The 12 Perfect Wines For Beginning Enthusiasts

bottles of wine

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.

REDS

Cabernet Sauvignon

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.

pouring wine

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
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.

Learn more at www.mrscotteddy.com or @MrScottEddy on Twitter.

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
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!

Find out more by visiting kobuswiese.co.za or @4KobusWiese on Twitter.

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

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
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.

Find out more by visiting mastersommeliers.org and follow him on Twitter, @ShaynBjornholm.

Malbec

middle sister winemalbec wine

NV Middle Sister Wild One Malbec 750 mL

2013 Smoking Loon El Carancho Malbec 750 mL Wine


 

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
Arleen Boyd hails from Hawaii and offers expert perspectives on food, wine, and travel.

Find out more by visiting tsu.co/ and follow her on Twitter, @AlohaArleen.

Merlot

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).

Shiraz

wine cork

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).

WHITES

Chardonnay

chardonnay wine

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).

wine and food setting

Sauvignon Blanc

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.

friends with wine at vineyard

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
Ray Isle is the executive wine editor at Food & Wine Magazine and possesses an extensive amount of wine knowledge.

Find out more by visiting foodandwine.com and follow him on Twitter at @islewine.

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).

wine grapes at vineyard

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).

Pinot Grigio

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).

Riesling

riesling wine
Buy Excellent German Riesling Mixed Pack, 3 x 750 mL
 

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.

wine grapes and glasses

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

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.

sweet and sassy moscato wine
Buy Sweet & Sassy Moscato
Mr. Eddy recommends Middle Sister’s Sweet and Sassy moscato (California, $10) and Flip Flop’s moscato (California, $8). Cosmopolitan contributor Krystyna Chávez (@Cosmopolitan) says: “A glass of wine is a great way to relax at the end of the day. There are so many different types; it really depends on personal preference, but lately, moscato seems to be popular [and is] now the third most popular white wine. Moscato is currently the fastest growing wine category in the U.S. with a 73% growth in 2012 alone.”

Krystyna Chávez
Krystyna Chávez is an assistant editor at Cosmopolitan for Latinas magazine and loves to travel, eat, and laugh.

Find out more by visiting cosmopolitan.com and follow her on Twitter, @Krysty_C.

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).

SPARKLING

Champagne

champagne wine on boat

 

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.

champagne wine
Buy 2000 Pol Roger Brut Extra Cuvee de Reserve, Champagne 750 mL
Champagne expert Jayne Powell (@champagnejayne) explains that, “You can find a decent range of champagnes in most supermarkets and usually at least one or two big names in your local corner shop. Small, more exclusive grower champagnes and rare vintages can be sourced at boutique retailers.

Jayne Powell
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.

Find out more by visiting champagnejayne.com and follow her on Twitter, @champagnejayne.

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
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.

 

BLUSH

White Zinfandel

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 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.

Find out more by visiting thekitchn.com and follow them on Twitter, @thekitchn.

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.

white zinfandel wines
Buy Sutter Home Fre White Zinfandel Wine
This wine’s flavor profile is characterized by citrus, orange, vanilla, raspberry, cherry, and strawberry; many white zinfandels even have fruit juices added right before bottling. White zinfandel pairs well with cream sauce-based pasta dishes, fish, shellfish, pork, lamb, and cheese (cream cheese, muenster, gouda, ricotta, and gruyere).

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:

Almaden (boxed)
Barefoot
Beringer
Black Box (boxed)
Bota Box (boxed)
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Columbia Crest
Fetzer
Francis Ford Coppola
Franzia (boxed)
Gallo Family
J. Lohr
Joel Gott
Kendall Jackson
Rodney Strong
Skinny Girl (low calorie option)
Sutter Home
Turning Leaf
Rodney Strong
Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi
[yellow tail]

Comments

  1. Rosalie Chapa says:

    I’m a beginner for sure…I seem to like the sweeter wines like a non-sparkling Moscato. Now think those are just a little too sweet for me. Now am trying a Reisling…a little bit sweet but not too much. I would like to drink some red wine, but have tasted the ones my daughter drinks and they are so dry. I just don’t like that taste at all. Is there a red wine that doesn’t have that terrible dryness?? Appreciate any help…thank you

