Wine is a great and versatile beverage, but it can feel overwhelming to beginners. There are so many types and categories that it becomes challenging to parse out which wine would work best for you. To help, I’ve put together a simple guide on the best wine for beginners.
But first: the wine shopping basics. When shopping for wine, there are a few key factors to consider when making your selection:
- Sweetness: One crucial element to the flavor profile is sweetness. Look at the description to see if the wine is called “sweet,” “semi-sweet,” or “dry.”
- Acidity: The acidity determines how tart the wine will taste.
- Tannins: Tannins come from the skin of grapes and give the wine a drier and more bitter flavor. Red wine tends to be higher in tannins than white wine.
- Body: The term “body” essentially means how heavy it feels when you drink it. Generally, reds are heavier than whites.
- Alcohol: Of course, when shopping for an alcoholic beverage, always check on the alcohol content.
Now that we’ve covered those basic concepts, continue reading about some of the best wines for beginners.
Best Red Wine for Beginners
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Sauvignon
Red wine is made, unsurprisingly, with red grapes. The red and purple shades of red wine are created from the red grape skin during fermentation. Including the grape skins produces the color of the red wine, the tannins, and other compounds that create the distinct red wine flavor.
Tannins give the wine structure and produce a dry flavor when you drink it. Somewhat similar to black tea, wine with a high quantity of tannins has a strong and well-rounded flavor that can linger in your mouth. Tannins can also soften over time, so the red wine’s flavor can significantly change after it’s aged.
Red wine is also known for having a remarkable range of flavors. Even within the category of red grapes, there is a considerable variety in type and subtype, creating plenty of opportunities for unique red wines. Here are some of my favorite red wines for a beginner’s palate.
Pinot noir is a black grape from France and produces a very dry red wine with a light to medium body. Pinot noir is a single-varietal wine, meaning that the wine is made with just one type of grape. Due to the popularity of the wine and the challenges involved with growing pinot noir grapes, high-end pinot noir can be very expensive.
Pinot noir is high in acidity and has soft tannins, often creating complex and delicious flavors. Typical flavors associated with pinot noir include cherry, raspberry, and mushroom. Pinot noir can be aged in French oak, which creates an even richer taste, including notes of vanilla and spice.
In general, the alcohol content of pinot noir tends to be in the range of 12 to 15 percent. Pinot noir grown in cooler climates usually has a slightly lower alcohol content than pinot noir grown in warmer climates.
Recommended Brand: La Crema Pinot Noir
For beginners looking at pinot noir, I recommend La Crema Pinot Noir. This pinot noir originates from the Sonoma Coast and has a 13.5 alcohol percentage. A 2019 vintage, this particular variety spent eight months aging in a barrel before being bottled.
This wine is a true pinot noir, made entirely from pinot noir grapes. I particularly enjoy the flavor notes, such as boysenberry, cherry, sweet tobacco, raspberry, blackberry, and cherry. The fruity flavor profile and balanced acidity make this wine pair well with savory appetizers and light chocolatey desserts.
I like this wine not only for its reasonable price (although that is a plus) but for its classic pinot noir traits that make it a perfect introduction to pinot noirs as a whole. La Crema Pinot Noir is great for experimenting with acidity and aromatic fruit flavors—it’s also an excellent example of how aging can shape the body and flavor of a wine.
If you want to get into wines, you’ll need to become familiar with this popular and widespread red wine variety. It comes from a very durable variation of wine grape, so cabernet sauvignon can be grown in many different climates. This durability allows vineyards all over the world to produce their take on cabernet sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon has solid tannins and a rich taste. Unique flavors include blackcurrant, cedar, oak, and herbs. The high quantity of tannins makes cabernet sauvignon a great candidate for aging, with ample opportunity for flavors to develop and grow in complexity over time.
The rich flavors of cabernet sauvignon make it a great wine to pair with heavy meals but can create an unpleasant taste when matched with lighter fare, like fish. If you enjoy tannins and full-bodied wine, I encourage you to keep cabernet sauvignon as your go-to order when out for a nice steak dinner.
Recommended Brand: Josh Cellars
For a beginner cabernet sauvignon, I suggest Josh Cellars. The Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied and flavorful, including notes such as blackberry, toasted hazelnut, cinnamon, and hints of vanilla and toasted oak.
