Please sign in to post.

Advice for a wine novice.

I am a craft beer drinker and have not had red wine very often in my life. Being brought up Catholic, I recall the communion stuff that caused me to make "that face" when sipping out of the challis.

However, I want to learn more about wine and take time to learn to drink and appreciate it before our April trip. So my for my New Year's-ish resolution: I want to drink ;-)

My beverage of choice is generally a craft beer. I live in Asheville, NC (the self-proclaimed beer city with over 1000 local craft beers on tap and double-digit local breweries). The closest thing we have to a winery here in town is our Biltmore house.

So, tell me how to get started. Ideas?

Posted by
5593 posts

Her's one link on tasting wine, or at least how to look good tasting wine:
http://www.winemag.com/2015/08/25/how-to-taste-wine/

But the bottom line is if it taste good (to you) it's good. And a "great" wine before its time is expensive and will not be as enjoyable as a craft beer.

Taste with nuts (tannin) and test with fruit.

Posted by
590 posts

Many liquor stores will have knowledgeable sales people who could get you started on the right track. You'll probably want to start trying different wines that they suggest. Make notes and try to describe what you do and don't like about the wines. On return trips, they can help steer you towards other wines to try based off your feedback.

And, keep in mind they're a complex creature and change depending on what you're consuming with the wine. For instance, I'm not a huge fan of sweet white wines. But, they can still pair marvelously with a blue cheese, for instance, and be enjoyable.

Posted by
4637 posts

Well, you need to start with your Biltmore House. Of course North Carolina is not well known for its wines. But I noticed they make some wines from grapes which grew in California. First things first. Start with theory. There are many books about wine (even in my bookcase). You don't want to start with too much detailed information. I would recommend Windows On the World - Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly. Many of your questions will be answered right there. May I ask where you plan to go in April? I assume to some wine country. I just noticed you posted under Italy. So I assumed right because Italy is a wine country. The best wines in the USA are close to the west coast. If you get there before your trip to Italy it could widen your horizon. IMHO the areas with the best wine: in California - Napa Valley, in Washington Walla Walla, in Oregon Willamette Valley. I wish you success.

Posted by
7737 posts

Start ordering a glass of either the house white or house red, depending on what you're eating. The waiter will tell you which will work better.

Posted by
1359 posts

A Google search turned up the Asheville Wine Market, the Appalachian Vintner, and Metro Wines. I suggest you pay one of these places a visit, tell them you're going to Italy and you want to learn about Italian wine, and see how helpful they are. If they aren't willing to take some time to help you learn, try one of the others. Of course, if they're really helpful, you'll probably want to buy a few bottles of some wines you enjoy. Then at home you can try them with various different foods and start to get a sense of which wines go with which dishes. This could become a fun adventure that will build your anticipation in advance of your trip. Enjoy!

Posted by
4637 posts

The link from Edgar is very helpful. Subscribe to some wine magazines like Wine Enthusiast mentioned there.

Posted by
287 posts

Here are some things that I have learned over the years.

If you go to a wine tasting start with the dryer wines and then end with the sweeter wines.

I prefer a sweeter wine. I am like you and don't like that bitter taste that comes with the dryer wines.

Other fruits than Grapes are fun to try! I am a big fan of Blueberry, Cherry, Mango, and Peach. I have a Rhubarb wine begging me to try.

I found a NC Winery list online, maybe this might help? http://www.ncwine.org/wineries

Don't forget to try the whites too!

I say have fun with it and find what you like and don't be afraid to explore!

Posted by
5593 posts

Back in the 1970s Kermit Lynch had an interesting anecdote about a old winemaker of Italian heritage in the Santa Curz area of California. Kermit stopped at this small volume winemaker roadside stand and bought a bottle after sampling that turned out to be very good at its price. Kermit returned on a later trip to Santa Cruz and bought a case that turned out to be bad (flawed). On revisiting the old winemaker, he discovered the reason for the bad wine. The wine maker bottled from the barrel on demand. As the barrel drew down, the wine was exposed to more oxygen distressing the wine.

That brings me to a second story heard from friends bike touring the Tuscon region. The stoped at a sign indicating free wine tasting with a direction arrow to the back of the building. On going to the back, there was a wine spigot sticking out of the wall but no tasting glassess. The filled the palm of their hand....

Wine quality can vary from house wines to vintage viariatals. The moral to the stories is to enjoy the expreince pairing wines with good food and good company and not take the wine thing too seriously.

