Best Wine for Beginners: Pick the VarietalsMany people are curious about wine, but some leave the fear of inexperience prevent them from trying it. There’s really nothing to worry about, though: wine is a pleasure not rocket science. We have all been wine dummies at some point in our life; even the most knowledgeable sommelier must have started somehow.
But since there are some wines that are friendlier than others, here I’m going to give you some suggestions for the best wine for beginners, so that your approach may be gentler and you can have the chance to better understand what to look for when choosing and drinking wine.
A Little Background on My Personal Story
Personally, I was not born as a sommelier and even if I have grown up in a family producing wine, I used not to like it until I was in my 20s. In respect to the memory of my grandfather, I will blame the soil of his vineyard, which may have been not that suitable for quality wine production, but his wine was what experts would call farmer’s wine normally corresponding to a very rustic and often not that well made wine. Surely it was genuine but in terms of taste, the only thing I can say is that it was not the reason why I later decided to devote my life to wine.
I can’t remember precisely how I did approach it but I know that I had friends around me suggesting me what to try first, and this is what this article is aiming to: helping wine neophytes to enter the wine world in a friendly and laid back way.
A Few Tips on How To Approach Wine
Before sharing with you a list of suggestions of wines that can be more approachable and understandable, I’d like to give you some tips on how to behave and what to look for when tasting wine.
- Follow the order eye – nose –mouth. Always take a few seconds to look at the wine before sniffing it and then tasting it. There’s some information you can get by just looking at the wine, that can help you understand what you are drinking and no I am not just talking about recognizing if it’s white or red, although that would be a good starting point!). For example, from its color you could get hints on its age and alcohol content.
- Don’t sniff for too long. Your nose could easily get tired when sniffing a wine. It’s normal, it’s technically called olfactory fatigue. Sniff, rest your nose, swirl your glass and sniff again. By swirling the glass, the wine will react with the oxygen releasing more aromas. And don’t keep your nose in the glass for more than 3-4 seconds; otherwise your receptors will become addicted.
- Think about your memories. The trick when sniffing a wine is to create a mental connection between the aromas and your personal memories, not to forget it. Try to find olfactory memories in the wine: most often the aromas of a wine will be floral, mineral, spicy or fruity. And do not be afraid to say what you think: there is no wrong answer when it comes to smell!
- Finally you can sip it. After having spent the first minutes looking and sniffing the glass, next step will be the most pleasant: have a sip of your wine. Try to focus on what you can taste: its acidity, its sweetness, its alcohol, its structure and its flavors. Let some oxygen in: like you were sucking spaghetti. This will make the wine release the flavors and will help you to recognize them.
- Enjoy the aftertaste. Once you have swallowed your wine, you should be able to appreciate some aftertaste from the back of your mouth. The longer they last, the higher is the quality of the wine.
- Keep a diary. If you are interested in getting into wine, it may be helpful to keep a diary of the ones you taste. If you are ‘old school’ you may want a paper one, but there are also plenty of apps for your mobile that can easily help you to get records and accrue with time a personal wine library.
Some Essential Tools Before You Start Drinking
If you think you're going to get more serious about wine I recommend getting some basic wine tools in your house. They will make the experience that much more enjoyable - trust me.
In my opinion, the two essentials that you will be needing are a good wine opener and preferably a way to be able to let your wine breathe.
Check out the articles below for more information.
If you're getting really serious about wine, you'd probably want to make the investment and purchase a wine cooler. You can find our review of the best wine coolers here:
A List of the Best Wines for Beginners
Now let’s finally get to the point: which ones are the best wines for beginners?
Let me tell you straight away that the best thing to do if you are just approaching wine is to avoid blends. Even if they can taste delicious (e.g. Bordeaux wines are all blends), I suggest you to go for a varietal wine (made with only one grape variety) that can show a clear and identifiable character.
But be careful because even wines that have just one varietal name on the label can be a blend. In most of the US States, the law allows up to a 25% of another grape variety into the wine.
So try with my list and please note that, in this case, I intentionally didn’t mention tasting notes, so that you can freely make yours without any hints. I know you can do it…have fun!
Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, New Zealand
Reason for choosing it: Sauvignon Blanc is a great grape variety for those who are relatively new to wine. In fact, as Oz Clarke used to say in his book ‘Grapes & Wine’ this variety has a ‘palette of flavors anyone can understand as soon as they smell and taste the wine’. This wine, in particular, shows a distinctive varietal character with a good intensity of flavor.
About the producer: Dog Point is a well renowned winery located in the stunning landscape of Marlborough, the premium wine growing region for Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. They follow a low interventionist philosophy and produce excellent examples of Sauvignon Blanc.
Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2012, France
Reason for choosing it: Gewurztraminer is an aromatic grape variety that seduces the drinker with a delightful nose. It is often said a wine that can please everyone, with its delicacy and elegance. So it’s the perfect choice for those that find wine a bit harsh at times. And Alsace is its ideal habitat on earth.
About the producer: Trimbach is a noble Alsace house with a long history, its viticultural origins dating back to 1626. Since then the business has been family owned and now the 13th generation produce delicious varietal wines from this little region at the border with Germany.
Cono Sur Bicycle Chardonnay 2013, Chile
Reason for choosing it: Chardonnay is probably the biggest name in white wines: the most widespread grape variety that is produced in almost every corner of the world. It is impossible to approach wine, without tasting a Chardonnay. It is important to know though, that this grape tends to make very different wines, depending not only on the country of origin, soil and climate but also on the winemaker’s influence and his decisions in terms of ageing.
About the producer: Cono Sur is a modern and relatively young South American winery. With vineyards located in all the most important wine areas of Chile, they produce different lines of wines.
Cupcake Vineyards Merlot 2012, California
Reason for choosing it: With its juicy fruit and seductive smoothness, this Merlot is the best red wine for beginners. And the Cupcake Merlot 2012 is a perfect expression of this grape. Round, soft, charming and with a good body. Delicious and so approachable. Forget about Paul Giamatti’s line in Sideways: drink this Merlot, you won’t regret it!
About the producer: This wine comes from California’s sun-drenched Central Coast vineyards where thanks to the moderating effect of the Pacific Ocean, the climate allows a slow and lengthy ripeness process and the consequent production of perfectly balanced wines.
Wyndham Bin 555 Shiraz 2012, Australia
Reason for choosing: another typical example of a recognizable grape and wine style. As a plus, this is a generous and powerful wine that wants to be enjoyed with a good meal to fully express it delicious spiciness and strong personality.
About the producer: George Wyndham is considered one of the fathers of Australian Shiraz having planted his first commercial vineyard in 1830. Grapes are sourced in various regions for this classic and food friendly wine.
Just one last tip…
Hoping that this wine list will be of any help for you, I just would like you to remind you that the most important thing with wine is to let yourself go with the flow of sensations and emotions that a wine can give you. Just enjoy the pleasure of a good glass of wine, that’s the best and most enjoyable way to learn about it.