewer recommendations. It is been a couple of years since I last had one, but Yellowtail used to produce a decent drinkable riesling, to my taste buds more complex and flavorful than their pinot grigio. I am also fond of Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand. While these wines are often over $10, retailers like Trader Joe's will have them in the $7-$8 range, and Cupcake, a supermarket label, also markets a New Zealand SB for under $10 (at least when discounted). I also like Rieslings from Château Ste Michelle in Washington state and those are available dry, sweet, or in between. Chardonnay is many people's favorite white wine and numerous Chardonnays from California and elsewhere are available for under $10. Try 2 or 3 and find one that you like.

                    I'm sorry to have gone on so long, but I did want to give you some general advice about where to start. As others have suggested, going to wine tastings, tasting carefully whenever you drink wine, and taking notes about what you like will quickly turn you into an effective wine buyer even on a limited budget.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Ed Dibble

                      < Wines from Chile, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Carmenere, are also often good values.>
                      <I would encourage you to investigate some of the wines from Columbia Crest,>
                      <I also like Rieslings from Château Ste Michelle in Washington state > and they make several different Rieslings -- one costs around $9 and is very tasty.

                      These are great suggestions with which I heartily concur. :)
                      I'll be back with more suggestions later, but please, avoid Yellowtail. It's really a poorly made wine, and not worth what it costs.

                    2. Thank you to everyone! I've taken note of what you said and started an Excel file with all the info for the bottles I buy. :)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: speakhandsforme

                        There's a progression I've often seen in beginning winedrinkers and what appeals to them as they are exposed to new wines. It's almost as if their palate needs to become acclimatized to new tastes in wine. It's not the path absolutely everyone takes, though it is certainly well-trod.

                        white wines with sweetness >> dry white wines >> full-bodied white wines >> Rose >> crossover to red wine with Beaujolais, light weight red, >> Pinot Noir >> medium weight red like Tempranillo, Nero d'Avola, Merlot >> Zinfandel more concentrated heavier weight red >> Cabernet, heavier red

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          I've seen that too, but in recent years I've also met people who started with Parker-style fruit-bomb big reds.

                      2. Can you buy wine at Trader Joe's? They have a lot of crap but there are some good bottles with classic characteristics in your price range. If that's an option I can post a list.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I will second (or third) the Trader Joe's recommendations. They have more good wine <$10 than pretty much anyplace else. Our local TJ's even has wine tasting on Wed afternoon where they have 2 or 3 bottles open. You drink out of tiny plastic cups ... but at least you have some idea of what it will be like.

                          Robert L ... Seems like we need to have a TJ Wine nay or yeah thread yes?

                          1. re: firecooked

                            There are two Trader Joe's in Florida, Gainesville and Sarasota. Are those anywhere near speakhandsforme?

                            Long thread on wine at Trader Joe's:


                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Both are about 2 hours away from Orlando, but I drive through Gainesville on my way back home. Maybe I'll check it out at Thanksgiving.

                        2. I grew up with wine, but found what I liked and expanded my palate by asking for recommendations (as you did).

                          Some restaurants have wine flights, or offer good wines by the glass.

                          When I began ordering, I had a very limited vocabulary...I knew if I wanted bright (like a riesling, I learned) or heavier (like a Chianti).

                          Another idea is to visit your local wine outlet. NH, my neighbor state, has these, and has really good staff that can guide you. There are also regular amazing deals on wines from various countries, depending on the time of year. Again, in these places, I asked for help!

                          Happy birthday, by the way!

                          1. I would say take your time. Figure it will take about 5-10 years to get an idea of your palate, depending on how much you are able to taste. Look to join or start a wine tasting club which can multiply the number of wines you are exposed to. Also, every now and then, if you have a local wine shop, spurlge on a bottle that is double your usual budget. Ask for version of a variety that you have enjoyed. Rieslings are always a great place to start because you can get great quality at prices under $20.

                            1. My brother's in a similar spot. He's not too far out of college and has gotten into wine in the last few years. He has a wine night a couple times a month with friends. Everyone brings a bottle (there's a theme each month and a shared list so no repeats) and they can try several wines for not too high a price. Good luck!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Hobbert

                                I love the idea of a wine-tasting party, but they're the most informative when they're organized by type of wine, or by region. Have a Zinfandel night, or a Spain night.

                                Here's a great thread on how to learn about wine by organizing a wine-tasting party. The thread is from several years back, but I cannot recall a better one than this:

                                Flights at a wine-tasting bar are another good way -- order a flight of 3 wines all of the same type: all chardonnay, all Syrah, all dessert wines, all Rhone wines, etc.

                              2. Since you have stated you are at the University of Central Florida, you have the luxury of having one of the finest Hospitality schools in the nation as a resource.

                                Try HFT 4866c as an elective. And hit the clubs bulletin board for further edification.

                                Yeah, yeah. Cornell is still tops. But we are trying.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                  Thank you! Unfortunately I have no room in my schedule for another credit course this year, but I did find this: http://rosenarchive.smca.ucf.edu/rose...

                                2. You might pick up a copy of George Taber's "A Toast to Bargain Wines." It includes recommendations of widely-available inexpensive wines from all over the world. Probably well worth the $3 or so it would cost you.


                                  1. Update: I've finished off the Pinot and the Beringer, so it's time for new wine! I was able to stick to my under $10/bottle budget.

                                    I was out and about downtown on Friday and discovered a newly-opened Fresh Market, so I went in to check it out. Picked up a bottle of Fetzer "Shaly Loam" 2011 CA Gewurtztraminer, per y'all's recommendations.