Posted by
362 posts

Biltmore House wines........double yuck!! Don't bother with that for sure. I am also a craft beer person and live not far from Sierra Nevada's new brewery, hooray!! However, for wine I have 2 recommendations in Asheville: Asheville Wine Market and Table Wine. Check out their websites. Including dates of monthly free wine tastings. Staff at both shops are very knowledgeable and it would be fun for them to introduce you to some typical wines of Italy. Be aware that wines vary widely from one part of Italy to another so try the wines most typical of the regions you will be visiting. For example, don't bother with Chianti wine if you'll mostly be in Venice and don't bother with Prosecco if you'll mostly be in Tuscany and farther south. One common denominator is that wine is not expensive, some downright cheap. So don't let the wine stores steer you to high priced vintages unless you just want to splurge. A very decent bottle for 10-12 bucks here will cost only 3 euro in an Italian grocery store.

Posted by
2856 posts

The suggestions to check out a local wine store with a knowledgeable staff, and/or with regular tastings, is a very good one. For book learning, look for a mainstream book like The Wine Bible. When you know what country and areas you'll be visiting, do a Google search to find magazine articles and postings about the area. By the way, one very knowledgeable wine person has his company based in Asheville, and I believe he still lives there: John-David Headrick. He is a wine importer/selector (strictly French). If you feel like it you can contact him at: jd@jondavidwine.com. Feel free to use my name if you want to (Bob Rossi). I haven't seen him in awhile, but he'll probably remember me.
By the way, my city (Portland, Maine) now has the most craft breweries per capita of any city in America. It's possible Asheville might be number 2.

Posted by
901 posts

I would second the advice to avoid going to the Biltmore house to sample their wines. Been there, done that! Not the best. North Carolina wines are generally not that good, so going to a wine store to ask to sample some wines from other regions, or to purchase and try them at home would be a better suggestion.

Posted by
2382 posts

Communion wine is bad! Judging wine on that is like judging beer on...whatever horrible, warm, cheap keg stuff I drank in college.

Get a basic book (not a huge tome for wine obsessives). I started with Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine, which I fully recommend. It goes through the major types of wines, and the regions, and breaks it down into small chunks in an easy style.

Then go to a store with a good selection and start trying things. If you have a dedicated wine store (as opposed to a liquor store or grocery store), they will have tastings. If not, just start trying things.

Better yet, go to a nicer restaurant with a by-the-glass list. If it's a good, local, respected restaurant, the servers will know their wine list and the wines are likely to be at least not-bad. Don't try this at a dive bar or cheap diner, though!

Unlike beer, not every region makes good wine. I have not had North Carolina wine, I am sure some of it is good, but you will have more luck with the regions known for their wine. Especially try some from the countries you will be visiting.

Posted by
257 posts

We started doing wine parties with friends. We would rotate houses, have a theme a region or style and everyone would bring a bottle, everybody would buy one but get to sample the various ones. Good way to affordably try lots of wines over a few months without breaking the bank. If you bought something you didn't like you don't feels so bad about it.

Posted by
5457 posts

And, if by the time you get to Italy you still don't like wine, Pellegrino is available at restaurants.

Posted by
4294 posts

I like Michael's idea of ordering a glass of wine with meals in restaurants. The wait staff will be delighted to help you choose something. This is a fairly inexpensive way to be introduced to a variety of wines. Wines by the glass are often comparable in price to a decent beer. House wines are often as low as $6 or $7 a glass.

On another sub-topic: Our friends just got back from North Carolina and presented us with a bottle of BIltmore cab. We haven't tried it yet, but the "reviews" here are not encouraging!

Edit: Definitely do not use communion wine as an example of what wine should taste like. I figure they use a yucky wine so people will only have a sip. I am related to one person who always take a big swallow, however. But she has issues. :-)

Posted by
48 posts

I was there once. I prefer craft beer. I went to Rome and felt like I should drink wine, since I was in wine heaven. I just wasn't feeling it. So I googled craft beer and Rome and found an awesome little beer place that served Italian craft beer. It was funny bumping into American beer nuts there. One was a grad student that was going that fall to study fermentation science at Oregon State and a 'kid' from Oregon studying there. 'Ma che siete venuti a fa' is the name of the place if you're in Rome...hopefully not an offensive name!

Enjoy the wine, don't turn your back on the beer.

Posted by
1859 posts

I just Googled to see if there is a Whole Foods in Asheville, and it appears there is. Check out their cooking classes, as (at least in Nashville), there are often just Wine Tasting evenings. Their cooking school is called Salud here in Nashville, so you may find a link off the Asheville Whole Foods web site for the same. I didn't look, but seems I recall the wine tastings/classes we've attended in the past have ranged from $10-$30 per person. And, even better, sometimes a Wine/Chocolate evening is also offered :) During the tastings/class, a lot of information is shared (and you will get handouts to take home), so you will learn a lot, too.

And, I will add that my spouse found that he liked the red wines in Europe much better than the ones at home (likely because they don't have the sulfites, we were told).

When in Europe, we just always order a half carafe of house wine, which is almost always less expensive than other offerings and surprisingly good (for our tastes).

