Like many foods and drink, wine is something of an acquired taste. After all, most of us won’t experience it until we’re in our late teens, and it’s arguably unlike anything we’ll have tasted up to that point. Most people’s first forays into alcohol are geared around beers, or sugary alcopops and cocktails – reminiscent of flavours we’re by then already familiar with.
For those that never quite developed a taste for wine, though, this preference (or rather, lack of it) can be frustrating. Celebrations, dining out, get-togethers with friends – these things often involve the archetypal bottle of wine as something of a bonding exercise. Then there’s the sheer variety of wine and the gastronomic benefits it brings to food, which you may regret missing out on. And, of course, there’s wine investment. It’s entirely possible to take advantage of the lucrative returns and low risk involved in fine wine investment without drinking wine yourself, but most collectors would agree that enjoying wine makes investing in it all the more pleasurable.
Fortunately, no matter how old you are or how stubborn you might be in the face of something new your taste buds are not set in stone. But don’t throw yourself into the deep end – get started with the basics, learn how to make the experience accessible and take the time to discover your own preferences. You’ll be asking to see the wine list before you know it.
1. Start with whites
White wine is generally a better entry point than red because it tends to be lighter, crisper, sweeter and less overwhelming on the palette. Reds are often dryer and more tannic, which can be harder to handle for new wine drinkers. Good wines to start with include:
- Riesling, which is crisp and sweet
- Chardonnay, which is smooth and fruity
- Sauvignon Blanc, which offers interesting fruit and herbal flavours that aren’t overpowering
But that’s not to say you should avoid reds entirely. Everyone’s palette is different and you may find you actually have a preference for the stronger tastes of a red wine. Accessible entry points for reds include:
- Pinot Noir, which is smooth, light-bodied and known for its fruity aromas
- Merlot, which is light and low on tannins
- Syrah, which is certainly not the lightest or sweetest of red wines, but boasts a rich array of flavours that some beginners may find appealing
2. Pour it properly
Many wines need a bit of time to breathe and achieve its potential flavour profile. This is especially true for red wines – you should let the newly-opened bottle rest for at least 20 minutes prior to pouring, and if possible, decant it so it’s fully exposed to air.
Use a proper wine glass – they’ve been designed to maximise aromas – and swirl the wine gently before tasting to allow it to open up. Then take a sip, letting it flow over the tip of your tongue, both sides, underneath, and into the back of your mouth. Taking this extra care to properly ready your wine can make a world of difference to your tasting experience.
3. Taste with food
Properly pairing wine and food can open up a whole world of new taste sensations, but at this early juncture you’re better off using food to help balance the flavours of wine, rather than enhance them. Cheese is the perfect accompaniment, as its potency can help repress strong tastes and minimise bitter undertones. If you like pungent cheeses, go for Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne or Stilton, although white cheddar and any made from sheep’s milk will also work well. Simply take a bite, let the flavour develop in your mouth, then take a sip of wine.
4. Keep experimenting
One of the many joys of wine is its sheer variety. Some might argue that it’s actually impossible to claim you don’t like wine unless you’ve tried them all, such is the diversity of styles and flavours. So keep experimenting! Even the most seasoned wine aficionados have their own preferences, and they found those through trial and error. Keep a note of wines you absolutely dislike, those you can tolerate and those you’re happy to try again, and build up from there. Keep an open mind, and enjoy the journey.