Random thoughts on the world of wine, presented in no particular order.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Starting out in wine.

A friend of mine just asked me the question, "I'm introducing a friend to wine. He doesn't drink normally, what would you recommend as a starter bottle?"  Since it was on Twitter, I was limited to 140 characters in responding, so I recommended a specific bottle of Merlot, or the idea of going to some tastings (either in-store or in wine country -- she lives in northern California, so Amador and Napa/Sonoma are a daytrip away).

Which leads me to think, how does one get started in wine?  What should a first introduction to wine, what to drink, what to know?

Whoa.  That's over-thinking it.

So, some specific recommendations (aside from "try this bottle," that is).
  1. Go to a tasting, either in a store or at a winery.  Given proximity to Napa, a day trip would come to mind -- yes, it's slightly expensive, both in terms of gas and $10 tasting fees -- but there's bound to be something good there.  If paying tasting fees isn't in the cards, hop off to Amador, where most of the wineries are free or nearly so (eg, I know Sobon is free for the base tasting, and  $5 for reserve tastings, which allow you get to keep the glass).
  2. Have friends over for a "bring a bottle" party -- this could be a blind tasting, in fact.  Again, a chance to taste a couple of wines might make more sense.
  3. Take him to a wine store and put it in the hands of the staff there; they'll know their stock (or, at least, they should), and may be able to make good specific recommendations within the style and price point that's comfortable.
  4. Don't limit the initial introduction to California wines; I've found Dornfielder (a German red grape) to be a great wine for new wine drinkers, it's soft, fruity, and just a bit sweet.  Ditto Scuppernog and Catawba (from North Carolina and New York, respectively); they're easy drinkers.  Australian wines are often good for new drinkers, as they're in a much more relaxed, low-tannin style with a bit more residual sugar.
  5. Avoid the temptation to get a top-flight, reserve wine.  They're often very oaky, overpowering, and might turn off a new drinker.  In fact the "cheaper" wines often appeal more to a palate that's used to sweeter beverages -- Americans are raised on soda, so we tend to think "sweet=good."
Introducing someone to wine can be a great deal of fun, especially if they invite you along to explore with them!


  1. Tastings are so much fun and really a great way to try a bunch of different wines without spending a fortune. Great suggestions!


  2. Thanks so much Tyler! Can't wait to drag him to a tasting.