Posted by
4514 posts

Some good advice so far. In general, the only way to learn about wine is to try it. Same with beer. It can be easier of late with beer as so many craft breweries do tastings or offer tasting sizes. You can often try 4-6 beers easily without over-indulging. Wines rarely come in less than a full pour glass; although sometimes restaurants do offer half pours. If any local shops or liquor stores offer wine tastings, take advantage. Write down what you like and dislike so you can refer back.

Once you are in Italy (or Europe in general), it becomes much easier. I've learned the most about wine by drinking in Europe (which leaves me with a slight preference for European wines versus American). Wines by the glass are very cheap and even full bottles can be very inexpensive. House wines are harder to learn with since it may be non-descript or a blend (although usually very good). Waiters will almost always be very helpful if you ask what they recommend with your meal. Again, write down what you like and you can almost always find that type of wine back home.

Posted by
595 posts

The web is your friend ;-) A few minutes searching found these:

Ashville has a school of wine. http://ashevilleschoolofwine.com/index.php

The Asheville School of Wine was founded in 2014 by Gina Trippi, John Kerr, Kendal Klein, and Andy Hale at Metro Wines. Our goal is to educate, inspire and encourage knowledge of wine in Asheville, and to help make it a worldwide culinary destination. We aim to provide the citizens of Asheville with the tools to become educated and knowledgeable consumers of wine

A local wine store also sponsors blind tastings: http://www.blindtastingleague.com/index.php

I suggest starting with the classes rather than dropping in at local wineries or stores with open tastings. You want to get exposure to different flavors and smells of wine to learn about the range of wine. Taking a class is helpful because you get the benefit both of the instructor and the opinions/comments of your fellow students. Someone says "I smell leather" and that can help you find that scent in the nose too. You don't need to focus on wines for the region(s) you are visiting, at least not at the start.

It can also be helpful to get an intro book on wine. There are plenty on the market, and perhaps they have some at your local library. A company called the "Great Courses" also makes a video winetasting class, although I would only buy it if it is on sale and perhaps you can find free videos online that cover similar material.

Posted by
2382 posts

Another thought here - as a craft beer person you have an advantage over other people who may want to learn about wine. My uncle, for example, gets baffled by the idea that 2 red wines can be extremely different. To him, wine is red or white, no other distinction, and beer is Bud Light. Craft beer fans will know an IPA from a wheat beer from a pilsner and so on. Once you learn a bit you will be the same with a pinot noir vs a zinfandel!

Posted by
741 posts

We drink a lot of wine these days, but we hardly qualify as knowledgeable or sophisticated. But here's a simple, anecdotal rule of thumb we've arrived at: You can find quite a lot of inexpensive, perfectly drinkable white wine, but cheap red wine is abysmal. That $7 pinot grigio from Costco is just fine, but do yourself a favor and spend $12, $15 or $25 on a decent red. An Italian primitivo or Chianti would be a nice place to start. Cheers!

Posted by
31140 posts

I live in a wine-producing region, so wine tends to be my beverage of choice these days (although I do enjoy a pint of Guinness in the hot weather). I tend to prefer a "dry" wine and mostly drink red, although I don't mind a nice white on occasion. My current house wines are Cabernet Merlot and Pinot Grigio.

There's almost an infinite variety of wines and you'll have to do some research and some "taste tests" to find out which ones appeal to you. You might find these articles helpful....

http://www.winemag.com/2015/01/20/wine-for-beginners/

http://winefolly.com/wine-basics-beginners-guide/

If you have some holiday time coming up, you might consider a short trip to the west coast. Spend a couple of days in the Napa & Sonoma Valley as you'll get a good overview of wines there. As I recall, some of them have tasting rooms (it's been a few years, so my memory is "foggy" on which ones to visit). After that make an excursion up to Portland, as there are lots of interesting little craft breweries in that area.

Posted by
11852 posts

I'm opposite of Ken in that I almost never drink reds and choose whites if having wine at all (I prefer beer as well). You may find that you also prefer one over the other.

Posted by
49 posts

WOW! Such a great group of responses - thank you!!

I hope to be in a position to 'shop' elements of so many of these suggestions :-) As a Mom of 3 active boys who works FT, I need to learn on the go. I went ahead and joined the social media notifications for some local wine shops so hopefully, I can go to a tasting or visit for some assistance. When I go out to eat (very rare), I will take more time to see what they have and ask for recommendations. And, I will learn some basics especially regarding the regions we will be visiting (Rome and Florence).

I agree that I will NOT let the beer thing 'go' when in Italy, but my waistline suggests I limit it and my hope is that my love of beer will 'translate'.

Thanks to each of you who took time to respond!