    • Ross Halleck says:

      Hi Rosalie, Thanks for your question. The “terrible dryness” you refer to is caused by tannins. They cause a dryness on your tongue and are most prevalent in Cabernet Sauvignons, Petit Sirahs, Cabernet Franc and other “Big Reds”. They work well for enjoying a steak, but are not very enjoyable as a “cocktail wine” by themselves. That’s because tannins cut proteins and taste great when mixed together in your mouth with meat. The term “dry” simply means “not sweet” and can be used to describe most red wines. Wines with smaller tannin profiles include Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Though they often have the same amount of tannin as a “Big Red”, the molecule structure is smaller and does not have as strong of effect. I would try a Pinot to see. After all, the experience is subjective and the end-game is simply to determine what you like. Let me know what you think. Kind regards, Ross Halleck, Halleck Vineyard

  2. I’m a beginner for sure…I seem to like the sweeter wines like a non-sparkling Moscato or Rosato. Now I feel those are too sweet for me. I have tried a Reisling and like it better. It is sweet, but not too much. I want to try a red wine, but the ones I have tasted (Merlot for one) have a very dry taste that I don’t like at all. Is there a red I could try that wouldn’t be so dry? Appreciate your help, thank you

    • Ross Halleck says:

      Hi Rosalie, I think there may be some sweeter red wines made by a winery called Rombauer. I must admit, that I prefer dry (not sweet) wines, so I haven’t explored the reaches of sweeter wines. I make a wine that I would recommend called Dry Gewurztraminer. Keep in mind the “very dry taste” you experience from big red wines is from tanins. It is not the same was when a wine is described as “dry”. “Dry wine” simply means not sweet. I hope this helps.

      • Thank you for your advice Ross…such a coincidence….my daughter just told me today about Gewurztraminer wine!! She recommended I try it. I am down in San Antonio for a couple of months and am hoping I can find it somewhere here…again, thank you

  3. Emma Gwilliam says:

    Hi I was always a white wine girl but have now become interested in the red wines available. I had a tiny drop of catena malbec and really enjoyed it as it was well rounded and very smooth. I can’t seem to find many places that stock it. Would you advise me of some smooth red wines please I really don’t like them if they’re bitter. I live in the UK xx thanks

  4. I’m looking for a wine that is a little dry a little sweet and a little tart all in one please help.

    • Ross Halleck says:

      Hi Shelly, I don’t mean to be self serving, but we make the perfect wine for you. It hits all the notes you describe. It is called a Dry Gewurztraminer. Our 2016 was just awarded a gold medal from the California State Fair and rated 95 points. You can purchase it here. Please email me with any questions or to let me know how you like it. I look forward to hearing from you. Ross Halleck, vintner. Halleck Vineyard

  5. Hello, I’m looking for a wine for me and my husband is our wedding anniversary. We do not know anything about wines so any help would be appreciated.

  6. connor nicholson says:

    This has been incredibly informative for a beginner! I have worked in the F&B Industry my whole life and have rolled around the idea of working towards a certification, and have just commited to courses. I am an avid wine drinker (duh!), But am wondering if you would still keep the suggestions listed above for someone trying to learn wine tasting at amore indepth level. Tasting is only part of my courses, but not exams – at this point but would like to get more work in that Dept. Sooner than later.

    Cheers!

    • Ross Halleck says:

      Hi Connor,
      I don’t mean to be self serving, but I invite you to a tasting at Halleck Vineyard if you come to Sonoma County in your life’s travels. I offer a fairly in-depth tasting seminar, pairing wines with local artisan cheeses, organic chocolate and delectables. The focus is on tasting fully and understanding how we taste. Happy to share the content if you’re not coming any time soon. But it loses a lot without the actual tasting and pairing to accompany the words. Let me know. Ross Halleck

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