Beginners Corner

Snooth User: StephNWine

Help - Advice for a Beginner

Posted by StephNWine, Aug 25, 2009.

I'm just starting to try wine. Are there any good, non-expensive wines that are not too strong but will ease me into loving wine? I'm nervous on pairing the wrong foods that would ruin the wine.


Reply by GregT, Aug 25, 2009.

You need to provide more information. What kinds of wines have you liked so far? Also, you need to define what you mean by non-expensive. For some people it's four or five bucks, for others it's under $15, and for others it's considerably higher. For me non-expensive is under $15, but if that's more than you want to pay, that's OK.

As a general rule, whites tend to be cheaper, although not always. Partly it's because they don't have to pay for expensive oak barrels in some cases, partly it's about demand.

Some of the best bargains in the market are rieslings from Germany. They are traditionally indicated as QBA, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, etc. and the prices increase from left to right. The designation refers to how ripe the grapes are when picked, not necessarily how sweet the actual wine is. But you can find some like Schmitges Grey Slate, or Lietz Dragonstone, or Gunderloch Jean Baptiste and those are almost always under $15 and worth every penny. You can even find some for around $10 sometimes.

You may also look at some rose, or rosado. As we come to the end of summer, some distributors are lowering prices to clear their inventory and some stores are passing the savings. Many of those are sold by the grape variety they're made from, so if you like one, you can try the red version of that grape.

If you look at some wines from Australia, they have plenty of friendly, fruity, inexpensive wines. I'd stay away from things like Yellow Tail and whatever's on the shelf next to it, but moving away from that Yalumba, Lindemans, Jacob's Creek, Oxford Landing, Tyrells, Penfolds all make wine that's really not bad. Spain also has some really good values out but you need to look at what's in your area.

In the US, Chateau St Michelle in Washington produces some of the better values on the market. Their little brother Columbia Crest does too, but I think their whites are better than their reds. Try all of them -- they'll give you a pretty good idea of the grape type and if you like one or another, you can explore that particular grape.

Don't worry about pairing. IMHO, there are very few complete disasters. And many things are OK with many other things. For example, It's hard to think of a wine that doesn't go well with simple roast chicken. Whites, reds, rosado, sherry, almost everything works. Some better but none are disasters.

If you put some herbs on it or some fruit then you change the dish slightly and help define which wine you should be drinking.

If the dish doesn't seem to work well, that's OK. Just eat some of the food, chat for a while, and sip the wine. Don't mix them in your mouth and you're OK. You'll know for sure when you've got a good match because you'll just stop in your tracks to enjoy it.

Last night I had lamb and I made a mint chimichurri with scallions and lime. That would kill most wines and kind of killed the wine I selected but hey, you live and learn.

Reply by basilwino, Aug 26, 2009.

I would start with some $10 -$13 whites such as Chenin Blanc (Calif or Washington) or Rieslings(Washington or Germany). The Symphony grape is a good alternative too (Ironstone makes one).
For reds, skip the Lambrusco and start with a light Pinot Noir that's fruity maybe even some Merlots.
Don't start so low at the $7 range because you might start to think that wines don't taste good.

Reply by lolagirl, Aug 26, 2009.

A nice Rose' might be a good answer as well. Try Monte's Cherub 2008 nice easy drinker but still has the umph of a light red,
Or Francis Coppola's Sophia Rose'.

Both delicious easy drinkers and will be a nice segue into other fuller bodied wines.

Reply by lukejo, Sep 3, 2009.

Get a simple book about wine and read it as you have the time. Then look here for bargain wines or try some at your cost choice as you learn about them. It is a wonderful thing! Good luck.

Reply by WineGeekJen, Sep 4, 2009.

I think the Menage a Trois blends from Folie a Deux are always very pleasant to drink and are around $10 they make a red, white and rose. Some people that I know have tried them who are new to wine have liked them. They are a little sweet, but not overly sweet and maintain the characteristics of the grapes used to make them, so they can help you to start picking out scents and flavors. I would assume they are widely available too if we can get them here in PA!

Reply by Philip James, Sep 5, 2009.

Regarding book suggestions - i recommend Wine for Dummies and How to Taste by Jancis Robinson. There are many other excellent wine books, but I recommend these 2 to all beginners.

Reply by schellbe, Sep 6, 2009.

You might try Beaujolais, light, fruity and strawberry flavors, but totally dry. This is usually inexpensive, but stick to recent vintages (07 or 08). Another alternative is Cotes de Rhone from southern France.

Chenin Blanc, as was mentioned, is also a good choice. Aside from CA and WA, South Africa has some good ones (e.g. Ken Forrester), and from France there is Vouvray, which can be dry or off-dry.

For pinot noir, Fleur de California and the higher acid Lucas and Lewllen are good choices. From New Zealand, Matua and Crossings are two inexpensive ones I've liked. I am also fond of Elk Cove PN from Oregon.

Mad Housewife from CA has some good (to my taste) inexpensive wines. I like their Merlot.

Reply by basilwino, Sep 22, 2009.

Try Waterbrook Melange for a start. Fruity 6 grape blend that's easy on the palette and wallet. Or Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone.

Reply by Muchkabouche, Oct 8, 2009.

My wife and I are always trying new wines. With 2 or 3 new ones, we will have a range of different foods arranged and try them with the wines, experimenting and remembering what happens.....good, bad or neutral. Some surprising food pairing have resulted. Often, the taste of the wine will change, depending on the food or spice that you introduce it to.

Our usual lineup of small dishes may include bread, olive oil, strawberries, goat or lamb's cheese, hard sharp cheese, brie, 80%+ dark chocolate, green peppers, sundried tomatoes, hummus, taboulleh. One of the pleasant surprises was a Pinot Gris from Washington that was refreshingly fruity upon first taste, but not overpowering. When pairing it with the hummus, WOW! That really opened the wine up, and it went really well with middle-eastern spiced lamb as well. You never know until you try it out. It is also a good way to use up those small amounts of leftovers in the fridge.

Reply by MarioRobles, Oct 13, 2009.

From Australia, I would recommend some Pinot Noir from Tasmania or the Mornington Peninsula, Chardonnay from Margaret River or a Semillon or Verdelho from the Hunter Valley... or better still, a nice fortified muscat from anywhere in Australia (but better from Rutherglen).
if you like oysters, match the Semillon with them and it is a match made in heaven or panfried salmon with the Chardonnay... when introducing someone into wine, I find it better to have food with the wines I mentioned...

Good Luck!

Reply by TL NJ, Oct 13, 2009.

Steph - My advice for you is similar to Greg T. I would advise that you start with some of the good "Mega Producers" out there. Their wines are of good quality, and just about all of them make almost all varieties. First start out by getting an idea of what you like - once you have it narrowed down to the varietals and/or regions that you like - it gets more interesting to then start experimenting with different labels and price ranges. I would also suggest you start your experimenting by region - as you will learn, for example, a Frech Cabernet is a bit different from a Californian, from a Washington, From a Chilean, from an Australian, etc - you will learn how those subtleties work or don't work for you as you go.

Each region "specializes" in certain varietals, so as you move around start with the "Mega" brand from the region, what that region is known for - see how it goes, and if your interested in moving forward.

Below I've generalized wines by regions and noted some of the better quality "mega producers" - meaning you can get a bottle for a good proce, and it ill give you a general idea on what the varietal in that region is like.

For California - I would suggest Berringer, Mondavi, Benzinger or Kendall Jackson. They all make just about every varietal you can imagine, at a good value for the range you are looking for. As I mentioned above - try them all out - and when you feel you've found a varietal that interest you - start experimenting with other labels, and other regions.

For Washington - Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle

In Italy - Piedmont (known for Barolo, Barberesca and Barbera) try Beni di Batasiolo, Michele Chiarlo or Prunotto.

Tuscany - known for Chianti and Brunello - try Antinori or Banfi, or

Alsace (known for sweeter whites like Riesling and Pinot Grigio) - try Paul Blanck,
Bordeaux (which is mostly Cabernet blends) - is tough - they dont generally come cheap, if you can find it - I thought Chateau Phelan-Segur was a pretty good introduction to Bordeaux for the price (Im sure others on this Forum can add suggestions here)

Burgundy (mostly known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) - I think Joseph Drouhin is a good introduction

Rhone - (mostly known for Viognier, Syrah and Grenache) - try M. Chapoutier, or E. Guigal

Australia - known for their Shiraz - but also make excellent Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet - try Rosemount Estate, Wynn's or Wolf Blass

Hopefully this is enough to get you started on your journey.

About food - there are some general "rules of thumb" with pairing - and its all about balance. Some wines are heavier, or "bigger" than others - e.g., A Cabernet Sauvignon is normally much heavier than a Merlot or Cab Franc. With whites, a full bodied Chardonnay is much bigger than Sauvignon Blanc. To play it safe - try to balance the food with the wine - If you have a thick heavy steak, or creamy chicken dish - go for a bigger wine (white or red). Vice versa the more delicate the food is - keep the wine lighter - the wine should compliment the food not overpower it. Within those guidelines - what specifically works better with what - you will have to let some experimenting and your taste buds decide.

I hope that helps.


Reply by chadrich, Oct 13, 2009.

I'd also suggest finding a local wine store that you trust. Hit it on a time when it isn't busy and engage the owner/salesperson in a discussion about what you're looking for, what you've liked and disliked, etc. Ask them to suggest 3 or 6 or however many bottles. Buy 'em, try 'em and then report back with your thoughts and observations on them to the store to further hone the recommendation. After you repeat this a few times, you really should start to have a solid idea of what you're after in terms of grape, style, and maybe even country.

Reply by kylewolf, Oct 13, 2009.

I can tell you that it took me some time to really get the feel for reds, but what really eased me into it was a blue franc (I think most are austrian/hungarian), it was the easiest transition.

My whites, well I think I initially fell in love with Relax Riesling (find it at about any supermarket) and it went from there.

Reply by Winebusprof, Oct 18, 2009.

And if you're not overwhelmed by now, thanks for sticking with it.

Short version- there's very few wines these days that are poorly made. Even those derided ('gasp' - heaven forbid someone would drink a commercial wine) wines from big companies are worth exploring. Those wines have spawned generations of wine drinkers and enthusiasts, and should be respected for how attractive they are for their value for money.

Your tastes will change just about every other day. Take pleasure in the experience!

Don't worry too much about what you drink. Just continue to talk to other wine enthusiasts and don't be afraid to ask any questions of your retailer when buying wine.

Wine for thought!

Reply by searcherseeker, Oct 19, 2009.

I will agree with previous writers who have said it is hard to find a bad wine. I like to cook. For the first time, I decided to cook with wine because some 'discontinued' wines were on sale.
I didn't cook with wine before because I didn't drink wine and didn't know what to do with what was left over after I cooked with it. I certainly wouldn't pour it down the drain!
The recipe called for white wine so, I found a bottle of Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc 2005. It was about $7.00. I didn't taste it until after I used it in the recipe, and put it in the fridge. Pretty good stuff! Snooth rated it at 3.5.
Oh, yeah... I found I've gotten a lot of information here.
But, I find myself on a journey. I have tried many Sauvignon Blancs since. Since I was buying out of the "Sale" bins, I didn't research the wine I purchased until I brought it home. I have had, maybe two which scored under 3.0. All have been of 2003 vintage or later and all have been, at the least, satisfactory to me. So, these seem to be good years.
I have found this to be something different from buying beer, though you could probably journey through styles and kinds of beer. Yet, wine can age. It doesn't need refrigeration and the variety of choices are almost endless!
I have found Mendicino County, Sonoma County, Napa Valley and Washington Sauvignons to be very good. I like the New Zealand wine I tried; Villa Maria.
I'm ready to expand my experience, though I have tried other than the Sauvignon Blanc.
I have my first bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon I will be excited to sample, on my girlfriends' birthday! Luckily, she's a Scorpio!
Enjoy the journey!

Reply by biondanonima, Dec 21, 2009.

I'm new here too and I just want to say that the replies are very helpful, especially the one from TL NJ at the top of page 2. I'm so glad I found this site!!!

Reply by amour, Dec 22, 2009.

Welcome and happy tasting....
Try some of what SOUTH AFRICA offers ....GOLDEN KAAN offers superb wines at low prices....great palate initiation...I would think.
Also from SOUTH AFRICA....GOATS DO wines of acceptable quality even in the opinion of snobs!
Will guide you, in future posts, through a starter idea on one of my favourite regions...BURGUNDY (FRANCE).
C H E E R S !

Reply by Chinesebuyer, Jan 2, 2010.

Happy new year to everyone who dropped a world above! I've learnt a lot from you all!

Reply by amour, Jan 2, 2010.

I also suggest various wines of JOSEPH DROUHIN as a great start for BURGUNDY, FRANCE.
I also can reliably suggest various wines of M.CHAPOUTIER and GUIGAL for THE RHONE region in FRANCE. I just recently had GUIGAL COTES du RHONE 2005 (FRANCE) everyday wine...a blend of SYRAH and GRENACHE...sweet notes of berries....quite velvety.....and quite reasonably priced at about $12. United States Currency.

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