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How to get into wine

A Books & Boots Gift Guide for those who are intimidated by wine shops and tired of White Claw.

Bottle of wine resting on their sides on a table.

In an image that appeared on my Instagram feed the words, Welcome to Party Season! , were written on a planner, but what I can only assume is an entusiastic holiday person.

Regardless of how anyone chooses to celebrate this time of year, folks be having parties, swapping gifts, and often celebrating with wine. 

I love wine. Like I actually like the way it tastes. I like grapey, jammy, sharp, acidic, tannic, sweet, dry, cheap, pricey, white label, black label – I love it all. 

I am in no way an expert. I watched Somm and listened to these intense dudes smell a wine variety while swirling the glass and shouting out the first flavors that popped into their heads and all I could think of was, this seems like a shared delusion and then also should I be picking up notes of garden hose as well? Yep. I am their mark.

The first wine I ever drank was in college. A friend of mine bought me a bottle of port and served it to me in someone’s prom champagne glass. Port is a little thick and sweet. It reminded me of cough syrup. The next time I was staring down a wine selection, I asked an older, wiser gentleman in a tweed coat to help me out and he recommended the entry-level wine for most young women looking for a more sophisticated beverage: the rosé. This, I liked. And that’s when my drink of choice in college became rosé poured into a 32 oz travel mug. 

I was so sophisticated. 

But wine is also hella-intimidating for the uninitiated. There are so many “rules”. I have read articles about proper glasses, proper decanting, proper storage, and in the end none of it really matters because it’s really about what the drinker likes. I read that in Italy wine is served in short tumblers because it contributes to an effortless style or sprezzatura. It’s not fancy, it’s not bougie, it’s just wine. There are amazing box wines, local wines, and Trader Joe’s has a yummy Tempranillo for $5.

Maybe you like wine. Maybe you are interested in trying new types of wine. Maybe you are a straight up box-wine lover who wants to get out of that box. 

Here are my suggestions for how to get into wine. 

  1. I love a good wine chart. These are usually found on the internet from publications like Wine Folly or Wine Enthusiast, but I look on Pinterest. A wine chart will show the types of wines and where they rank from sweetest to driest. If you see one on the chart you recognize that you know you liked, you can work up or down the ranking. 

  2. Check the label to see what the tasting notes are. If my reaction to those notes is, “Ohhh, that sounds good.” then (as long as the price is reasonable) I will buy it. I don’t trust labels that don’t give tasting notes. 

  3. Buy the label that you want to see in your wine rack. I know that has so much more to do with marketing, but let’s be honest, marketing works. I have purchased wine because the label was pretty. Sometimes I liked the wine. Sometimes I didn’t. With the combo of pretty label and tasting notes, I've done pretty well.

  4. Ask someone. Sometimes even Kroger has a sommelier (fancy wine expert) who handles all the ordering. I ran into the one running ours a few weeks ago and ended up chatting and got several recommendations. If there is a wine shop in your neighborhood, ask them questions and be honest about your budget.

  5. Go to a wine tasting. It’s an opportunity to try new types without the commitment. Check out wine shops, liquor stores, wine-centric bars, or go on a field trip and explore local wine trails. Many states have local wine communities where you can walk, hike, bike, or designated drive from winery to winery and try different types. The only issue I have ever had is when I have been standing at the wine tasting, sampling a wonderful $50 bottle knowing they are hoping I'll buy it and the awkwardness that ensues. It takes practice to be able to smile and say, "It's delicious, but $50 is more than my budget will allow today." I can do it. And I also know that if they give me the hard sell, I call over Hubs who has no issue exclaiming, "$50! Does that come with a lap dance?" and I can just mouth, "Sorry" and walk away.

  6. Host a wine tasting of your own. Call your people and ask them to stop by with a bottle of their favorite wine. Throw together a snack board of crackers and cheeses. Everyone gets share and try something new. 

Something that has advanced my wine education has been subscribing to a wine delivery service. If your state allows it, getting a wine delivery is a low stakes way to try different types of wines to get an idea of what you like. It’s also nice to not have to go out and pick up wine, it’s just in the house waiting for you to pop the cork. The price is about the same as if you selected each of the wines individually.

I’m a big fan of Firstleaf. I get six (and sometimes 12) bottles delivered every month, or every other month. I can adjust the frequency as needed. 

I’ve tried wines from regions I would have never considered, like South Africa, Argentina, and Washington state. Washington and Oregon are actually now my favorite wine regions. 

Because of this ability to sample, I know if I am wandering around a wine shop or wine section, if the wine comes from Washington, Oregon, Columbia Valley, or Rattlesnake Hills, I’m going to love it.

I also get to taste different types I would have never considered. I am excited when I see I’m getting a Grenache wine in my box. I also get to try different types of white wines that I would have normally ignored, like Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Treat Yourself this holiday!

Read Books. Wear Boots.




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