Do you want to enjoy wine but know next to nothing about it, and find the thought of learning about wine too intimidating? Well, you shouldn’t. Wine isn’t a drink reserved only for the wealthy and sophisticated. It is a beverage that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of personal income or education. It’s not difficult to get started discovering wine, and with just a little knowledge, and a lot of curiosity, anyone can begin in this fascinating hobby.
So, where to begin? While everyone’s tastes are different, it is usually recommended to begin at the sweeter end of the spectrum and work your way towards the drier wines. That means beginning with white wines. Specifically, give Moscato D’Asti a try. Moscato D’Asti is a semi-sparkling white wine from Italy, and it is going to be sweet. Often times, it is used as a dessert wine, but for the wine novice, it may be the perfect place to start as it has a crisp, sugary flavor.
If that’s too sweet, or you’re ready to branch out already, head on over to Rieslings. These white wines aren’t “sweet” in the sense that most wine aficionados think of (“sweet” is reserved for wines that have that sugariness to them, like Moscato or ice wines), but could be described as such because of the high levels of fruit flavor that are characteristic of this wine. The later the harvest, the “sweeter” the Riesling is going to be, so if you pick one up and it’s not quite sweet enough for you, ask your local wine store clerk if he can recommend one that is a late harvest. On the same end of the spectrum as Riesling is the Gewurtztraminer. It’s going to have similar levels of fruitiness to it, but a slightly different taste.
Stepping up on the spectrum are your Blancs and Viogners. Both of them are going to be less fruity, but remain soft and easy to drink. Often times, people step right over these two in their wine education, which is a shame as both are rather pleasant. What a lot of folks will go to instead is Pinot Grigio/Gris which is considered a dry white wine, though there is still a lot of fruit flavor to it. These are the same grape varietal, but Grigio is the Italian way of saying it and Gris is the French. There are also slight differences in the way they are made, with Pinot Grigio being a little more crisp and Pinot Gris having a slightly softer taste. After Pinot Grigio/Gris there is Sauvignon Blanc, which often has a citrus taste, much like grapefruit, or sometimes leaves one with a grassy sensation.
Finally, in the whites, there is Chardonnay. These are going to be quite dry, though occasionally you’ll come across one that is heavy on the fruit. Often times these are described as “oaky,” which tends to be more characteristic of the barrels used to store the wine in (it should come as no surprise that the ones that tend to be fruitier are typically stored in stainless steel barrels instead of oak).
With a basic run of white wines complete, now it’s time to jump over to red wines. Start off with Pinot Noir. It’s going to be dry, but light and fruity, and should be relatively low on the tannins (the compound on the grape’s skin that often gives some drier reds that “cotton mouth” sensation one gets after drinking them). If you like Pinot Noir, don’t be afraid to give Petite Sirah a try, as while it’ll have different flavors, it’ll share some of the same characteristics.
After trying those, look to Red Zinfandel (nothing like White Zinfandel, which is a blush wine made from the Red Zin grapes) and Shiraz/Syrah. Again, Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape, but the Australians call it Shiraz while the French call it Syrah. Regardless, Red Zin and Shiraz/Syrah are going to be dry and heavier than Pinot Noirs and Petite Sirahs, but still retain a fair amount of fruit. Depending on the winery, the tannin amount of Shiraz/Syrah can be higher or lower, so if you get one that is too dry right off the bat, don’t let that turn you off of the varietal.
Finally, there are the Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons. These are going to be among the driest reds of them all, some with a fair amount of tannins. They often have a bold flavor, and are great paired with red meat.
And that is a crash course through gaining an appreciation of wine. Remember, you can do this at your own pace, and you don’t have to like every type of wine you try. Also, there are many styles and types that I didn’t even mention (Carmenere, Malbecs, Barberas, Cabernet Francs, Champagnes, etc.). This is just a simple and quick overview. Use it as a beginning point, experiment a bit with the different varietals, and most of all have fun!