Not sure what the difference is between cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc? Do you find yourself totally confused when wine drinkers describe the mouth-feel of a wine? Are you interested in drinking wine but have no idea where to begin?
If so, our list of 12 incredible wines is just for you. We have selected five red wines, five whites, one sparkling, and one blush. Each wine comes from a different region of the world, has a unique taste, and pairs well with a variety of different foods.
We have spoken with several experts and sommeliers in the vino industry, and they have made suggestions regarding the best wines for beginners and seasoned drinkers alike.
These recommendations serve as a great starting point for any beginning wine enthusiast, and many of them are very affordable. Additionally, our team recommends this helpful and fun wine tasting kit. Cheers!
Common Wine Terms:
Acidity – The liveliness and crispness in white that activates our salivary glands.
Aeration – The deliberate addition of oxygen to round out and soften a wine.
Aging – Holding wine in barrels, tanks, and bottles to advance them to a more desirable state.
Barrel – The oak container used for fermenting and aging wine.
Bitter – A taste sensation that is sensed on the back of the tongue and caused by tannins.
Body – Generally breaks down into three categories: light body, medium body, full body. Best way to think about it is the difference between skim milk, whole milk, and cream and the difference between the feel in your mouth. This is mainly affected by the alcohol content, the higher the alcohol content, the heavier the wine, the fuller the body.
Brut – The plug used to seal a wine barrel.
Dry – Dry wines are the opposite of sweet. A dry wine has no residual sugars. A taste sensation often attributed to tannins and causes puckering sensations in the mouth.
Fermentation – The conversion of grape sugars to alcohol by yeast.
Full-bodied – A wine high in alcohol and flavors.
Mouth-feel – How a wine feels on the palate; can be rough, smooth, velvety, or furry.
Oak/oaky – Tasting term denoting smells and flavors of vanilla, baking spices, coconut, mocha, or dill caused by barrel-aging.
Tannins – The phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter, dry, and puckery feeling in the mouth.
Vintage – The year a wine is bottled. Also, the yield of wine from a vineyard during a single season.
One of the most popular and well-known red wines, cabernet sauvignon (often just referred to as “cabernet”), is produced around the world. Cabernet sauvignon grapes are commonly grown in Bordeaux (France) and Napa Valley (California), and then picked and aged in oak barrels. This process creates a full-bodied wine with heavy berry flavors (such as black cherry and blueberry).
Cabernet is a full bodied red wine that is high in alcohol and bursting with a variety of flavors. The oak barrels it is casked in help produce a complex vanilla flavor, which is accompanied by notes of coffee, toffee, and chocolate.
Cabernet sauvignon is usually classified as a dry wine, which means that it leaves no residual sugars on the palate and often causes puckering sensations in the mouth. Cabernet pairs well with steak, beef stroganoff, short ribs, and roasted potatoes.
Travel industry expert Scott Eddy suggests Shafer Vineyard’s 2011 One Point Five Cabernet (California, $80) and Santa Carolina’s 2013 Reserva de Familia cabernet (California, $15). Find more helpful tidbits from Scott Eddy on his website or on twitter!
Scott Eddy is a serial entrepreneur and the digital “go-to” guy for the travel industry. He is very well-versed in wine and has worked with hotels and restaurants around the world.
According to former South African rugby player and red wine expert Kobus Wiese (@4KobusWiese), “Le Riche Estate produces one of [South Africa’s] best cabernet sauvignon wines, especially the limited edition Reserve.”
Kobus Wiese is a South African Rugby legend who owns a chain of cafés, and is an avid public speaker, lover of good coffee, red wine, his family, and life in general!
If you are looking for another inexpensive cabernet that is certain to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Francis Ford Coppola’s 2013 Diamond Collection Ivory Label cabernet sauvignon (California, $15).
