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In Good Taste

Beginner's Guide to Wine

Beginner's Guide to Wine

One step closer to wine

The voyage into wine can come in many different forms and fashions. Whether it’s a girl’s trip to the winery or wanting to impress a date, knowing a little bit about wine can go a long way. Plus, you never know when you’ll fall in love—with the wine, that is. We’re not really sure what will happen with your date (sorry). 

With so many options, colors, flavors, bottles, and bubbles, wine can be tough to figure out on your own. We’re here to help you understand wine better and gently nudge you a little closer to sipping your first glass.

An Overview of Wine

The two most prominent categories of wine are white wine and red wine. The difference comes from the type of grape (known as a “varietal”) used to make the wine, with white wine typically coming from white (or green colored) grapes and red wine from red (or purple colored) grapes, just like you’d see in the grocery store. Of course, the actual names of each grape are far more complex than white or red, but we’ll get into that later. 

Rosé wines are another category of wine that are usually made from red (and rarely from white) grapes, and sparkling/champagne wines also fit into their own category.

You’ll also hear the words “dry” and “sweet” a lot when it comes to wine. “Dry” isn’t some type of sorcery extracting the wetness of liquid from the wine. It’s just a way of describing how your taste buds react when you taste the wine. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll know exactly what it means. There’s also wine-specific terminology surrounding the “body” of wine, which describes how it feels in the mouth. Think about the difference between a glass of water and apple juice. Apple juice will probably feel heavier when you drink it. That’s the body.

But before we overwhelm you with the exciting science behind wine, let’s get to what you’re really here for—a list of the best wines for beginners!

5 Most Popular White Wines

Chardonnay Wine Basics

Chardonnay

One of the most recognizable wine names, this dry wine is known for sultry notes of butter, toast, and oak with an overall fruity taste. Look for unoaked Chardonnay if you prefer cleaner notes of apple.

Sauvignon Blanc Basics

Sauvignon Blanc

Refreshing with a rush of acidity, this white wine features flavors of light fruits like pear, white peach, and passion fruit with hints of lemongrass, green pepper, cut grass, and tarragon. Sauvignon Blanc wines from New Zealand and parts of California strongly trumpet notes of grapefruit.

Riesling Wine Basics

Riesling

A crisp, aromatic wine with high acidity, you can expect a tart but fruit-filled sip of peaches, apricots, apples, or pears. Riesling is known as one of the best “food-friendly” wines, and can be found in a range from bone dry to sweet.

Pinot Grigio Basics

Pinot Grigio

With its approachable and subtle flavor, Pinot Grigio - often referred to as Pinot Gris in the Western United States growing regions - offers an easy starting point for beginners looking for something mild and fruity

Prosecco Sparkling Wine Basics

Prosecco

Another great beginner, Prosecco is fruity with low acidity. Its bubbly green apple and lemon tasting notes give the wine sipper a feeling of luxury without taking the experience too seriously. 

Want to try a few for yourself? Our White Wines make a great introduction. 

Related: Choosing the Best Wine Glass

5 Most Popular Red Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon

An intense, full-bodied wine, Cabernet Sauvignon can go one of two ways. It can either be “love at first sip” or too overpowering for the beginner. This dry wine tends to be extremely fruit-forward, with strong flavors like berries and plums leading the way as subtle notes of chocolate and vanilla can linger with high tannins that leave a drying effect on the palate.

Pinot Noir Basics

Pinot Noir

A light and fruit-forward wine, Pinot is an easy first step for white wine drinkers sashaying their way into red wine territory. Its dry, cherry/berry flavor and light body are welcoming for the newbies and consistent for the connoisseurs. 

Merlot Wine Basics

Merlot

Considered a softer version of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot rolls out a smooth, velvet red carpet for the tastebuds. It holds similar fruity flavors but lower tannin levels, making it less intense than other red wines.

Zinfandel Wines

Zinfandel

A juicy mix of raspberry and blackberry flavors, Zinfandel is a dark red wine with medium-high tannins and high alcohol content. With fruity and sometimes spicy notes, it’s definitely one you’ll want to try. 

Malbec Wine Basics

Malbec

Malbec boasts a deep color with even deeper flavors like coffee, black cherry, and chocolate with a hint of smoke. When you’re ready for a red wine that expands your preferences, this is the one. 

Still wondering which one’s for you? Find your match in our Red Wines

Related: Guide to Red Wine

What to Know About Rosé

“Rosé all day” has become a lifestyle just as much as it’s been a catchphrase. Known as a summer favorite, this pink drink can still be daunting for beginners, as most people don’t really talk about their rosé in detail; they just sip it poolside without a care in the world. 

Rosé gets its signature pink color from grape skins. Following a similar process to red wine, black-skinned grapes are crushed, and the skins are kept in contact with the juice for anywhere from two to twenty hours. After that, the grapes are pressed, and the skins are tossed out before the fermentation process takes place. This winemaking process gives rosé its signature pink color and trendsetting flavor profile.

Rose Wine Basics: How is Rose Wine Made?

While the taste of most rosé wines is fruity and floral, there can be a range between dry, sweet, and savory. 

For a deeper dive into the world of rosé, read our guide or try our Rosé wines. 

Related: How to Choose the Best Wine Glass

What to know about Sparkling Wine and Champagne 

First popular with royalty in the 17th through 19th centuries, these bubbly beverages add a sense of sophisticated style to special moments like modern-day weddings and significant occasions. 

The carbonation comes from specialized grape-pressing methods and a secondary fermentation process. And while the science behind these methods can be incredibly dense, the appeal of the “bubbly” is easy to understand. 

You can expect notes of peach, citrus, almond, cream, cherry, and toast in champagne. Other sparkling wines come in flavors ranging from crisp whites to fruity reds—each with refreshing effervescence that brings a smile to your face! 

If you’ve never tried one of these celebratory favorites before, be careful when uncorking, as a burst of sparkling wine might overflow above and down the sides of the bottle. Sure, it looks cool, but unless you’ve prepped for the classic champagne “popping,” you may wind up cleaning an unexpected mess. 

Related: Which Wines to Chill Before Drinking

How to Order Wine on a Date

Now that you know the basics of popular wines, which one should you order with dinner to impress that date we were talking about? Well, that depends on what you will be having for dinner. Let’s take a look at the most popular food selections for each kind of wine.

Pro tip: Choosing a wine that complements dinner is called “pairing,” Use this term when impressing your date with your vast knowledge of wine

Pairs well with White Wine: 

  • Seafood, lobster, oysters, crab

  • Pork, grilled chicken, foie gras

  • Caesar salad, crab cakes

Pairs well with Red Wine:

  • Red meat, steak, lamb

  • Pasta, pizza, flatbread

  • Vegetarian stew, salad, sweet potatoes

Pairs well with Rosé:

  • Salmon, grilled chicken, duck

  • Feta, spinach, mint

  • Soft cheeses, quinoa, roasted vegetables

Pairs well with Sparkling Wine/Champagne:

  • Steak, oysters, fried chicken

  • Alfredo pasta, mushrooms, lobster

  • Nuts, fried potatoes, spicy foods

If you’re still not sure which wine to choose from the restaurant’s wine list, ask the advice of your server or wine specialist. It’s their job to help guide you and ensure you enjoy the experience. Plus, it’s better to ask than end up with a terrible pairing. Also, don’t feel pressured to order the most expensive wine on the list. If it’s not one you like, the price will end in a costly disappointment. The price tag doesn’t always guarantee a flavor profile you—or more importantly, your date—will like. After all, even the wealthiest wine tasters have preferences!

Next to choosing what type of wine you want with dinner, it’s important to understand the presentation and how to properly taste your wine. By the way, when we say “presentation,” we’re not talking about what the wine looks like. We’re referring to the ritual of your server or wine specialist presenting the wine to you. It may seem dramatic for a glass of wine, but there's a reason behind it. Some wine presentations may be more extravagant than others, but here’s what you can expect in a traditional wine presentation:

  • The server shows you the bottle. You’ll verify this is the one you ordered. If it isn’t, politely remind them, and they’ll come back with the right one.

  • The server uncorks the bottle and gives you the cork or lays it on the table. No need to smell or taste the cork (yes, it’s happened), but you will want to check that it’s slightly wet on the end of the cork that was in the bottle. If it’s completely dry and starting to crumble or shriveled up and wet, there’s a chance something has gone wrong. When you've casually examined the cork, set it down. 

  • The server pours a sip-sized amount into your glass. Raise the glass to your nose and take a whiff. If it smells moldy or vinegary, this isn’t a good sign. But you still won’t know until the first sip.

  • Lastly, take a sip and swallow. If it tastes bad, vinegary, or corky, tell your server. You may ask your date or the server to try a sip to see if they concur. If they do, ask your server to bring another bottle, or you may try ordering something else. 

  • If the wine tastes good on the first sip, tell your server it’s good, and they’ll pour a full glass for you and your date.

  • Enjoy your wine, and pat yourself on the back for impressing your date so far!

How to Order Wine on a Date

If all goes well, we highly recommend a picnic featuring your own personally made charcuterie board for your second date. Or if that’s a little too forward, keep it casual by hosting a wine tasting with some friends. Either way, your newly formed wine expertise should help you create a moment that’s memorable for all the right reasons!

Wine for Beginners - Infographic

Rosé of Sangiovese

Andiamo

Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.

$19.99

Montepulciano

Andiamo

Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

$20.99

Pinot Grigio

La Pluma

If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

$19.99

Pinot Noir

Unprecedented

We couldn’t create the In Good Taste Unprecedented collection without the Golden Retriever of wines: Pinot Noir. Pinot is likable, it’s easy, and its natural state of being is simply charming. It’s an incredibly easy red wine to love, which is why so many people do. The grape itself is from the Burgundy region of France, but has made its way to California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Argentina, and Germany since. Our Pinot Noir has no surprise twists—it’s a classic light red with just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back for another glass (or two).

$25.99

Coteaux Bourguignons

Passport

The Burgundy region of France is home to their best Pinot Noirs, but we took the grapes into our own hands to create something extra special with our Coteaux Bourguignons. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which results in a French red that’s light in body but full in flavor. The ripest blueberries and freshest herbs can be easily detected in this French burgundy blend. May we suggest pairing it with some creamy brie and freshly baked bread? It’s a oui-ning combo.

$25.99

Verdicchio

Andiamo

A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.

$23.99

Côtes du Rhône White

Passport

This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.

$23.99

Bordeaux Rouge

Passport

When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.

$21.99

Ventoux Rosé

Passport

You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.

$21.99

Grenache

La Pluma

We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.

$27.99

Barbera

Andiamo

We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.

$21.99

Vermentino

Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.

$23.99

Viognier

Unprecedented

For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.

$24.99

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