Dear New Wine Drinker is a six-minute read.
A FB group that I belong to is called WINE. There are 26,100+ members. Many are newbies to wine that know very little about it but obviously want to learn more (or why would they be a member in the first place).
A group member recently made his very first post on the page. As you can see, his thread merely said, “Just bought this, and it turned out to be very good.” And the flood gates opened. He was ridiculed shamelessly by a bunch of wine snobs. Others made suggestions about what else he should drink. And a few said if you like it, great.
At one point in the thread, the original poster asked some of the “snobs,” Well, what would you recommend? And there was silence (along with more rants). The silence can be deceiving. Why? Because they may have only wanted to rant. But for me, why I did not offer any suggestions is because wine distribution is complicated. And other than “grocery store” brands, like Apothic Dark, I have no idea what is available to him in his local area. So while I could have thrown out a variety, like Zinfandel, but not knowing where he shops, and that all wine is not created equally, I decided to take a different approach.
I so wanted to help this person, but I also did not want to get into the fray. And while I assumed that this person was a new wine drinker, I could be way off. So whether he is a new wine drinker or not, I decided that the best option was to offer some guidelines to help newbies understand the difference between wine and well “wine.”
So this is a post to all of the newbies out there…
Dear New Wine Drinker,
Apothic Dark – Lots of us started out drinking wine like this.
Some “of us” even became wine snobs (you know who you are). But I hope that is not me. We all start somewhere with a bottle that, for many, will never grace our lips again. Yes, there was a time that I occasionally drank the original Apothic before E. & J. Gallo bought the brand and nationalized it. Heck, I even blogged about a few similar wines in my early blogging days. But over time, my preferences changed. I started liking different characteristics in wine, and my palate became more discerning. As this occurred, I moved on to better quality wine that was within my budget.
Now, as I assume you are starting your wine journey, I hope you will read this and take advantage of what I have learned as I continue mine.
Dear New Wine Drinker
First, Understand Why You Like, What You Like.
The next time you open a bottle of wine you like, spend a few minutes jotting down notes that explain why you like this wine. Do not worry about the words you use but try using descriptive words like juicy, fruity, or dry; it reminds me of blueberry jam, or it tastes lemony, or it’s mouthwatering. Is it sweet or tart? Does your mouth dry out once you swallow? Write anything and everything down. The more, the better. Now save those notes; we will come back to that.
The next thing you need to do is take pictures of the front and back labels from bottles you tried and really liked. You will want both labels because the back label can give your retailer the information it needs to track down that wine. Keep these on your phone. Create a special folder. (we will get back to this as well.)
Before I get too far…
First and foremost, if you drink Apothic Dark and you love it. Good on you. If it brings you joy, then that is all that matters. It truly does not matter how it is made and from what resources. You like it. Period. As I said, we all started somewhere. Some folks move on, and some decide to stay right here.
But when and if you are ready to try something new, better quality, more interesting, or whatever your reason, let me offer some selection guidance.
Why It’s Usually Impossible To Recommend
A Specific Wine on a Social Media Platform, etc.
Because no two cities, states, or regions, etc., offer the same portfolios of wine.
To best explain, you have to think about wine in two primary groups. (this is a giant leap, but I think you will get what I am saying)
1. Nationalized and Industrially Produced, Mass-Market Wine,…
…i.e., Barefoot, Apothic, Meomi, Ménage à Trois (from large corporations like Constellation Brands, Trinchero Brands, E. & J. Gallo**, and others), as well as most wines (by volume) from Kendall Jackson*, Robert Mondavi*, and others like them.
These wines are from industrial producers that make so much of a single wine they can stock shelves in grocery, and other retail stores across the country and the world—millions of bottles at a time. The wine made in 2018 will taste exactly the same as the wine made in 2021. There is not a vineyard large enough to make millions of bottles of wine. And have it all taste the same. So to do this, lots and lots of chemistry and additives are involved. Which is why some folks turn there nose up to these wines.
These wines are not typically wines you will read about on wine blogs, or see in magazines, etc., because they are mass-market wines. So while I “could” recommend these wines, I do not because they are not my style.
