When I started my wine journey, I did it on the strength of knowing exactly two wines: riesling and moscato d'Asti. And just like I did, everyone needs to start somewhere, because wine can be an acquired taste. That's why knowing some of the best-tasting wines is a great way to kickstart your beginner's journey.
So if you're new to the world of wine, try some varieties that are almost universally beloved. These accessible wines are a perfect place for newbies to begin, with sippable flavors and enticing aromas that will bring you back to wine again and again.
Best-Tasting White Wines for Beginners
Wine preferences are super personal. But some white wines are a lot tastier for beginners to drink than others. Whites are always a great place for people new to wine to begin because they tend to have fewer of the more challenging aspects that reds have (like bitter tannins).
As I mentioned, riesling was my gateway wine, and I adore it to this day. Some other whites I cut my wine-tasting teeth on include other light-bodied and easily drinkable whites that simply taste amazing, no matter how much wine-drinking experience you have.
Riesling can range from very dry to very sweet. But what's super exciting about riesling is that no matter how sweet it is, it seldom tastes cloying because a nice acidity balances the sweetness. In a riesling, you'll find flavors of honeysuckle, tree fruits — like apple or apricots — or tropical fruits like pineapple.
Riesling is an incredibly food-friendly wine. It works well with dishes ranging from mild to spicy. For spicier dishes, try a sweeter riesling.
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
Pinot grigio and pinot gris are the same grape. They're just called different names in different parts of the world. Generally, pinot grigio is a dry wine, although there are tasty sweet dessert versions, too. The wine is light and crisp, so it's a refreshing summer wine. You'll love the flavors of apple, citrus, and nectarine that come through in this light-bodied wine.
Moscato d'Asti was an early wine discovery for me. I love its slightly fizzy character. It's not super sweet, but it does have a light sweetness with flavors of almonds and apricots. It's like drinking a yummy juice that tickles your nose. What's not to love about that?
This is a crisp, refreshing light-bodied white with simple flavors that include kiwi, citrus, and herbs. It's also a wonderful summer wine because it's so refreshing. I love to sip a perfectly chilled sauvignon blanc on the patio in the summer alongside a light salad or grilled shrimp.
Delicious Red Wines for Beginners
People new to wine may find reds a bit more of a challenge because they tend to be fuller-bodied and sometimes tannic. My early favorites were a fruit-forward Australian shiraz and a light and food-friendly pinot noir.
These wines come from the same grape that's called different things, depending on where the wine is produced. Down under in the Southern Hemisphere, it's mostly called shiraz, while in the Northern Hemisphere, we call it syrah.
For people new to reds, I especially love an Aussie shiraz because it tends to be jammy and mouthwateringly delicious with ripe fruit notes of plums and blueberry and hints of black pepper.
I'm less than two hours away from Oregon's premier pinot noir region, the Willamette Valley, so you can bet I've sipped on a lot of pinot noir in my life. Pinot noir (sometimes just called pinot) is a light to medium-bodied, food-friendly red.
It's so easy to fall in love with pinot noir, even if you don't fancy yourself a red wine enthusiast. Especially if you love flavors of cocoa, cherry, and baking spice — and who doesn't love that?
This chillable red from France is light and fruity without any heavy oak or bitter tannins. It's released on the third Thursday in November every year, and it's a light, youthful wine that is actually meant to be enjoyed fresh, so it's closer to juice than wine.
It's fruity and fresh, with flavors of berries and cherries. Buy it when it comes out, and drink it right away.
More Great-Tasting Wines
If you don't love wine yet, but you're pretty sure you want to, some of these other wines are also great places to start.
- Dessert wines like ice wine (eiswein) and late-harvest wines are sweet and often have honeyed, fruit flavors that most people love.
- Blush or rosé wines are light pink wines with equally light flavors. Many people love the crisp fruit notes found in these wines.
- Prosecco is a sparkling Italian white wine that is light and refreshing. You can find it in dry (not sweet) or off-dry (sweet), so there's a little something for everyone.
- Fruit wines are fantastic for beginners. An early favorite for me was a light strawberry wine that a local winery made with its berry harvest. It tasted like summer.
Getting Started With Wine
There really isn't one type of wine that every single beginner will love. On the other hand, there are many delicious wines for the budding wine enthusiast to try before moving on to heavier wines. The factors that may affect how pleasing you find a wine include:
Wine is fruit juice that has been fermented. Most of it is fermented grape juice, but you'll find wines made from all sorts of different fruits, too. What gives the wine its body, aroma, and flavor characteristics depends on the blend of grapes or fruits used, the vintner's technique, and how the wine is stored while it's aging.
Beginning wine drinkers may want to stick with simple, less complex wines that won't overwhelm the taste buds.
Wine has many flavors, depending on the type. For example, many reds have flavors such as dark fruits, leather, tobacco, berries, and cherries. White wines may have flavors such as toast, spice, citrus fruits, apples, tropical fruit, and pears.
If you've ever heard someone refer to the "mouth feel" of a wine, they are referring to the viscosity, meaning, how heavy or light the wine feels in your mouth. Beginning wine lovers tend to enjoy wines that are light on the palate. Lighter-bodied wines include Beaujolais Nouveau and sauvignon blanc.
Whether or not you care about the aromatics of wine depends on how much you want to delve into the wine world. If you're looking to become an expert, you need to learn how to differentiate the subtle aromatic notes in any type of wine. If you just want to understand a little more about what you're drinking, the basics will do. Aromatics depend on many factors including the grapes, the terroir (where the wine is grown), and how the wine is aged. Viognier and grenache are very aromatic wines.
Many beginning wine drinkers prefer wines with slightly more sweetness than some dry wines have. The wine doesn't need to be sugary sweet, just not so dry that it makes your mouth pucker. Winemakers create wines in a wide range of sweetness that depends on varietal, residual sugar, when the grapes are harvested, alcohol content, and types of grapes used.
Sweetness ranges from dry reds and whites like cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay to very sweet dessert wines such as Port or ice wine. For many beginners, off-dry (semi-sweet) wines such as moscato d'Asti and pinot noir are a perfect starting point.
Follow Your Palate
My wine journey started with a few simple sips. And as I discovered just how amazing each wine was, it made me want to try another and another. I've followed my palate for more than 30 years, and I've loved every step of it. That doesn't mean I love every wine I try, but I enjoy many of them.
And now I'm inviting you to follow your palate, too. Discover a wine you enjoy. Then ask your local wine shop for something similar but still different. It doesn't need to be an expensive or fancy wine. Simply try things, learn what you like, and then move on to something else. It's a great way to explore wine, one sip at a time.