This rich cabernet sauvignon is my preferred choice for a wine to serve with beef or pork. It also goes great with a decadent dessert. There’s a sweetness from the fruitier flavors, but the tannins and heavy body make this cabernet sauvignon hold its own when paired with big, fatty meals.
Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon is great for newbies to the wine world because the fruity flavor profile makes for a gentle but encouraging introduction to the realm of heavier wines. I like that the flavors are accessible while still staying true to the full-bodied, tannin-rich qualities that make red wines so delicious and memorable. Approachability is essential when trying wines for the first time, and in that category, Josh Cellars excels.
Malbec is a dry wine with a juicy flavor profile. Originating from France, this decadent wine is now quite prevalent in Argentina and Chile.
Malbec is a great, affordable way to discover how fantastic the darker and drier red wines can be. In some ways, I would call Malbec the training wheels for Syrah, but I genuinely think Malbec has a fantastic, rich body and complex flavor profile.
I think of Malbec as having a jammy flavor, including notes of black cherry, pomegranate, plum, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, and raisin. Balancing out those fruit flavors are rich and musky tones, such as cocoa, coffee, molasses, leather, vanilla, and mocha.
This dry red wine is perfect for pairing with dishes that have a strong umami flavor. Try matching Malbec with leaner meats, like dark meat poultry, and distinctive flavors like blue cheese, mushroom, and cumin.
Recommended Brand: Alamos
Alamos Malbec makes for a great introduction to this type of wine. Grown near the Andes Mountains in Argentina, this wine perfectly captures all the hallmark traits of a contemporary malbec.
Key tasting notes include blackberry, dark plum, and caramel. The soft tannins from this variety of Malbec create a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. This variety is aged for eight months in American and French oak barrels, further enhancing the rich flavors of the malbec grape.
Alamos Malbec goes great with charred meat and earthy flavors like mushrooms. The complex flavors of this Malbec make it a great go-to red wine for serving at dinner parties. It’s a bit more flexible than a cabernet sauvignon and would pair great with beef, poultry, or vegetarian dishes. I also find the fruitier notes of this Malbec, balanced with the caramel, make it great for pairing with desserts.
Best White Wine for Beginners
- Pinot Grigio
- Sauvignon Blanc
White wine describes any wine that is made without the skins of the grape. Since grape juice is clear, this creates wines with golden, yellow, and green-yellow hues. White wines usually result from green or yellow grapes. However, you can find white wines made from darker colored grapes without the skins.
Since white wines aren’t as high in tannins, they tend to be lighter and more refreshing, making them a perfect beverage for before a meal, between meals, or with dessert. Many white wine varieties are dry due to allowing the wort (the juice from the grape) to ferment fully. Sweeter white wines also result from interrupting the fermentation process before all the sugar converts to alcohol.
Whether dry or sweet, there are many varieties of white wine to choose from. Here are some of my favorite white wine picks for beginner wine drinkers.
You’ve learned about pinot noir, and now it’s time for pinot grigio. Pinot grigio is an incredibly popular type of white wine, and you are sure to come across it in your wine exploration.
Made from a white wine grape of the same name—although the grape itself is a pale purple color—pinot grigio is a golden-white wine with a light, crisp flavor and satisfying level of dryness and acidity.
If made in the Italian style, it is called pinot grigio and tends to have a light body with citrus aromas. When prepared the French way, it’s called pinot gris and will be more full-bodied and slightly sweeter.
Pinot Grigio has a light, fruity flavor profile, with lemon-lime and pear flavors often coming through. Many pinot grigio variations also have underlying notes of almond and honey. The light, acidic flavors make pinot grigio a great match for fish, light pasta, and fresh salads.
Recommended Brand: Santa Margherita
For a beginner, Santa Margherita is a great pinot grigio option. This is a delightfully light and crisp pinot grigio that provides a wonderful introduction to the signature traits of this wine variety.
With a clean but intense aroma, the Santa Margherita pinot grigio cuts through the palate with a crisp and refreshing taste. In addition to the classic citrusy notes, this pinot grigio has a pleasant golden apple flavor.
This wine works great as an aperitif, especially when paired with cheeses. This pinot grigio also pairs exceptionally well with seafood, pasta, and rice dishes. For dessert, this would go fantastically with a sweet dish that has an airy mouthfeel, such as a soufflé.