Posted by
17 posts

You didn't say where in Italy you plan on going. That makes a bit of a difference. When wine drinking in Italy, try to drink local. You'll end up tasting allot of wines from vineyards that you will never find in the US because it simply doesn't make it here. Italians love wine and are very proud of what they produce. By ordering a glass or even a 1/2 liter pitcher of house wine, you will almost never go wrong, it will almost always be something produced locally and it will be as good as or better than most $20 bottles you buy in the US. If you stay away from tourist traps, no self respecting Italian restaurant owner will serve bad wine.

If all of that fails you, there is a growing craft beer scene in Italy. Remember, Italy is an agricultural country and hops and barley aren't that tough to grow. If you're a beer lover, it's kind of interesting to to see how they get combined.

Posted by
112 posts

The Great Courses has an excellent short course on "Everyday Wines of Italy". I'm buying this to prep for our Italy tour in 2017. I acquired a similar, but longer, course on French wines when we spent a month in France last year. If the attached link works, take a look. Also you need to buy some of the example wines before going and experience the goodness to learn. Enjoy!

http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/the-everyday-guide-to-wines-of-italy.html

Posted by
11852 posts

I agree that I will NOT let the beer thing 'go' when in Italy, but my
waistline suggests I limit it

Pish. Your waistline will be fine. You'll do enough walking and stair-climbing to wear off MANY beers (and gelato and pasta and pizza and...)!!!

Posted by
362 posts

Since you'll be in Rome, you may hear about Tree Folk's Pub, the only so-called pub in Rome. But it's not so good. It's all stuff from UK and pretty bland compared to the NC beers. They also sell hard cider which we were interested in trying since there are some great cideries in this area. Again, weak and bland. As someone else said, you can get Italian beer in restaurants and also in grocery stores. But it's more expensive than the wines.

Posted by
5593 posts

I will add that even bottled or caned beers can be a good adult beverage choice in Europe. A canned beer is not necessarily a lawnmower beer. I'd pick a good beer over a mediocre wine any day.

Posted by
8897 posts

Two points....

1) In the USA, we refer to wine by their varietals--Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot, etc. In Italy, the wines are classed by the regions.

2) Always, always, always, drink the local wine. I have found by ordering the house wine I always get something that is good and usually less expensive. Italians are very proud of their regions and the food and wine that is from that area.

Posted by
4294 posts

Frank II is right. We always ask for the house wine in Italy, usually a half or quarter liter. You can also get it by the glass. The only time we've been disappointed in the price and quality was in Sorrento, where the waiter opened a small bottle of wine, instead of serving us a carafe. It was overpriced and not as good as any other house wine we've ever had in Italy. Or Spain.

Posted by
4637 posts

Edgar, it is not that easy to pick a good beer over mediocre wine in Italy or France. I had bad luck with beer in both countries. I know only about two countries where there is no problem to pick a good beer and also good wine.

Posted by
31140 posts

Kathy,

"I'm opposite of Ken in that I almost never drink reds and choose whites if having wine at all"

I'm reconsidering white wine after reading this new revelation from a few days ago.....

http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/health/health-news/why-you-should-be-drinking-red-wine-not-the-white/news-story/062b5544ea3d501e427fed9699a46bc1

I'm sure the secret is "all things in moderation", but it was interesting to read this. I'm sure the findings in this study will be discounted by another study in a few months.

Posted by
11852 posts

Ken, I'm a hiker who has done more damage to my skin stomping about canyons and mesas in the blazing sun than I ever have drinking white wine! As much as I wish I could 'take' to reds, I just can't. Even the smell is yucky. And it's not as if I haven't tried!

So Italy is very nice. With dinner, the husband can have his 1/2 carafe of red and I get my 1/2 carafe of white, and we both have beer o'clock in the late afternoon when we can't manage another step!

Posted by
31140 posts

Kathy,

I'll probably still continue drinking white wine on occasion, despite this latest revelation. As I mentioned earlier, the secret might be "all things in moderation". The interesting thing about this study on white wine, is that the melanoma is occurring in body parts that don't get exposure to the sun.

Posted by
1778 posts

I suggest looking for wines from areas you plan to visit. Waiters in restaurants might know about Italian wine. Your real education will begin while in Europe. If you go to any wine centric town and sit down at a wine shop you'll get an education. Repeated visits to wine shops and wineries will reinforce what you learn. We took a wine class in Siena and another in Paris that were both worthwhile and fun. If you are like me, after your trip you'll look for wines from villages you have visited.

Posted by
112 posts

Please note my earlier response. I have received and am well into THE EVERYDAY GUIDE TO WINES OF ITALY course from the Great Courses (dvd and online, $30 + ) . It comes with a handy small guide of regional examples and food pairings supporting the course of 6 DVDs / sections each dealing with a region in history and detail of those regional offerings. The lecturer (same as the French wine course) is only 1 of 31 people in the US to hold the title of Master of Wine. Therefore given the quality presentation and expert lecturer, I suggest this is an excellent place to start your wine journey.