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Wine for Beginners: How to Learn & What to Try

Wine for Beginners: How to Learn & What to Try


11 minute read

If your wine knowledge is limited to wine labels that catch your eye, we won’t judge you. Wine isn’t the most approachable beverage choice — there is a learning curve.

If you want more than a surface-level appreciation for the world of wine, we’re here for that, too. Learn how to figure out which types of wine you might like best and how to look way cooler at your next wine tasting in our guide to wine for beginners. 

Learning to Love Wine

Some individuals immediately appreciate the winemaking process and the subtle differences in aspects of wine, like aroma and minerality. Others think of wine as a more acquired taste.

No matter where you’re at in your wine journey, learning to love wine requires at least a little prep to appreciate how your wine gets from grape to glass. 

Wine Tastings Are Your Friends

A great way to taste test various wines is to get yourself to a wine tasting. A good winery will have a sommelier — a wine expert — to recommend wines based on your palate. 

Your palate can be basic to start. You probably already know whether you like sweet or savory snacks, right? That’s your palate. 

You can keep your first wine tasting pretty basic, too. Focus on figuring out whether you like the taste of what’s in front of you. If you want to impress your friends, learn to embrace the pillars of wine tasting and what to look for when you’re ready to take your first sip.

Appearance 

Notice differences in color in both red and white wines. A full-bodied cabernet sauvignon will look darker than a light-bodied pinot noir. Crisp whites like sauvignon blanc are lighter in color than buttery chardonnays.

Look for the “legs,” too. Those are the drips along the inside of your wine glasses. The higher the alcohol content, the longer the legs. The higher the alcohol content, the less you should drink, too, unless it’s non-alcoholic wine you’re sipping.

Smell

Stick your nose right in the glass and get to know the aromas. Aromas are affected by fermentation and aging. The more complex wines can smell a little earthy. Some natural or organic wines might even smell a little funky. 

That doesn’t mean a wine’s gone bad, but it might. You’ll need to take a sip to find out.

Taste

Taste is affected by a wine’s texture, sweetness, acidity, and alcohol content. From there, those factors are further affected by the wine regions growing the wine grapes. The fancy word for this is the wine terroir. That’s how a region’s climate affects the tasting notes.

Bordeaux varietals like merlot have more tannins, which might taste more bitter. Sweet wines like Moscato shouldn’t be cloying but pleasantly sweet. Depending on your taste buds, you might notice more subtle differences. There’s no wrong way to describe what you’re tasting.

Ask Questions & Take Some Notes

You might forget about the wines you try at a wine tasting quickly after you leave, even if there was a standout. Be a more active participant. Ask questions about why a varietal tastes like it does, and take notes. Keep a list of wines you love.

If you’re hitting the wine circuit pretty hard as you develop your palate, note occasions when you liked one wine over another. It might help you remember what you liked about that zinfandel or why the best red wine for you is white wine if you link it back to a memorable event.

Make connections with people who work with wine. We’re not just talking about making sommelier friends. Get to know the cashier at your local wine shop. Chat up the bartender at your corner bar, as long as they’re not slammed with customers. 

At the very least, they’ll know you’re curious and may keep you in mind when specialty items come into stock, like a bottle of holiday Beaujolais. 

Note: Some Wine is Bad

Sometimes a wine will just taste off. It may just come down to personal preference. That’s what developing a wine palate is all about.

Sometimes wine is bad because it’s gone bad. 

A bad bottle of wine can occur if the wine hasn’t been appropriately stored or was exposed to too much light or heat. If a bottle is exposed to too much oxygen during the winemaking process, it can oxidize. You’ll know it if you taste it. It’s a sharp, vinegar taste in reds or a nutty aftertaste in whites. 

Is your wine giving you wet dog, instead? Your wine is probably corked. Some kind of contaminant, usually a bit of cork, got into the wine bottle and messed with the flavor and aroma.

If you smell or taste something funky, but you’re not sure how offended you should be, try giving the wine some time to breathe in a decanter. Give the wine about 30 minutes to air out and give it another taste. Still bad? It may have gone bad.

Start With the Sweeter Stuff

Is white or red wine better for beginners? White wine is usually better than red wine for beginners, but everyone’s palate is different. 

If you’re truly starting from scratch, many new wine drinkers start with dessert wines. Food pairings for sweet wines also seem more fun for a new wine enthusiast. We’re talking dessert here.

Anything we mention will be very budget-friendly, by the way. Drinking wine, even really good wine, doesn’t have to be expensive!

