When you first get started in the wine world, you have questions. You’re probably not sure how much to spend. You might be worried that wine experts will give you complicated advice. Use this guide to the best beginner wines to find delicious wines that are easy to enjoy.
To help you find dry wines you love, let’s cover four broad wine types: white, red, sparkling, and sweet. Wine experts will tell you that there is far more to the wine world. For now, we’re keeping life simple so that you can find the best beginner wines.
Before diving in further, some wine words are worth learning. To help you along your wine journey, check out this guide to wine terms: 24 Wine Terms For Wine Beginners. Learning a few wine terms is one of the best ways to improve your wine experience and avoid bad wines.
White Wines For Beginners
Nearly all major wine regions produce white wines. Start with the best-known white grapes like Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris), Chardonnay, and Riesling when you are first getting started. As a starting point, give yourself a reasonable wine budget of at least $20 per bottle. Yes, inexpensive wine is less than $20, but it is difficult to find quality dry wines at low prices.
There are wine producers and wine regions in many countries around the world. While Travel By Glass focuses on French wine, my wine journey started on a local level. I grew up in Canada, so I mostly enjoyed a wide range of Canadian wines for many years. Starting with local wines is a good choice because you can often get quality wines in a reasonable price range. Local wines do not have expensive shipping and taxes after all.
Start With The Best Known White Grapes
In reality, there are thousands of different white grapes used by wine producers all around the world. In this wine basics guide, let’s first build your wine journey with the most popular white grapes. You will see these wine grapes in French wines, Italian wine, and many other places. If the tannin content in red wine varietals doesn’t appeal to you, start with white wines.
Chardonnay wines are produced all over the world. For a fun introduction to the different styles, pick up a bottle of California Chardonnay from the Napa Valley and pick up a bottle of Chardonnay from France. You’ll see the immediate differences due to differences in the winemaking process. Chardonnay wines are typically high in terms of alcohol content (i.e., 13-15%).
Have you ever heard of wines with a buttery flavor? The best place to find that experience is in a bottle of Chardonnay that has been aged in oak barrels.
Sauvignon Blanc is produced in multiple countries around the world. If you are focused on affordable wines, I would recommend looking for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Of course, you can also find fantastic Sauvignon Blanc in France in Sancerre, part of the Loire wine region. Sauvignon Blanc wines have lower alcohol levels than Chardonnay – 12.5% to 14% on average.
For more tips on finding your next bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, check out this post: Good Sauvignon Blanc: Recommended Wines from France and New Zealand.
Riesling is a famous white wine for beginners because it is made in so many different types. In terms of food pairings, a bottle of semi-sweet Riesling to go with your next order of spicy food. Riesling also goes well with many seafood dishes. To find the best beginner wines in Riesling, go to the Alsace region of France and Germany. For the American interpretation of Riesling, the Finger Lakes region of New York is a good bet.
Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio
This white wine goes by different names depending on where you pick it up. In France, this type of wine is usually called Pinot Gris. In Italy, most wine producers call it “Pinot Grigio.” It is generally considered one of the best beginner wines because it is smooth and easy to drink.
When shopping for the best beginner wines, starting with dry white wines is often a good place to start. However, these wines represent just one part of the wine world. Your wine journey is far from complete until you explore a few more types of wine.
Red Wines For Beginners
Finding the best beginner wines in the red wine category is easy. You can use the same principles we covered above, like “Go Local,” to find quality red wines made in your region or country. In terms of wine basics, we will start with the most common types of red wine.
The principle of starting with the best-known international grapes also applies to red wines. Let’s take a look at the most popular red wine grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon: The Classic Full-Bodied Red Wine
Widely grown in France, California, and other wine regions, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety is one of the most popular red wines in the world. Generally, the wine is medium or full-bodied. Expect the wine to taste like black currants. Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic pairing for steak and other rich meat dishes. In terms of alcohol levels, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be relatively high.
If you are hunting for a bottle of wine from Bordeaux or anywhere else in France, you will probably not see the grape listed on the wine label. You have to learn which French wine regions produce which wine grapes. For example, Bordeaux red wines typically feature a blend of several grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The French wine industry in Bordeaux loves to use blends to create complex wines. When you add that blend of red wine and age it in oak barrels, you get some of the best wine production in the world. Some people even buy bottles of wine as “investment wines,” but that is entirely optional.
