Choosing a bottle of wine can be really confusing if you are a novice, given the wide variety of wines from different countries, available in the market at different price points. Very often you hesitate to take those baby steps into the world of wine because the terminology associated with wine drinking, makes it a somewhat intimidating experience. However, it is not that daunting a task. Remember wine is just another alcoholic beverage, fermented grape juice to be precise, that is meant to be enjoyed and not analyzed. And it is probably a heathier option than the others, provided you drink in moderation.
You may know the basic difference between a red and white wine, both of which look and taste different, but how do you go about buying your first bottle of wine at a store or ordering it at a restaurant, from a sea of unfamiliar labels and unpronounceable grape names. Since it is impossible to tell how a wine will taste, simply from looking at the label, you need to know a little bit about different wine styles, grape varieties and regions, as this will give you an indication of the style of wine that suits your taste.
Also remember that if you are an amateur, you may not like the taste at first. But the more wine you drink, the more you will appreciate it.
So, let’s start with the very basics.
Countries with a long history of wine production like Italy, France, Spain and Germany are referred to as “Old World” in wine lexicon. They have a more complex labelling system and usually use cork closures for their bottles, which requires a wine opener. Understanding these labels may present a challenge to someone without any prior wine knowledge. So, for beginners my suggestion is to go for wines from newer wine-producing regions, the “New World” like Chile, U.S, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India, as they tend to use grape names on labels for easy recognition and 90% of the wine bottles have screw-caps.
It’s always a good idea to begin your wine journey with lighter, less complex wines whether red or white.
When it comes to white wine, new wine drinkers tend to enjoy wines with lower acidity as these are less tart or sour. My recommendation is to go for a light-bodied wine that is soft and approachable with mild fruity flavors like a Chenin Blanc. What I love about this grape variety is its versatility and the ability to pair with all kinds of food. Check out Chenin Blanc from South Africa and India.
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris is another easy-drinking fruity white wine, but with more acidity than a Chenin. Cool climates produce the best examples of this light zesty style and my favorites is the Italian Pinot Grigio. It is great for drinking on its own or with food, especially seafood.
Sauvignon Blanc is another popular food-friendly white wine that beginners find very refreshing. It has herbal and tropical fruit flavors and the ones from Marlborough New Zealand are excellent. This and the Austrian Grüner Veltliner make a great pairing with vegetables, goat-cheese salad, sushi and Thai food.
If you prefer a full-bodied white wine with a rich smooth taste and a subtle creaminess, then go for a Chardonnay from California. My favorite in this category is a white Burgundy from France, which is also an oaked Chardonnay but needs a slightly more evolved palate to appreciate. Oaked Chardonnay is actually the world’s most popular white wine, but the unoaked style from the New World countries like Chile and Australia, is gaining a lot of popularity and is easier on the pocket than the other famous unoaked Chardonnay, the French Chablis.
A full-bodied white wine which is less acidic than a Chardonnay is Viognier, popular for its fragrant floral notes. Though the best ones come from Southern France, for beginners I would recommend any labels from the New World countries and even Viognier from India.
Some beginners find sweeter wines easier to enjoy early on, so a Riesling from Washington State (USA) or Australia is a great choice since it is light bodied with delicious fruity flavors. It pairs particularly well with Indian and Chinese food. Once your palate develops you can try Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace.
Then there are some aromatic wines like Gewürztraminer, Moscato d’Asti and Torrontés, which even though dry in style, give a hint of sweetness due to the perfume aromas. No harm giving them a try to see if this style suits your palate.
So, begin your wine journey with these suggestions and remember that wine is an acquired taste and once acquired that taste will evolve. More about red wine for beginners in the next blog.