Pinot noir is another popular variety of red wine originating from Burgundy. It is now grown all over the world; most notably in France, California, Washington, and Oregon. Pinot noir features strong, oaky overtones, but also imparts flavors of vanilla and rose. It is considered a medium-to-light bodied wine, which refers to the way the wine feels in your mouth. One way to think about body is to compare it to the differences between skim milk (light body), whole milk (medium body), and cream (full body). Body is mainly affected by alcohol content; the higher the alcohol content, the fuller the body of the wine. Additionally, many experts consider pinot noir to be a moderately dry wine. Pinot noir pairs well with roasted duck, salmon, mushrooms, and pork roast. Mr. Eddy recommends Beck Burgenland’s 2005 pinot noir (Austria, $21) and Casa Marin’s 2004 Lo Abarca Hills pinot noir (Chile, $35).
According to Shayn Bjornholm (@ShaynBjornholm), the examination director for the Court of Master Sommeliers, pinot noir is one of the five most important wines for beginning enthusiasts to taste. If you are searching for another inexpensive pinot noir that is certain to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Kendall Jackson’s 2013 Vintner’s Reserve pinot noir (California, $20).
Shayn Bjornholm is the Director of Education at the Court of Master Sommeliers and has been a course instructor and examination adjudicator for the Court since 2005.
Another delicious red wine is malbec, which is one of France’s most heavily produced and popular wines. Enjoyed around the world, malbec is also cultivated and produced in great quantities in Argentina. When enjoying malbec, consumers will enjoy a rich, full bodied taste that imparts dark and berry-like fruit flavors. Malbecs are generally considered to be dry wines and pair well with grilled or braised beef, pizza, and tomato sauce-based pastas.
Mr. Eddy suggests Zuccardi Aluvional’s 2012 Paraje Altamira malbec (Argentina, $90). We also spoke with wine expert Arleen Boyd (@AlohaArleen), who had the following to say about malbec: “If you love aged cheeses, try a…Catena malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. Catena makes wines at every price point, and I enjoy every one of them! Try pairing…malbecs with food, at least until your palate for heartier wines grows to the point that you enjoy the scent of a little leather in the background.” If you are looking for an inexpensive malbec that is sure to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Columbia Crest’s 2012 Reserve malbec (Washington, $28).
Arleen Boyd hails from Hawaii and offers expert perspectives on food, wine, and travel.
Merlot is the second most popular variety of red wine behind cabernet sauvignon, and is enjoyed by red wine lovers around the world. Like cabernet, merlot originated in Bordeaux, but is now produced on a global scale. Merlot grapes are the fifth most-planted in the world, and are bountiful in France, Italy, California, and Switzerland. In terms of flavor, merlot tastes fresh and fruity when it first hits your palate, and ends with soft notes of vanilla, mocha, and cloves. Merlot is considered to be a dry, full-bodied wine that pairs well with chicken, fish, and lightly-spiced red meats.
Mr. Eddy recommends Fattoria Petrolo’s 2006 Galatrona merlot (Italy, $75). Ms. Boyd shares her sentiments on merlot: “I became a huge fan of merlot wines back when it was primarily used for blending into cabernet sauvignon. Now, many of the lesser expensive merlots have lost the essence of the grape. But, good ones at reasonable prices can still be found. I love a fruit forward glass with complexity. Currently, I am drinking a Peirano 2012 Six Clones merlot for just $14.”
If you are searching for another inexpensive merlot that is sure to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Fetzer’s 2012 Eagle Peak merlot (California, $8).
Our final perfect red wine variety for beginning enthusiasts is shiraz. Known as syrah or sirah when produced in France, shiraz has taken off in Australia and South Africa over the last five decades. Shiraz is a medium-to-full bodied red wine with a smooth mouth-feel and flavor that delivers notes of blackberry, black cherry, licorice, and dark chocolate. Mouth-feel refers to how a wine feels on the palate; wines can be velvety, rough, smooth, or chewy. Shiraz pairs well with grilled vegetables, beef stews, wild game, lamb, and sausage.
Mr. Eddy suggests Wendouree’s Clare Valley shiraz (Australia, $63). Mr. Wiese says, “The father of shiraz, Kevin Arnold, produces world class shiraz at Waterford Estate. You just have to drink his ‘artwork.’ La Motte Pierneef…has won the World’s Best Shiraz on more than one occasion. Steal, borrow, or beg, but you have to get your hands on a bottle of this shiraz.” If you are looking for an inexpensive shiraz that is sure to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Rodney Strong’s 2011 North Coast Syrah (California, $30).
