Wine for Beginners

January 16, 2008 | | 6 Comments 

As we all say hello to the new year, we all have goals and resolutions to look forward to. Whether it be weight loss, a new job or a raise in salary, I’m never opposed to someone expanding their horizons in some way. Being the advocate that I am, I’m always willing to introduce people into the world of wine. I’m still perturbed that most Americans don’t share the same enthusiasm about wine the rest of the world does. Maybe it has to do with a “high-class only” perception that wine yielded for so many decades. Wine was seen mostly as a luxury item, but those days are long gone. It is widely available, and quite inexpensive in some cases.

For example, you are out on a dinner date at a restaurant. You’ve been promptly seated, the hostess hands out the menus and the wine list as well. You look at the list and are immediately overwhelmed, French, Californian, Italian, Spanish, Australian…some lists can be quite intimidating. Your date looks at you and mutters the words you didn’t want to hear, “you choose.” If you know your basics, you can maneuver through any wine list and come out looking like a stud. I’ve never met a woman who didn’t find it attractive that a man knows his wine, so here are some basics to get you started.

Know your grapes

There are basically six grapes you should all get to know and love. Knowing them is a good foundation for your wine knowledge. Of course there are two groups I’ll break this down into: Whites and Reds.


Riesling: This is lightest of the whites. Some are made dry and some have some sweetness to it. When most people think of riesling they think of something sweet, which is usually done by the Germans. If you ever wonder if a riesling will have a sweet finish, look at the alcohol content on the bottle. The lower the alcohol content the more residual sugar in the wine, therefore sweeter!

Sauvignon Blanc: Medium bodied with good acidity and fruit. Usually a well balanced wine that is perfect for a hot day. And it goes well with almost anything you eat.

Chardonnay: The most full-bodied of the whites. Probably the most popular choice of all the white wines. They can be balanced with acidity and fruit, or lean towards a creamier, buttery texture. I find a lot of women like the latter, if that’s the case, choose something from California.


Pinot Noir: Pinot is definitely the lightest red of the six major grapes. It’s also the most difficult to grow, and in my opinion, the most phenomenal to drink if it’s something special.

Merlot: Medium bodied with a good balance of fruit and structure. Just because Sideways gave it a bad rep, it doesn’t mean it’s a horrible wine. Before that movie came out, merlot was the best selling wine in the United States. It still ranks up there and probably the most expensive wine in the world Chateau Petrus is merlot.

Cabernet Sauvignon: The heavy hitter of the reds is the most full bodied and structured wine of them all. This is what you have your steak or prime rib with. A match made in heaven.
wine on racks

So there are the six major grapes in a nutshell. If you’re still wondering what I mean about light-bodied compared to full-bodied, imagine the difference in non-fat milk as opposed to whole milk. There is a definite range of texture and mouth-feel difference between the two. It’s the same with wine.

Yes gents, alcohol is loved by all, we’ve all had our vodka/whiskey/tequila filled nights that we’d soon rather forget. I think the majority of us agree that we don’t need to be downing spirits every night if we feel like having a drink. The next time you feel the urge for the sauce, pop a cork and broaden your horizons. You can put away the Jack and coke, we’re not in high school anymore. It’s about time to start drinking like a gentleman.


6 Responses to “Wine for Beginners”

  1. stergeron on January 17th, 2008 9:34 am

    Great article topsomm. Would love to see a follow up article on how to taste wine and what to look for once you’ve poured it and have your nose all up in it.

  2. reegsta on January 17th, 2008 11:21 am

    yo i’ma print this piece out the next time i go to a restaurant. thanks topsomm!

  3. Jamie on January 22nd, 2008 5:36 pm

    Any tips on how to taste wine? Most of the time I can’t tell the difference between one chardonnay and another.

    Also, how would you describe a pinot grigio and how does it compare to a sauvignon blanc?

  4. Morghus on January 23rd, 2008 12:36 am

    Great stuff, just the kind of info that a poor ignorant sod like me likes to know.

    I’ve always been a fan of wines, particularly the extremely dry ones with as high an alcohol-level as possible.

    The dry because I like “sour”, and the alcohol is not because I like getting drunk on wine, it just usually adds the right flavour.

    Weird stuff though.

  5. EB Coucher on January 28th, 2008 9:26 am

    Nice article, although i think leaving out Zinfindel and Syrah was a mistake. Basically Zin has been given the title of “California’s Wine”….and no one does it better than napa (and surrounding regions).

    It’s also predominently cheaper than a Cab, and can be just as robust if not more in some cases. In short, I save the special (pricey) cabs for rare occasions, and enjoy a bold Zin and/or Syrah often – and quite honestly, they make me most happy because i’m not depressed about the $80 i just shelled out for a Cab that I can’t drink for another two years!!

  6. topsomm on January 28th, 2008 6:21 pm

    Well folks, a lot of you have asked for tips on tasting the differences between certain types of wine. I hate to say it but the best way to develop your own palate-DRINK! The more you expose yourself to different types of wine, the more you’ll start to see the differences in particular grapes and areas. I’ll try to work on a follow up with more detailed suggestions.

    Jamie- Pinot Grigio can fall somewhere between Reisling and Sauv. Blanc. It usually ranges from light-meduim bodied.

    EB- Zins and Syrahs are two of my faves as well but they pale in comparison to the other three in terms of sales and popularity worldwide. You’re right Zinfandel is Calfornia’s Wine, we are the only ones in the world that grow it.

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