Have you ever felt anxiety walking into a wine store or in a restaurant? Trying to decide which wine to choose while not completely embarrassing yourself by your lack of knowledge? If only you had a guide on “how to choose wine for beginners.” As fellow beginners in the wine community let us calm your nerves and tell you that the fun truly starts here. Learning and loving wine should not be “trials and tribulations” instead it should be a life-long adventure. The exciting thing is only you can choose the wine you like based on the tastes that you enjoy. So lets begin the adventure with tips for how to choose wine for beginners.
Red or White?
This may seem like a simple question – but it serves as the starting point for deciding what wine you are eventually going to choose. Red wines, generally, have aromas and tastes consistent with dark fruits, vanilla, spice, and tannins – that beautiful “drying” sensation. Alternatively, white wines are consistently lighter and more crisp, frequently producing fruits consistent with apples, pears or tropical fruits. Depending on your palate, it can help guide you into the world of reds or whites. We have traditionally been red wine drinkers; however, ongoing wine tastings have led us into the white wine world. Currently, our palates enjoy wines consistent with dark fruits, aged in oak which produces vanilla notes, and wines that have higher levels of tannin which produces that “drying” sensation.
Food Pairing: White with light and Red with heavy???
The general rule is that white wine traditionally pairs well with lighter food (chicken, fish, cream based pasta) and red wine pair well with heavier foods (beef, steak, ribs, tomato based pastas). However, my wife and I have broken these “rules” on more than several occasions.
The general principle, at least our understanding, is a wine should complement the food that you are planning on eating. If you are ordering a hearty steak – you need a wine that can stand up to the high protein content – probably, a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux. Fish, I’m told, pairs very well with white wines such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. However, some foods, such as chicken can be paired well with either – when made with a cream based sauce chicken fits better with a white wine while when made with a tomato based sauce a lighter red wine fits best.
So we return to our initial question “how to choose wine for beginners?” As it pertains to food pairing – it is ultimately up to you. If you like, steak and white wine – go for it. If you want fish and an old-world Bordeaux – Enjoy!
If you are interested in learning more about wine and food pairings the Food & Wine Pairing Method (poster to the right) serves as a great tool to help pair wines with foods or cheeses. If you are super “nerdy” you have already purchased the poster and utilize frequently – click here for more details!!
Beyond How to Choose a Wine for Beginners: Varietals
Once you have graduated beyond choosing a red vs white you may discover that there are certain varietals that you prefer. Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. Malbec or Cabernet Franc. The world of wine is full of endless opportunities. As your palate evolves and your wine adventure continues you will discover that the variety of grape(s) used to make individual wines has individual characteristics. Utilize and remember those aromas and tastes when choosing wines. If you prefer wines that taste “jammy” remember that the varietal of grape that typically gives that characteristic is Merlot. Alternatively, if you like sharp, crisp, pear flavored wines consistent with Sauvignon Blanc utilize that when choosing future wines.
Ask for help!!
Utilize help when choosing wine. This can be the best way to find wines you like and discover wines that you previously may never have dreamed of trying. It’s fun choosing your own wine based on varietal or region the grapes are harvested from but it can be equally satisfying having your waiter or restaurant sommelier offer suggestions based on your likes. The importance of the previous discussion is vital when asking for help. Describe wines you’ve tasted in the past that you’ve enjoyed – Malbec or Zinfandel; Reisling or Pinot Gris – with practice these can become more specific – red wine with dark fruit, full-bodied, moderate tannins.
So, the best way to guide you in “how to choose a wine for beginners?” – continue to taste wines and remember what you like:
- Red or White
- Light food vs heavy food
- Specific varietals
- Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance
Finally, price doesn’t always equate to the quality of the wine. We’ve tried wines for $10-15 dollars that were truly sensational and we’ve also had $100 bottles of wine we simply did not enjoy. Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to find great wines.
We would love to hear your thoughts on the helpfulness of this post. Please feel free to comment with additional ideas!