Tip for Beginner Wine Drinkers: When you see the phrase “full-bodied wines,” that usually translates into higher alcohol levels. It isn’t entirely accurate to reduce wine body to alcohol levels, but it is an excellent shorthand to keep in mind.
Merlot has a long history as one of the world’s most popular red wines. Merlot is commonly recommended as one of the best beginner wines for one reason: low tannins. Low tannins mean that the wine has little of the bitterness that some people dislike in red wine. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is a popular wine grape in France, America, and numerous other places.
Pinot Noir can be a bit of a tricky wine to enjoy as a beginner. On the one hand, there are good examples of affordable Pinot Noir produced in the Pacific Northwest of the USA and other places. However, there are also $1,000 bottles (and higher!) of Pinot Noir made in France.
Pinot Noir was also famously featured in the novel and movie “Sideways” as the favorite wine of one of the characters. Want to watch something with your wine? Check out my guide to the Best Wine Movies On Netflix: 10 Must-See Films.
Shiraz (also known as Syrah)
Picking up a bottle of Australian Shiraz wine is almost always an excellent pick for a wine beginner. For a contrast, pick up a bottle of Syrah from the Rhône Valley of France. This red wine is generally described as tasting like black pepper, smoked meat, and berries in terms of taste. Wien drinkers who prefer somewhat sweet flavors find a lighter Shiraz from Australia to be a good choice.
For Americans, Zinfandel has a special status. It is a wine grape that is mainly produced in the US. Originally made from a Croatian grape, Zinfandel is made in several different styles. For example, you can pick up a bottle of light wine that is made to be enjoyed right away. There are also bottles of Zinfandel wine designed to be aged and enjoyed later.
Sparkling Wines For Beginners
No guide to the best beginner wines would be complete without covering sparkling wines. For years, you might have only enjoyed champagne or sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve. In reality, sparkling wine is a great drink to enjoy on many occasions. Outside of North America, many people enjoy sparkling wines throughout the year, not just during the holidays.
As a wine beginner, you probably have one concern about the high price of sparkling wines, especially champagne.
What About Wine Glasses?
Wine drinkers can enjoy wine with all kinds of wine glasses. The main rule of thumb is simple: you want clean, completely transparent wine glasses. If you want to upgrade your wine glasses, check out my post on the Best Wine Glasses. It covers both budget-friendly options and higher-end wine glasses when you’re looking for an upgrade.
Looking For Beginner Wine Books?
Reading a few beginner wine books is one of the best ways to learn about the history of wine. Whether you have a growing wine collection or a handful of bottles, reading a few books will help you understand the complex descriptions you see in the wine world. Pour a glass of wine and pick up a bit of wine knowledge with these books.
When you get started as a wine beginner, you’re probably going to have plenty of questions like what wines go with Asian cuisines? You can find answers to every food wine pairing question in this short, wonderfully well-illustrated wine book. Whether you want wine pairings for steak, junk food, or brunch, this book has you covered. The author also shares her wine journey, encounters with wine snobs, and more.
For more insight on this wine book, read the full review here: 10 Reasons Why “Big Macs & Burgundy” Is The Best Food Wine Pairing Book In The World.
Curious about the world of investment wines? This history of wine book is an excellent point of entry. You’ll learn how people build their wine collection at auctions, the secrets of wine snobs, and one of the greatest wine mysteries in the world. The book revolves around a bottle of wine said to be owned by U President Thomas Jefferson. This is a fantastic book, whether you want to learn about the art of creating a wine collection, wine auctions, the French wine industry, or wine history. It is a real-world historical mystery book.
Find out more about the real mystery of Thomas Jefferson’s wines in my review: The Billionaire’s Vinegar: Unlocking the Real Mystery of Thomas Jefferson’s Wines.
As a wine enthusiast, you can also pick up a bit of wine knowledge by enjoying wine fiction. Whether you want wine novels set in France, Italy, or America, there is a story for you. Check out this guide to wine fiction with thirteen novels to enjoy.