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Decantress advises a reader with a wine-averse companion.
I'm dating a new guy and he doesn't drink wine. Let's assume that breaking up with him on the spot isn't my first choice. He's willing to try for me, though. Are there good "starter" wines for people? –Training Wheels
Hi Training Wheels,
I’m going to assume you don’t want this guy to drink wine just to appease you; you want him to really like it as much as you do. You’ll need to first come to terms with the fact that that might not happen—that he may never get your level of enjoyment from the beverage. Perhaps there’s a category of food or drink that you never acquired a taste for. Oysters? Offal? What’s the likelihood of your coming around to it? That’s a good way to put the situation in perspective. But as I’m sure you know, there’s nothing like the shared experience of a great bottle, and it’s great that he wants to try.
When most people think about the concept of “starter wines” or “gateway wines,” they usually think of entry-level bottles in various categories. In theory, someone who enjoys a basic Bourgogne Blanc might eventually dabble in Premier Cru white Burgundy. If you’re just starting to learn what wines you like, it’s useful to start at the bottom of the ladder. Try classic examples of Pinot Noir grown in various parts of the world to learn what common traits all wines made from that grape share. It’s what sommeliers mean when they say a wine is “varietally correct”—it clearly illustrates the qualities inherent to that particular grape.
That’s not what you’re trying to do here. The guy in question doesn’t like the taste of wine to begin with, so you’re not necessarily going to want the simplest versions. You’re going to want something that he can’t help but think is delicious—something that will convince him of the joys of wine. And that’s easier to define by what it’s not than by what it is, since taste is a very subjective, very personal thing. I would steer clear of extremes. Don’t pour him anything too sharply acidic (like rip-roaring German Riesling) or too harshly tannic (like France’s Madiran or Italy’s Sagrantino). It probably won’t help your case to pour him anything too cerebral, either (where the pleasure lies in parsing out nuances in the glass). You want to elicit an immediate, visceral response that will open him up to a range of flavors he had never before considered.
Think about a beverage that he loves and try to find a wine that matches it in flavor profile and structural attributes. How does he take his coffee? Does he like it black? Then I’d look to wines that could be considered very dry, in which earthiness trumps fruit, like a Bordeaux with a little bit of bottle age or a Nebbiolo-based wine from Piedmont. If he takes his coffee with cream and sugar, he might prefer a wine with more obvious fruit and a bit of roundness. Try an oak-aged white or something bright and fruity like a Beaujolais or New World Grenache. Or does he like hoppy beer? Certain whites (such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) and reds (such as Loire Cabernet Franc) have similar herbal and floral characteristics to IPA. It will take some analysis, but I’m sure you’ll get there.
Have a wine situation? Send your questions to Food & Wine's Decantress at firstname.lastname@example.org