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What to Serve to Wine Novices


If you have recently found yourself being referred to as an Oenophile, or at least are beginning to refer to yourself as one, you are bound to find yourself among friends who may not (yet) share your passion for this delicious beverage. When you do find yourself hosting these individuals at your home, inevitably the question of “what should I serve to friends who can’t possibly appreciate what they are drinking?” will come up. Fortunately, you can use this article as a guide in directing wine novices on their path to wine expertise.

There are two simple approaches to doing this. You can begin by trying to educate them, or you can attempt to pass off any old wine on the assumption that they won’t notice. While the second option seems as if it will make everything go easier, the first option presents a challenge that can be fun to entertain. As the old saying goes ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him appreciate the difference between great wine and 2 buck Chuck.’

Here is a rough sketch of what we believe to be a good learning curve which can help to bring a stark newbie up to the point where they can drink a Cabernet and not exclaim “that’s really bitter!”

White Zinfandel. This seems to be most people’s jumping off point for wine since it is sweet and tangy. While you may thoroughly enjoy a good white zin every so often, we very much so encourage you to expand your flavor palate and try some bolder flavors.

Riesling. To begin with we suggest trying the Columbia Winery Riesling. It has a lot of peach flavors, and is not as cloyingly sweet as some Rieslings, but it is sweet enough, and mild enough, that a beginner can appreciate it. The peach flavor is pronounced enough that even a beginner can pick it out. This wine has become known among certain circles as a great “training wine.”

Gewurztraminer. Somewhere along the line, someone told the guys at the wine stores that “Gewurztraminer” is German for “spicy” or some such nonsense, and they have been spouting it ever since. Gewurztraminer is a light, crisp wine, with honey and vanilla flavors. When we think “spicy”, we think “Shiraz”. Perhaps that’s just us though. We think that Gewurztraminer is another good beginner wine, because it contains multiple flavors which are easy to pick out.

A dry Chardonnay. It is sometimes difficult to pick a good chard, due to the fact that they all tend to be very oak like in taste, which some people prefer, however, a chardonnay is many people’s first taste of a drier wine, and chardonnays vary so much from one producer to another that it is a good place to learn something about the characters of different wines.

Cabernet Blanc or Pinot Grigios. We are at the top of the white wines now, which means that now would be the worst time to turn the beginner off to wine by giving them a bad experience with a Cab Blanc or a Pinot Grigio. Cabernet Blancs tend to be dry and full bodied, but some of the Napa CB’s have some wonderful fruit in them that make them a worthwhile taste. A Pinot Grigio might be a better choice here, since they can be a little fruitier.

Pinot Noir. The time has come to start on red wines, but we don’t what to scare them off. So start with something light and fruity. Select a Pinot Noir that is well aged, and has words on the label such as “light” and “fruity”. Don’t worry, we’ll be moving to real wines soon.

Merlot For some people this could easily come before the Pinot Noir, they are similar in taste, yet can be easily distinguishable if you have spent any amount of time tasting wines.

Zinfandel After having introduced a wine novice to both Merlot and Pinot Noir, it is time to show them what a Zinfandel really is, and that a White Zinfandel is really just a Zinfandel with its entire flavor removed. We recommend the Charles Krug Zin, which is full bodied, but does not bowl you over.

Shiraz. By this point, you have either completely scared your friends off, or they are enjoying the adventure. Serve them a Shiraz. Start small, with something such as a Rosemont Shiraz, and move up to a Lindeman’s and then perhaps a Penfolds. Another nice thing that the Australians do really well is to mix two varietals. Sure, everybody does it, but the Australians tell you about it. A California Cabernet might be 30% Pinot, but they don’t tell you that. Rosemont has a lovely Shiraz/Grenache mix that lets you taste the flavors of the Shiraz, but keeps them soft. A great beginners’ wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon The time has come for King Cab. If the beginner has hung on this long, they are no longer a beginner. You might want to still ease into this – Penfolds has a wonderful Shiraz/Cabernet, and Rosemont has a good Cabernet/Shiraz, but, eventually, every real wine drinker needs to learn to appreciate a good Cabernet.

Others From here, you can pretty much go anywhere you like, since the beginner is no longer a beginner. A nice Pauliac, Medoc, Carignan, or Bordeaux at this point would be a good move. It is really up to you.


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