How to Choose Wine For Beginners – The Fun Starts Here

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.

Food and Wine Pairing Method

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.

Conclusion

So, the best way to guide you in “how to choose a wine for beginners?” – continue to taste wines and remember what you like:

  1. Red or White
  2. Light food vs heavy food
  3. Specific varietals
  4. 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!

 

4 comments

  1. I agree with many of the points you made here about wine selection. When serving wine with food I think it’s important to pick wine that complements the meal. Serving sauvignon blanc with filet mignon would be a huge and costly mistake. I live in New York and am normally a white wine drinker but I find that when the weather starts to drop I switch over to red wine to keep me warm. Have you heard of others doing this? I’m asking only because I’m the only person I know who picks her wine by the seasons.

    1. Hi Lynn!

      Thanks for your comments.  I completely agree with you – we definitely alter our wine selection based on the weather.  We might not solely be a reds in cold weather and whites in warm weather mentality – as red wines are definitely our favor.  However, I think the relatively lightness of white wines works perfectly on warm summer or spring days – we are far more likely to drink chardonnay or sauvignon blanc in the summer.  During the colder weather the red wines with more full-bodied characters are far more appealing as they seem to provide a warming sensation.  I think this is also indicative of food selections that seem to change with the seasons.  We will more often eat “heartier” meals in the fall and winter which pair better with red wines and chicken or pasta in the spring/summer which pair better with lighter wines.

      One of my favorite summer wine varietals is rose – which is essentially a white wine that uses red grapes and just pulls the skins out far earlier in the process of wine making as compared to your typical red wines.  

      Best,

      adam

  2. As an absolute novice when it comes to wines, this article has helped me big-time. You give some great advice on which wines to possibly drink with which foods and have given me two important pointers: The cost does not necessarily indicate how much one will enjoy the wine and also that we should experiment with our palates to build up a collection of wines which enjoy.
    A very useful article. Thank you so much.

    1. I’m glad to hear it!  I agree that frequently good wine is always associated with $$$ however, we’ve had some really good wines for less than $20.  I plan on reviewing in a little more detail how one can not only enjoy wine but appreciate it through visualization, smelling, and tasting wines – stay tuned!

      Also, we are working to put together a rating scale that takes into account the following factors: cost, quality, accessibility.  Check us out on Instagram or twitter to know when that gets posted.  I think it will be a helpful guide to help purchase wine.

      Thanks again for visiting the site!

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