I also like this pinot grigio as a lovely graduation from the sugary, cheap white wines of one’s younger years. The Santa Margherita pinot grigio has a nice, refreshingly sweet flavor. Still, the dryness cutting through it elevates the wine to a more sophisticated beverage that can boost a dining experience.
Chardonnay is an exceptional variety of white wine. Originating in Burgundy, France, Chardonnay can have diverse flavors depending on how the grape is grown and how the wine is processed.
Generally, Chardonnay is a dry, medium-bodied white wine with crisp lemon-peel and apple flavor notes. However, a chardonnay that has been aged in an oak barrel can take on a dramatically different flavor, including hints of butter, vanilla, English pudding, and pineapple. Looking at the details of the aging process does matter when shopping for Chardonnay.
Chardonnay also depends on the climate and growing conditions. When grown in a cooler climate, Chardonnay will be leaner and light-bodied, with notes of melon and pear. However, when grown in a warmer climate, Chardonnay is juicier and brighter, with notes of pineapple and banana.
Recommended Brand: Kendall-Jackson
Kendall-Jackson has the number one best-selling chardonnay in the United States, and you really can’t go wrong with choosing their Chardonnay as your first experience with this type of wine.
Grown in California’s cool, coastal wine-growing region, the Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay is light-bodied with a straightforward flavor profile. Prominent tasting notes include apple-tart, vanilla, ginger, and peach, with an underlying citrusy acidity.
Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay is aged in French and American oak barrels, bringing out those richer and more complex flavors and creating a creamy, velvety mouthfeel.
This wine is a great beginner’s Chardonnay because it shows off the complexity of this wine variety while also being quite approachable and accessible to an inexperienced palate. There are plenty of special flavor hints to pull out—be on the lookout for nutmeg and mint—but it is light enough to pair nicely with a wide range of dishes.
Sauvignon blanc is a food-friendly white wine made from green grapes. This wine is known for its distinctly refreshing acidity and can come in flavors ranging from grassy to juicy.
One of the hallmark flavor traits of sauvignon blanc comes from a particular compound: pyrazine. Pyrazine is what gives sauvignon blanc a distinct flavor that could be called grassy or herbal. I could even compare it to the taste of bell peppers.
Sauvignon blanc from cool climates tends to have that crisper, grassier flavor, while sauvignon blanc originating from warmer climates has a diminished pyrazine flavor, which allows for hints of tropical fruit flavors to come through, such as grapefruit and guava.
This type of white wine probably has the highest acidity out of the famous white wine varieties, giving it a very crisp feel with flavor notes of minerals. Sauvignon blanc typically pairs best with fresh salads, vegetables, and light meats.
Recommended Brand: Kim Crawford
For a newcomer to sauvignon blanc, I recommend Kim Crawford. This brand pays an incredible amount of attention to the growth and harvesting process—as a bonus, their practices are great for sustainability.
The Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc has an outstanding balance between the herbal and fruit characteristics of the wine. With this wine, you get the best of both worlds: hints of citrus, tropical fruit, and a wonderful note of crushed herbs.
The bright acidity of this wine makes it feel refreshing and crisp, but it also has a lovely weight that allows the flavor to linger on the palate so you can enjoy all those complex tasting notes. As a result, the Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc is perfect for accessing the richness of this wine variety while still maintaining the refreshing quality that you like to see in white wine.
This guide just includes the basics to get started, but experimenting with wine can be a fun and rewarding form of enrichment. These are some of the classic red and white wine varieties to familiarize yourself with, and they each have some delightful characteristics to experience.
Understanding wine helps in many areas, including dinner hosting, ordering drinks while out, and making informed choices when cooking. With its broad range of flavors, often in unexpected combinations, wine can also spark our culinary creativity and challenge us to think outside of the box.
Once you become a wine drinker, you open yourself up to constantly discovering new flavors and preferences. For instance, I tend to gravitate towards darker reds such as Syrah, but recently I’ve been experimenting with crisp white wines like pinot grigio.
When looking for new wines to try, consider age, growth process, and location of origin. Now that you have some knowledge on the subject, you can decide whether you prefer a pinot gris or a pinot grigio, or choose between a cabernet sauvignon from a warm and cooler climate.
Whatever direction your palate may take you, best of luck in your exhilarating adventure of discovering the rich and complex world of wine.
Looking to expand your tastes into the world of dark liquor? Check out our comprehensive guide to beginner whiskey brands!
Which wine is your favorite? Comment below and let us know so we can take a look!
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