Chardonnay is the world’s most famous white wine grape, and is beloved by winemakers and enthusiasts around the globe. This breed of white wine features heavily into the wine production of Burgundy, California, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. In terms of flavor, chardonnays are delightfully complex due to their casking in oak barrels. They impart distinctive buttery aromas, hints of vanilla, and notes of spices such as cinnamon and clove. On the other hand, though, chardonnays produced in warmer climates are marked by their tropical flavors (such as banana and pineapple) or notes of stone fruits like peaches and apricots. Chardonnays pair well with mild cheeses (provolone, gruyere, and mild cheddar), seafood (crab, clams, or salmon), chicken, pork, and fruity desserts.
Mr. Eddy recommends Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne’s 2007 Grand Cru chardonnay (France, $96) and Dutton Goldfield Rued Vineyard’s 2011 chardonnay (California, $50). Ms. Boyd had the following to say about chardonnay: “If creamy cheese makes your tongue swoon, or if mold makes you smile, pop open a lightly oaked chardonnay (Wente Morning Fog has great balance).” If you are looking for an inexpensive chardonnay that is certain to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi’s 2012 chardonnay (California, $13).
Another selection (and this writer’s personal favorite) from our 12 perfect wines for beginning enthusiasts is the ever-delicious sauvignon blanc.
A white wine grape originating in Bordeaux, sauvignon blanc also enjoys success in California, Chile, South Africa, northern Italy, Australia, and, most notably, New Zealand. An assertive and straightforward white wine, sauvignon blanc imparts a wide variety of flavors, including grass, nettles, blackcurrant leaf, asparagus, gooseberries, and green apple.
Wine expert Ray Isle (@islewine) writes: “What captures people about sauvignon blanc is its crispness, its citrusy zing, its refreshing vivacity–all those qualities that make it one of the best wines for hot summer days. It’s an edgy wine, tart by nature, which is why acid heads, as they’re known in the [wine] world, are all for it.”
Ray Isle is the executive wine editor at Food & Wine Magazine and possesses an extensive amount of wine knowledge.
Sauvignon blanc pairs well with fish, shellfish, chicken, pork, sushi, salads, and pasta dishes with creamy sauces. Mr. Eddy suggests Cloudy Bay’s 2009 Te Koko sauvignon blanc (New Zealand, $30) and Villa Maria’s 2007 Private Bin sauvignon blanc (New Zealand, $14).
If you are searching for another inexpensive sauvignon blanc that is certain to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 2013 Columbia Valley sauvignon blanc (Washington, $11).
Yet another very popular white wine variety is pinot grigio, which originated in northeastern Italy and is now grown around the world. Known as pinot gris in France, both grapes are light, crisp, and dry with notes of green apple, blossoms, and lemon. Pinot grigio is low in acidity and is casked and stored in stainless-steel tanks. Acidity refers to the crispness and liveliness of wine and activates our salivary glands as we drink. Pinot grigios are medium-to-full bodied wines with a rich, floral bouquet. They pair well with fish, shellfish, chicken, pastas with creamy sauces, and soft, mild cheeses (brie, gruyere, mozzarella, and parmigiano reggiano).
Mr. Eddy recommends Domaine Stirn Cuvée’s 2005 Prestige Sigolsheim pinot grigio (France, $22), and Ms. Boyd tells us that, “There are two kinds of pinot grigio, which is also known as pinot gris. The former is the Italian style with more complex and richer flavors. The latter is bright and fruity, a style more common to the California grown pinot gris grape.” If you are looking for another inexpensive pinot grigio that is sure to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Sutter Home’s 2015 pinot grigio (California, $6).
A white grape variety originating in the Rhine area of Germany, riesling is another excellent choice for any beginning enthusiast. A rich and complex wine, riesling is nutty, honeyed, and syrupy, while also pure, refreshing, and bursting with peach, citrus, and apricot flavors. Riesling is the perfect wine for any beginning enthusiast, due largely in part to its sweet taste and gentle, welcoming mouth feel.
