Baby Steps Towards Wine Geekdom

By Ryan Snyder

Category: Wine for Newbies

Now that we've already explored some of the differences with wine's primary grapes, we can perhaps purchase a bottle of each, pop the cork and see what we think. Whether you start with red wine or white wine makes no difference, as you may find that you like some of each instead of one over another.

Creating a Shopping List

So let's begin by wandering down to the local wine shop with a list of wines we'd like to try. The best list to start with is a list of the primary grapes we explored in the previous section. Here's a recommendation for a wine from each region to start with:

• Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California
• Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley, California
• Merlot from the Right Bank of Bordeaux, France
• Pinot Gris from Alsace, France
• Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon
• Riesling Spätlese from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
• Shiraz from Barossa Valley, Australia

Take this list in to your local wine purveyor and ask him for his recommendations on each. Your price point is up to you, but we'd recommend starting at around a $20 price point for each wine. You can find gems at $10, but you may want to pay a little more to make sure you get a good bottle until you know which producers are going to be a sure bet. You should be able to find a delicious bottle for each of the regions we've recommended within this price range.

Taking Notes

As you're tasting your first wines, make written or mental notes about the wines you're trying. Maybe you think the Riesling's body is too thin, while you find the Chardonnay's heavier body ideal. Perhaps the Cabernet Sauvignon is too tannic for your tastes and you prefer the way the Pinot Noir slides smoothly down your throat. Regardless, you'll start to notice little idiosyncrasies in each varietal that you either like or dislike, and soon you'll realize which wines are made just for you.

After your initial purchase, you may be wondering where to venture next. These options are as plentiful as the bottles of wine that fill the shelves. If you find that you prefer one grape over another, seek a bottle of that same varietal from a different locale in a nearby region. Instead of Barossa Valley, try a Shiraz from McLaren Vale, Australia. Venture down the coast from Oregon and try a Pinot Noir from Monterey, California instead.

Crossing an ocean is also a fun way to see how a grape fares in a different locale. If you like California Chardonnay, try a white Burgundy. Nearly all Burgundian whites are made from Chardonnay grapes, so finding one won't be a problem. Keep an eye out for Pouilly-Fuisse for a more modest purchase, and Chablis or Chassagne-Montrachet for something extra-special. If syrah is your thing, then move over to France's Rhône Valley for earthier examples of that grape. Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas provide great, affordable examples, while Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage are a little pricier, but likely to knock your socks off.

Or, maybe you're feeling especially curious and would like to explore a new varietal. If you like dry reds, look to Chianti from Italy or Rioja from Spain for something new. For light, fruit forward reds, try a Pinot Noir from New Zealand or maybe a Malbec from Argentina. For dry whites, try a Soave from Northern Italy or an Albariño from Spain. For an interesting spicy white, try a Gewürztraminer from Alsace, France. When it comes to exploring the world of wine, it's the journey, not the destination, that matters most.

Is it a Region or a Grape?

When perusing bottles of wine in the local wine shop, even winegeeks who have been buying and tasting wine for years can become confused as to whether the wine label is referring to a grape or a region. Here's a list of grapes you're bound to find on wine labels:

Aglianico

Albariño

Aligoté

Arneis

Assyrtiko

Barbera

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Sauvignon

Chardonnay

Chenin Blanc

Dolcetto

Dornfelder

Fumé Blanc

Gewürztraminer

Grenache

Grüner Veltliner

Huxelrube

Kerner

Lambrusco

Marsanne

Maréchal Foch

Merlot

Muscat

Müller-Thurgau

Nebbiolo

Norton

Pedro Ximénez

Petite Sirah

Picpoul

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Gris

Pinot Noir

Pinotage

Primitivo

Prosecco

Riesling

Roussanne

Sangiovese

Sauvignon Blanc

Silvaner

Shiraz

Syrah

Tempranillo

Teroldego

Torrontés

Verdejo

Vernaccia

Viognier

Zweigelt

Zinfandel




Popular Regions and their Grapes

While not a comprehensive list, these are some of the regions that you'll find on the shelves at your local wine shop. We've listed beside them the country they're from and the grapes they're made of:





Region

Location

Grapes

Barbaresco

Piedmont, Italy

Nebbiolo

Barolo

Piedmont, Italy

Nebbiolo

Chablis

Burgundy, France

Chardonnay

Champagne

Champagne, France

Chardonnay
Pinot Noir
Pinot Meunier

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Grenache
Syrah
... and 11 others

Chianti

Tuscany, Italy

Sangiovese

Hermitage

Rhône Valley, France

Syrah

Mâcon

Burgundy, France

Chardonnay

Pauillac

Bordeaux, France

Cabernet Sauvignon
Merlot

Pouilly-Fumé

Loire Valley, France

Sauvignon Blanc

Pouilly-Fuissé

Burgundy, France

Chardonnay

Prosecco

Veneto, Italy

Prosecco

Rioja

Pais Vasco, Spain

Tempranillo

Sancerre

Loire Valley, France

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauternes

Bordeaux, France

Semillon
Sauvignon Blanc

Saint-Émilion

Bordeuax, France

Merlot
Cabernet Franc

Saint-Estèphe

Bordeaux, France

Cabernet Sauvignon
Merlot

Volnay

Burgundy, France

Pinot Noir

Vouvray

Loire Valley, France

Chenin Blanc