                                    Then we had to stop at Publix last night, so I decided to poke around the wine section. They have a really helpful classification system: http://www.publix.com/clubs/wine/wine...

                                    I spied an $8.79 bottle of DOC Chianti! Bolla brand, 2011. It was in the red grape icon category. We'll see.

                                    Thanks so much for all the help! I'll let you know how they turn out.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: speakhandsforme

                                      You will do better if you find a local wine store with a knowledgeable and helpful manager or clerk. Bolla brand is mediocre at best. You won't get a good taste of Chianti from that bottle. Fetzer is a better choice. But you're going to be very hit or miss until you get some expert (and hands-on) help for choosing wines in your price range.

                                      1. re: speakhandsforme

                                        Since you are in Orlando, you will be MUCH BETTER SERVED is you check out these stores:

                                        Cavanaugh's Fine Wines
                                        1215 Edgewater Dr.
                                        Orlando, FL 32804

                                        Tim's Wine Market
                                        1223 N. Orange Ave.
                                        Orlando, FL 32804

                                        Total Wine and More
                                        2712 E. Colonial Dr.
                                        Orlando, FL 32803

                                        The Wine Barn
                                        1711 33rd Street
                                        Orlando, FL 32839

                                        Ask the people for there for some help. Give them the names of wines that you have enjoyed in the past, as well as ones that you have *not*. Give them a budget, and buy some of the wines they recommend. Then, GO BACK to the same store, see if you can find the same person who helped you the last time -- tell him or her what you thought of the recommendations, and ask for some more . . .

                                        The more information/feedback you can give them, the better their recommendations will be.

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          Okay - point taken! No more impulse purchases until I hit the wine store, I promise. ;)

                                        2. re: speakhandsforme

                                          hmmm. I'm rereading this and realizing you posted this:
                                          Sep 11, 2013 06:37 AM
                                          Update: I've finished off the Pinot and the Beringer, so it's time for new wine!> on Sept 11th. but your original post was on September 4.

                                          That's too long to be drinking from the same bottle of wine. If it was good in the beginning, it's pretty likely to be oxidized by now. I'm guessing the ends of those bottles didn't taste much like they did in the beginning.

                                          Not suggesting that you should guzzle the wine down to finish sooner, but perhaps getting together with a couple of friends who are also interested in exploring wine would enhance your experience.

                                          1. re: ChefJune

                                            VERY important catch, Speak... hope you pick up on this. Personally I just don't keep any wine overnight...

                                        3. I'd echo the suggestions of a class at a local college and wine tastings at good independent wine shops or wine bars. In addition, see if you can find venues that have wine dispensing machines: . http://www.enomatic.com/default.asp?c...

                                          Enomatic is an example of these. If you find some that are gift card operated you can taste a wide range of wines, in very small portions, at what is usually the least expensive pricing since you can usually try as little as a single ounce. Try to find one in a venue where the staff is willing to help walk you through, the way you'd be aided at a wine tasting.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: Midlife

                                            The problem with those machines is that all the wines have been gassed, so unless the bottle was just opened the flavors are off.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Well, we've ridden that horse pretty much to death in another topic. Sounds here as if you'd rather let a beginner take his/her chances with whatever is or isn't done with opened bottles at a restaurant or WineBar? I humbly submit that a beginner would learn just as much from a machine.

                                              As you've likely figured out by now, my work experience makes it very difficult for me to accept that the vast majority of people are sensitive enough for your statement to stop the OP from learning from a machine. If you are suggesting that the OP should only taste from freshly opened bottles this is going to be a very difficult path of learning. ;o)). I may be overly cynical about this, but I truly believe it.

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                It could still be educational, it's just something to be aware of.

                                                If you taste a wine from one of those by-the-ounce dispensers and like it, that's useful information. On the other hand, if you find it bland or boring, it would be wise not to form any opinions without wider experience of the wine.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  >>" it would be wise not to form any opinions without wider experience of the wine."<<

                                                  Well, I'd have to suggest that is true regardless of the source of the wine one is trying to learn from. IMHO flaws, bottle variation, provenance, as well as fruit sourcing, weather, winemaking style, and other things can have a similar impact to varying degrees.

                                                  At the very beginning, though, it's my experience that people start learning at a much broader (less deep, if you will) level than would be impacted by something like the gas in an Enomatic..

                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                    There are a lot of random things that can go wrong with a bottle, but with the gas-pump dispensers the same things always go wrong. If you taste a delicate, aromatic wine from one of those, you will have no idea why it appeals to people.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Perhaps my experience varies because my world is made up almost exclusively of California wines. I've been around enough to get the feeling that old world wine aficionados don't usually find much in the way of "delicate aromatics" in CA wines. Just trying to find some common ground on this

                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                        True enough, it's relatively rare for a California wine to have those qualities.

                                          2. I would also emphasize the importance of learning how to consume alcohol. You are in college and drinking to excess is often part of the experience. Learning your limit is important and can be very expensive. Not to sound like a old man but please be safe and one for the road is always a bad idea.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: budnball

                                              No worries there - Mr. Speak is a nondrinker, so I always have a designated. :) (Even if he wasn't, I'd still have one.)

                                            2. George Duboeuf Beaujolais Village is a good starting point for red: Fruity but not sweet, no tannins, and goes with just about everything, even white wine dishes. But for dirt cheap, try Franzia Cabernet Sauvignon in a (gasp!) box.