2. Wines from producers that make wine with intention.
(Ok, that sounds snobby, but that is not how I mean it… please keep reading.) The intention may be to make an easy-to-drink yet well-made table wine, or it could be a wine made from grapes from a highly sought-after vineyard by a famous winemaker. And, of course, everything in between. These wines are usually made from fruit from a specific vineyard(s), from the same harvest year (vintage), and are limited. A winery may make 50 cases of a particular wine or 1,200 cases or more, based on the unique resources they have to make this wine. But it is certainly not enough to be sold across the country.
These wineries then choose to either sell their wine directly to the consumer (DTC) or through distributors who can get them into wine shops and restaurants or a combination of both sales channels. (for this post, I will focus on wine sold through distributors)
Distributors are regionally based and must sell their offerings within that region only. And they choose whose wines they want to sell. So a distributor in Maryland may carry XYZ wine from ABC winery, and then they only sell it to three wine retailers in that region. So these wines are only possible to recommend to folks that can access one of those three retailers. While I write about wines like these on my blog or Instagram, I have many local followers. But I also post about DTC wines as well. (DTC wine sales is also a F’ing nightmare if you do not live in a major wine-producing state, but that topic will be discussed in a later post.)
Bottom Line: All the various brands, variety, and depth of wines from various wineries, regions, states, and countries available to us here in Charleston, SC, will more than likely not be available to those who live outside of our distribution market.
Dear New Wine Drinker
Don’t Be Intimidated
I hear it all the time. Shopping for wine is intimidating. I don’t know what I am looking at, and I am embarrassed. Wine is a complicated and confusing product. Don’t get me started with how confusing wine bottle labels are. Or why some wines have clever names and others do not. Or why some countries name wines after their region instead of the grape. Also, do not fret if you do not understand wine terminology. You do not need to know any of this or anything else that might make you feel dumb or embarrassed when you shop for wine. You just need to shop where someone is knowledgeable, available, and willing to help you make a selection. So please, please, please get over being intimidated or embarrassed and shop at an independent wine store.
Dear New Wine Drinker
Shop for Wine at an
Independent Wine Store
I know this seems intuitive, but they are the only retailers where you should shop for wine. Yes, wine is sold at all sorts of “other” retailers (for your convenience), including grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores (7-11, etc.), big box stores (i.e., Target, Walmart, etc.), and even at the Dollar Store. But convenience will not help you make better or different choices for a confusing product like wine. And your choices at “other” stores will only be mass-market wine. But most importantly, there is also never a knowledgeable wine professional around at “other” stores to assist you in making your selection.
Bottom Line: “Other” retailers are about convenience. The owners of independent wine stores are invested in selling wine to anyone regardless of their experience.
Also Wine Tastings
At Independent Wine Retailers Everywhere
Most independent wine retailers will host weekly wine tastings for a nominal fee. Sometimes the fee is credited toward the purchase of any of the wines you tasted. These tastings are designed to introduce customers to wines they have not tasted before. And if you like it, the retailer hopes you will then buy some. So tastings are a great way to make sure you like it before you buy it.
Dear New Wine Drinker
Those Notes You Took?
It is time to put them to good use.
Ok, this may take some deep breathing to get over being intimidated, but it is time to take those notes to an independent wine retailer so they can assist you in buying wine you should like. Please be honest, show them your notes and your pictures, explain what you mean. Please also give them your budget. They will do their best to help you. And if they are snobby, condescending, or rude… walk out of the store. Do not even say “bye.” Just go! You have no time for this.
But then go to a different independent wine store – somewhere with someone who will help you and not judge you.
Also, understand that they may get it wrong at first or occasionally. But the more you go to that store and show them and tell them what you like, the better they will be at making selections for you.
Also, know that while good wine can be expensive, it does not have to be. One of Gary’s and my favorite rosés sells for $11.99. And here is a post from last February on Wines under $13.00
Finding new wine should be fun. Enjoy your journey.
Follow me on Instagram: @strondcoffeetoredwine
*They also make some highly sought-after wines, but that is a small portion of their production.
**E. & J> Gallo portfolio includes the Apothic brand.
I hope this is helpful.
That is all for now,
Rick & Gary