Ms. Boyd agrees: “If you consider most wine too tart or bitter, start on the sweeter side. Pour yourself a well-chilled riesling, white zinfandel, or moscato (if you’re really into sweet). There is no shame in drinking what you like! We all have different palates.” Dry rieslings exist as well, and these are more akin to pinot grigios or sauvignon blancs in their tart, robust nature.
Rieslings pair well with chicken, pork, duck, turkey, crab, and cheeses (asiago, cheddar, gorgonzola, gouda, or gruyere). Mr. Eddy suggests Clos Ste. Hune’s 2002 Grand Cru riesling (France, $136) and Zilliken Spätlese Saarburger Rausch’s 1992 riesling (Germany, $34). If you are searching for an inexpensive riesling that is sure to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend [yellow tail]’s 2015 riesling (Australia, $6).
Moscato is a white wine varietal that is very popular with beginning and seasoned wine enthusiasts alike. A light bodied, semi-sparkling, and perfumed white, moscato originates in Italy’s northwest region of Piedmont. Moscato has a spritzy, bubbly character, and is often permeated with fruity flavors such as orange, green grapes, citrus, and peach. This type of wine pairs well with desserts, charcuterie and antipasto, and almost any kind of cheese.
Krystyna Chávez is an assistant editor at Cosmopolitan for Latinas magazine and loves to travel, eat, and laugh.
If you are looking for another inexpensive moscato that is certain to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Gallo Family Vineyard’s 2011 moscato (California, $7).
Champagne is a famous sparkling wine that is produced from grapes specifically grown in the Champagne region of France. Champagne production follows rules that demand extra time in the bottle in order to create carbonation (bubbles). Champagne has long been regarded as a holy wine; monks, bishops, and other religious figures used champagne to crown kings and mark religious holidays since the fourth century. In terms of flavor, champagne features notes of pear, citrus apple, cream, and vanilla. While New World champagnes tend to lean towards hints of ripe tree fruit, Old World champagnes are subtle, creamy, and nutty. Champagne pairs well with oysters, caviar, foie gras, and smoked salmon.
Jayne Powell is an expert on champagne who organizes champagne tours, tastings, and sparkling education. She is also a professional speaker and planner for corporate and special events.
The best champagne deals can be ordered by the case online from the comfort of your armchair at home.” According to Dan Gentile (@dannosphere) of Thrillist/Food & Drink, Almondage, André, Cook’s, J. Roget, and Korbel are the best champagne brands under $11.
Dan Gentile is an Austin-based writer and photographer who specializes in all things food and drink.
Find out more by visiting thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @Dannosphere.
Our final perfect wine for beginning enthusiasts is white zinfandel, which originated in California and is a perennial favorite among the wine drinking community.
According to The Kitchn (@thekitchn), “White zin is quaffable. Every wine doesn’t have to be a cerebral experience. Sometimes, you just want a glass of wine! [Also,] sweet is delicious [and is] an indicator of unspoiled, healthy fruit.” Find more at thekitchn.com!
The Kitchn is a website that seeks to inspire cooks and nourish homes through daily recipes, tips, kitchen tours, how-tos, news, product reviews, giveaways, and cooking contests.
White zinfandel is created when winemakers peel the red skins off of red zinfandel grapes, which produces a wine that is sweet in flavor, light in color, and free of the more assertive flavors of many red wines.
Mr. Eddy suggests Deerfield Ranch Buchignani-Garcia Vineyard’s Old Vine Reserve 2006 Zinfandel (California, $60) and Williams Selyem’s 2010 Bacigalupi Vineyard Zinfandel (California, $50). If you are searching for an inexpensive white zinfandel that is sure to be on the shelves of your local wine and spirits store, we recommend Barefoot’s 2015 white zinfandel (California, $7).
Best Inexpensive Wine Brands for Beginners:
Black Box (boxed)
Bota Box (boxed)
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Francis Ford Coppola
Skinny Girl (low calorie option)
Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi