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Snooth User: Canaith

New to Wine and Just a Bit Frustrated

Posted by Canaith, Mar 19, 2013.

My family and I are brand new to wines, having bought a couple of books and deciding to make a bit of an adventure out of this. We live in a smallish town and haven't been able to find a good local wine shop, so we sort of started in our grocery stores. It's been a bit overwhelming, a bit expensive, and finally kind of frustrating trying to find anything we like.

Last weekend I took my wife to Olive Garden for dinner and the first thing the waitress did was let us know about free wine samplings. We were able to try 4 wines between us and were delighted to find three wines that we really liked.

Now, though, the frustration continues as I try to figure out how to buy these wines -- or wines like them -- to drink in our home.

Any ideas or suggestions are appreciated.


Reply by Tom Wandeloski, Mar 19, 2013.


You and your wife should try going to various wineries - there are so many now in Virginia - 250+ and do some tastings to find what your platte likes.  In addition, if you have a Total Wine or other local wine store nearby, find out when they do thier regular tastings.  The Total Wine store close to my home does free samples on every Friday & Saturdays.  With thier large inventory and regular rotation of regions, one can start to find wines they like at various price points.  Good wine does not have to be expensive, its all about ones personal tastes.  I have wines in my cellar/collection that run from $6 to $600, I buy what I like and know from years of experience what my family and friends will drink and what they won't.  Just have fun and explore the world of wine !   ;-)

Reply by EMark, Mar 20, 2013.

Canaith, your frustration is understandable.  Wine appreciation is quite complicated, but (and I'm going to talk down to you a bit here) there are no short cuts.  Do not expect to be able to go from wine to wine tasting nothing but inexpensive winners.

Let's look at your Olive Garden experience.  They offered you a wine tasting, and you liked three of the four that you tried.  Did you ask the server what the wines were?  If so, why don't you post that here, and, perhaps, somebody can advise on where to buy the same or similar wines?  In fact there was a conversation here on the Forum a while back about a specific Olive Garden wine that somebody was searching for.  I used the "Search the Snooth Forum" box off to the right to find the link. 

Everything that Tom Wandeloski recommends above is a good idea.  Seek out wine tasting experiences--especially ones where you can quiz the servers to learn why you might like or dislike the examples you taste.  Books are terrific for learning history and terminology (I have many of them), but your own experience is what you need to truly learn.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately, if you prefer) the only way to get five years of experience is to experience for five years.

Regarding your supermarket experience, what wines did you try, and why did you not care for them?  Were they too sweet?  Were they too dry?  Were they too full-bodied?  Were they to watery?  Did they just taste like crap?  Give us input like that, and, maybe, somebody here can give you a recommendation.

As you can see, there are people like Tom here on the Snooth Forum who want to share their knowledge and experience.  Come along for the ride.  You will find it fun and rewarding.

Reply by GregT, Mar 20, 2013.

Good advice above. If you want my 2 cts - don't put too much stock in recommendations just yet until you figure out what kinds of things you like or don't like. But  e-mark really nailed it IMO - books are fine, but tasting is far more important. In fact, I wouldn't even read anything until I'd tasted a lot. A lot of people disagree with me but I'm trying to spare the world one more person who read that he or she is supposed to like Burgundy and then goes of and becomes an "expert" on Burgundy and buys a cellar full of it.

It's not like I have any idea what I'm talking about, but what I did is pretty much what e-mark suggested above. When you taste something, write it down and write down whether you liked it or not. Don't write a tasting note, just one or two over-arching impressions. In other words, "Ugh. Bitter." or something like that. It's really personal. Later you can figure out what people mean by things like "full-bodied". I found it useful to ask people specifically what they meant when they were tasting side by side with me and used a word I didn't know. If you try a lot of American wine, it's usually sold by grape variety - Chardonnay, Merlot, etc. If you try a lot of wine from Europe, it's usually sold by region - Gigondas, Chianti, etc. Not always of course, but that's a good rule of thumb for now.

So write that down too. Name, year, what it is, whether you liked it and why. Bitter, nasty, sour, fruity, sweet, strawberries, lemon, vanilla, cough-medicine, minty - one or two words that will trigger a memory.

Keep all that together and depending on how much you taste, after a few months or so, look at it and see if you can see any patterns. It's super hard to remember foreign names and information and I drank wine for many years and never had any clue as to what something was because I had no context to link the information to. It's like learning the multiplication tables - rote memory is the only thing that works. Once you graft it into your brain, you can start branching out and growing.

Both Total and Olive Garden have a lot of wine that is specifically bottled and labeled for them, so you may not always be able to find the exact same thing anywhere else. That's why you write down the kind of wine and the year - so you can find something close. Besides, that something close might be the same wine, just with a different label.

Finally, supermarket wine. Some states allow it, some don't. Most supermarkets that are part of larger chains are going to carry a lot of wine from producers who can accommodate the demands of a large chain. So you get Green Giant canned peas because they make a trillion cans and every supermarket in America can buy them. You don't get Mike's Pickles because they're made by a guy here in Brooklyn and he only makes a couple hundred jars.

The advantage of the larger producers is that they're somewhat consistent in terms of quality and flavor profile. Wine geeks disparage that but it has its virtues. So if you like Chianti, Gabbiano for example, is relatively easy to find and it's not all that bad. Rosemount Diamond Label Shiraz or Riesling is also pretty easy to find and it offers pretty good examples of what those grapes are about. Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle from Washington have a million cases on the shelves and they're generally pretty good. DuBouef Beaujolais with the flower label is relatively easy to find and if you don't buy the nouveau, but you buy something labled Fleurie or Chenas or Morgon, they're going to be less than $15 most places and they're pretty good. Here they're about $9 a bottle.

You save a lot of money by avoiding certain regions where they can get more for the name.

In CA, don't buy anything cheap from specific regions within Napa. Unfortunately, if it's under $15, it's most likely to be crap. But all over the rest of the State they're making pretty good wine that isn't crazy expensive. The general rule in CA and elsewhere is that the more precisely the label indicates the source of the grapes, the more expensive the wine will be. This holds true in Europe, Australia, South Africa, South America and the US. And even there, if the wine just says "Napa", without indicating a specific region within Napa, they're trying to use the cachet of the Napa name to sell the wine but since they can't tell you exactly where it's from, they can't charge quite as much as they'd like.

For example, take Beaulieu Vineyards. They make a lot of wines, but let's talk about their Cab. They have a range of wines called "Century Cellars" in which they use grapes that they get from all over California, some under contract and some their own. It's very cheap.

Then they have "Coastal" which use grapes from several sites along the CA central coast. Still cheap.

Then they have "Napa" for which they write "We selected vineyards from the 26-mile-length of the valley, with a focus on our BV Rutherford and Calistoga ranches"  (BTW - Their "Napa' Chardonnay comes from vineyards in the coolest Carneros area in the south of Napa to the the warmer Rutherford and since Carneros is actually partly in Sonoma, some of the fruit in the Napa bottling is really from Sonoma!) Now in this case, they're assuming you'll pay extra for the label that says "Napa" without inquiring much further. And since they've been around for a long time and own a lot of land, they can sell wine cheaper than most people.

After the generic Napa they have something called "Rutherford" which is a specific region in Napa where their main winery happens to be located. That can actually be pretty good stuff but it's a lot more money than the Coastal bottling because it's from their Rutherford vineyard, not cheaper places. Then they have the Georges de La Tour, which is their flagship wine, also from Rutherford, and beyond that, they'll have something like Clone 6, which is made from specific Cab clones.

The wines are like $6/bottle for the Century Cellars to over $100 for the Georges and even more for Clone 6.

That model holds fairly well world-wide. If you can point to a specific row of vines from which your wine comes, it's going to be more expensive than if it were a blend of grapes from you and all your neighbors. There may be exceptions, but that's usually the rule. And in the supermarkets, you're not going to find the Clone 6 because first, there isn't enough made to stock all the stores, and second, who pays $150 a bottle for wine in a supermarket?

The final thing to remember is that less expensive does NOT mean less enjoyable and it doesn't mean the wine isn't good either. There are some objective criteria that indicate good vs bad, but the final criterion is only personal preference. Price only correlates to quality up to a certain level after which it simply divorces from quality. You might pay more because there is simply less of a given wine, or because it's from a single plot, or because it's made by a famous winemaker. Not one of those has to do with the actual quality of the wine in either an objective or subjective sense. After say, $40, 50, or so price is based on brand positioning and market tolerance. If I can sell at $80, I will. If I have to lower to $70, I will. If I can get $360, I will. It only costs me $20 to make the wine anyway.

BTW - I don't know where you live, but don't overlook online shopping if you can get wine delivered to your state.


Reply by Canaith, Mar 21, 2013.

OK, then, here's what I've tried so far. The first one I tried I did not write down, so I don't remember the label. It was not one I'd like to try again, though, so maybe it is no great loss.

  1. Forgotten Cabernet Sauvignon - A CAB is probably not what I should've tried first, but I knew no better. I enjoyed the sipping and HATED the swallowing. The "grapiness" was nice, but going down I could've sworn it was mop water.
  2. Barefoot Merlot - Meh. It was do-able with strong cheese, and not nearly as hard to swallow as the CAB, but I can't say that I enjoyed it at all.
  3. Forgotten Reisling - My wife and daughter like it, but to me there was some sickly sweet "something" in it that I just couldn't get into.
  4. Sutter Home Pink Mascoto - My daughter thought it was pretty, so she brought it home. My wife and daughter liked it, but to me it was cotton candy in a glass.
  5. Yellow Tail Shiraz - This one was fun because it tasted "loud". I didn't know what the taste was until my wife tried it and suggested that it tasted like pepper. This was the first one I'd tasted that I would have bought again.
  6. Yellow Tail Chardonnay - OMG. This has to be the worst thing I've ever had in my mouth. There was a worse sickly sweet something in this than the reisling that almost made me gag. I tried it twice (I'd paid for it, after all), but after the second try I just dumped the bottle. YUCK.
  7. Estancia Pinot Noire (Olive Garden) - Now we're talking. This was very nice. Both my wife and I liked it.
  8. Pinot Grigio-Sauvignon Blanc from Bertani Due Uve (Olive Garden) - This is the first white I've liked. It was sweet, but light, and didn't have that sickly sweet thing hanging the the middle of it. My wife preferred this.
  9. Sangiovese-Syrah from Rocca delle Macie SaSyr (Olive Garden) - This wine was awesome. It was like putting a firecracker in your mouth and lighting the fuse. I could tell the alcohol content was high, too. I would love to find this and buy a case of it.
  10. Olive Garden Signature Rosso - It was just okay. I preferred the Pinot Noire to it by a wide margin. It might have been the CAB in it that I didn't like.
  11. Barboursville Vineyards Merlot - This was okay, but watery. This is the first wine I might describe as watery, in fact. It's alcohol content seemed very low, too, to the point that it almost seemed watered down. I wouldn't buy this again, but I wouldn't turn down a free glass.

So far I think I prefer reds, and I prefer reds like the Pinot Noire or something that goes BOOM, like a Shiraz or Syrah. I've yet to see why CAB's are such a big deal, though. I think that my current list of wines I've tasted, though, are not a fair sample of something good. 

I live in an area that doesn't have a lot of options to buy. There is a wine shop about an hour away that has free tastings every Saturday that I'm going to visit this weekend, and I was told today that the Kroger in the northern side of town has a wine consultant that can order wines that they don't normally carry, so I'll drop by there soon and see if they can get the wines I had at Olive Garden, or at least recommend something similar.

Reply by RandyFisher, Mar 22, 2013.

Bravo Canaith. Welcome to the world of wine.

Reply by smcb63, Mar 22, 2013.

The great thing about the Olive Garden is you can purchase their wines directly from them...also take advantage of any wine tastings in stores near you or festivals........a great way to figure out your preferences.

Reply by outthere, Mar 22, 2013.

Pinot, Syrah and Sangio... All good food wines that you can find everywhere. Styles change based on producer and region the grapes come from so you should buy a few from different regions and get an idea which are best suits your flavor profile. 

Pinot Noir for instance here in California is grown in many areas up and down the State. For the spicy peppery flavor you liked I would suggest Sonoma Coast or perhaps Central Coast. Pinot(Burgundy) from France will give you a completely different experience.

Syrah is in my sweet spot and many have an animalistic/earthy quality that floats my boat. Aussie Shiraz tends to be a little too extracted for me but I am Cali biased do to my proximity. Domestically there is way too broad of styles for Syrah because many wineries just don't do it right so Syrah has a rep as a lower class grape that won't sell. Therefor you won't see as much on the shelves. Look to the Northern Rhone of France for bargains here. Cotes du Rhone - sub $10, Crozes-Hermitage $11-$$. Or ask the wine buyer about Domestic Syrah that matches your likes.

You will probably find that you like GSM's as well (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blends) such as Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueryas etc referred to as Southern Rhones. Many can be found at reasonable prices and are some of the best wine values for my palate.


Reply by amour, Mar 22, 2013.

So happy that others too, have discovered the joys of Crozes-Hermitage!

The fact that it is widely affordable is yet another reward...good taste plus good pricing!

Reply by penguinoid, Mar 23, 2013.

I love Crozes-Hermitage too, though it's not cheap where I am! Cheaper than Hermitage, though that's not saying much.

Canaith - Cabernet sauvignon can be very tannic, so that may be why you didn't like it so much. Might be worth finding a good Cabernet sauvignon to try once you've tried a number of other different red wines.

It's a bit more obscure, but have a look out for some gamay based wines -- eg Beaujolais or Beaujolais-villages (not Beaujolais nouveau, which can be a bit simple and isn't meant to be a serious wine). Another good medium bodied red that's good with food. I can't think of much to add on what GregT already said, other than to repeat -- try as many different wines as you can, and enjoy!

Reply by edwilley3, Mar 24, 2013.

The principal advice I can give you is to relax and enjoy your wine experience. There is no such thing as a mistake when you are new to wine. Ok...perhaps mixing it with Coke or leaving a bottle in a hot trunk for 3 hours are bona fide mistakes. Yet purchasing a new bottle is not so bad.

Just as I do with scotch, you could gather a group of friends for a monthly "club" meeting and ask each person to buy a bottle of X type of wine up to Y dollars. Have each person do a little research on the web about this wine. I don't mean tasting notes. I mean type of grape, area, producer, etc. Over time you will begin to learn more.

In addition to the advice above in this thread about Napa, keep in mind a few things

(1) Any Napa cab of veritable quality is likely to be a little more expensive than a similar wine from a less exciting area. Translation: Cheap is NOT a good thing when it comes to buying Napa.

(2) Cabernet sauvignon can taste really awful when you are drinking an cheap bottle. Petite sirah, zin, and sometimes syrah can be a little more forgiving, especially if they are on the sweeter, riper side. In my experience, however, there is not substitute for quality when it comes to cab.

(3) Frequently, "Private" and "Reserve" are not indicators of quality and in fact are simply marketing ploys. Do you think that so and so mega producer's actual "Private Reserve" is gonna be $18.99? Don't think so.

Don't forget about South America. You can find tasty, accessible, and cheap bottles from Santa Helena, Norton, and similar producers, but you also can get really quite nice cabs and malbecs for around $20. I particularly like the Alamos range of products (around $10) for parties and "value" wine. Yes, they have screw caps, but I stand by the wine.

When it comes to white wines, remember these things:

(1) Not all "Chardonnay" is created equal. A more "Old Word" style of chardonnay will be cleaner, crisper, and less weighty than the now ubiquitous oaky, malolactic California bottle. For a time I really preferred the Old World style or a South American style (steel tanks, no oak, limited malolactic fermentation). Now I am back to a balanced style. Something like the Ridge "Santa Cruz" chardonnay is a lovely balance of fruit, oak, and weight - yet it slips down lightly and cleanly. Love it. $35-40.

(2) The flavor of the major white grapes will vary greatly by region. If you don't love one region's profile, try something from another region. Experiment!!!

Above all, keep it enjoyable and do not kill your finances buying more expensive wine than you can afford. It's helpful to have the "daily drinkers" and the weekend bottles. Even those of us with serious wine, scotch, and cognac addictions find more affordable options.

Welcome to the "Club"!!!

Reply by Canaith, Mar 24, 2013.

Well, the trek to the wine shop was fun. The wine seller was very attentive and made the time it took to get there worthwhile. We came home with 9 bottles and instructions from the seller to bring back notes so he can help us figure out what we like. I could tell from his questions that he is trying to establish a long-term relationship with us. It was very cool. I just wish I didn't have to drive for over an hour through curvy mountain roads to find him. :)

Thanks for all the helpful advice. :)

We tried a Stellina di Notte Pinot Grigio with chicken last night. My wife gave it a thumbs up, as did my daughter after a few sips. It was okay for me (jury is out on me with most whites). I think the food was too bland to connect to the wine. 

Now at least we can try some things that are most likely decent without standing in the middle of a grocery aisle growing frustrated.


Reply by JonDerry, Mar 25, 2013.

This is really interesting Canaith. Usually we don't get to hear how everything goes after we give out all of our thoughtful advice and get involved.

Incidentally, I think I might know what you're talking about with the Riesling being "sickly sweet." Was it from Germany? I remember my initial go-rounds with this grape-it kind of seems too easy, like it's cheating somehow, and doesn't belong in the same conversation as other wines. Over the years, I've grown a taste for German Riesling from the top producers, and 2011 is a very good vintage by all accounts. After eating some questionable food Friday night (Jamaican Jerk Chicken), I found myself a bit out of sorts and basically just pretty well sick. I felt a little better this morning but knew what my body needed, some 2011 German Riesling. Today, it happened to be an '11 Schaefer Riesling Kabinett along with some cucumber salad, chicken paprikas, and cheesecake. The Riesling paired well with everything, and more importantly, I'm now healed.

Anyway, I wish you good luck with your sound like you're on the right track. The longer you keep at this, the more you may find how your tastes change, and like with the story above, the more you expose yourself too, the more you have to fall back on when the time comes. 

Reply by EMark, Mar 25, 2013.

Canaith, I've been out of the loop, lately, and was very pleased to see the updates that you, and others, have posted.  Thank you, very much.  More often than not somebody comes here, asks for advice, and we never hear back from them.  To me this is nothing less than brain rape.

I hope you continue to come back here to the Forum, tell us of your latest findings, ask more questions, and, yes this will happen, offer advice to other posters.

Reply by amour, Mar 25, 2013.

Well said EMARK...that is exactly what SNOOTH is about...meaningful WINE INTERACTION!!!

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