Moscato

Moscato is one of the sweetest dessert wines out there that isn’t fortified. Fortified wines are ports and sherries which are blended with a spirit like brandy. Moscato’s lower alcohol content and sweetness, make it a great intro wine.

Try these for something sweet:

Gewürztraminer 

This mouthful of wine is made of cooler-climate grapes, and grapes that love cold temperatures tend to run a little sweeter. The best way to pick a Gewürztraminer out of a lineup is by smelling it. Classic versions have a very obvious aroma of lychee. 

Here are a few to try:

Riesling

Riesling isn’t always sweet. If you pick up a French style, it will probably be on the dry side. Sweet varietals tend to come from Germany and California, but even that’s not a hard and fast rule. A high-quality riesling will be a pleasant kind of sweet and very aromatic.

Try these sweet rieslings:

White Wines for Beginners

The best white wines for beginners are fruit-forward and light-bodied varietals. Sparkling white wines like Italian prosecco are also crowd-pleasers, especially if you’re plotting a bubbly brunch. 

Sauvignon Blanc

If you love a little something tart, try a glass of sauvignon blanc. That first sip should come with white peach, tropical fruit, or grapefruit notes. New Zealand sauvignon blanc is a little more herbaceous but still delightfully crisp.

Try these for starters:

Pinot Grigio

This white wine from Italy retains its fruity notes even though it’s drier than other varietals. If this sounds right up your alley, but you only see Pinot Gris on the menu, order that. Pinot Gris is the French version of Pinot Grigio.

Try these:

Prosecco

Italy’s bubbles of choice are a little more approachable than French champagne or off-dry sparkling wines. They’re more fruit-forward and still big on fizz. Prosecco is an excellent base for mimosas and other sparkling wine cocktails.

Start with these bubbles:

Rosé for Beginners

Rosé wine isn’t as straightforward as red or white wine. It can vary quite a bit depending on the types of grape varieties used in the wine, but the starting point will always be red grapes. Contact with red grape skins is what gives rosé that fun pink hue.

Most high-quality rosé wines are pretty dry. If the one thing you know about your palate is that dry wines aren’t for you, rosé probably won’t top your list of faves. 

Here are a few perfect for beginners still on the fence about something pink: 

Red Wines for Beginners

Some experienced wine lovers say you’re not really into wine if you don’t love reds. We don’t buy that, but we appreciate that red wine has some health benefits that other varietals don’t.   

The resveratrol in red wine might be good for your heart, but that’s only if you’re sipping in moderation. You can get that same antioxidant boost from a handful of grapes, too, but we digress.

The best red wines for beginners are lighter-bodied. We’d love to throw you into the world of bold reds like malbec and syrah (or shiraz) right off the bat, but we’re easing into things around here. 

Pinot Noir

Pinot noir is like a little black dress. It’s great for any occasion and pairs well with everything. That’s why it’s often the first red wine style beginners taste when trying to figure out if they’re on board with red wine. This is an easy-drinking, berry-forward red wine.

Here are a few to try:

Beaujolais

This light red wine made of Gamay grapes is a little more fun than most wines from France. It's low on tannins and fruit-forward. If you want to do as the French do, try it at Christmastime. This is where your budding relationship with your liquor store clerk comes into play.

Grenache

Grenache is a little deceiving if you look at it through your glass. It’s lighter in color, like Pinot Noir, but more medium-bodied with higher alcohol content. Berry and spice notes make this one a great introduction into bolder red territory.

Ready to taste one? Try one from the Old World, or regions where winemaking began, and the New World, or regions with modern winemaking traditions: 

Try Everything — But Not All at Once

The best way to find wines you like is to try different types of wine. You may even start to notice subtle differences within the same varietal as you find your favorite wine brands. 

Just make sure you’re still tasting in moderation. If you’re at the point where every wine is awesome, you’ve probably had too much wine

Getting wine drunk isn’t any different than what you’d feel with any other alcohol. The problem is that it can quickly get away from you, especially if you’re tasting a bunch of different wines in a short period of time.

Add Surely to Your List

If you don’t love how you feel after drinking too much wine, we’ve got advice that isn’t “Stop drinking wine.” Try dealcoholized wine, instead.

Surely wines taste just like real wine because they are real wine. The alcohol is just removed at the end. If you already know you love reds, try our non-alcoholic pinot noir. Are you just starting out? Our non-alcoholic sauvignon blanc is crisp and refreshing. If you want advice on where to start with Surely wine, take our wine quiz. We’ll match you with wine styles that fit your budding wine palate.

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