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Learning to love wine doesn’t have to be intimidating—in fact, it shouldn’t be! Wine is fun, especially when you learn how to choose the right bottles. But which bottles are the right bottles, you ask? It’s simple. The right wines for you are the wines that taste good to you. The ones you’d be happy to drink again. It doesn’t matter what the critics say, or what your best friend says, or what your server in a restaurant says; everyone’s palate is unique and there are no universal rules.
That said, there are some guidelines that can be helpful to follow when you’re just getting started. Many beginners tend to prefer wines with straightforward fruit flavors, low tannin (which translates to a smooth wine), and moderate acidity, as these tend to be the easiest wines to drink. As you explore, you’ll learn more about what you like and dislike, which will help you select the best wines for your personal preferences. In the beginning, you might want to stick to inexpensive wines in case you buy something that’s not quite right for you. As you get to know your palate, you’ll be more confident in picking out special-occasion splurges.
Adam Chase, director of Grape Experience Wine & Spirits School, also recommends that beginners learn to think about wine in terms of geography. “Big, rich, fruit-intensive wines tend to come from warm places like Australia, California or southern Europe; crisper, lighter wines typically come from cooler places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Germany,” he says. “So think first about the style you like, and then consider the place the wine comes from. Is it a cool place or a warm place, or possibly somewhere in between?”
To kick start your journey through the wine world, here are the best wines for beginners to drink right now.
Best Overall: 2019 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Raspberry, Dark Chocolate, Caramel
With bright, flavorful fruit and a soft, inviting texture, this Oregon pinot noir is the ultimate beginner’s wine. Not too light or too heavy, nor too sweet or too dry, it’s fruit-forward with some pleasant savory accents that add subtle complexity. A winemaking technique called whole-cluster fermentation, in which grapes are fermented whole rather than crushed makes the red and purple berry fruit juicy, lively, and fun.
When you’re new to wine, it’s best to start with something that’s very well-balanced, like this easygoing pinot, so you can get a clear sense of what you like. Everything is moderate here, from the body to the acidity to the tannic structure. So if you’re craving something bolder, you might want to try a more tannic cab or zin; if you’d rather go lighter, you can turn to whites and rosés. But for many people, this delicious, approachable wine will be just right.
Best Red: 2018 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: California | ABV: 14.2% | Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Blueberry, Cedar, Cola
For beginners who know they love a full-bodied red, it’s impossible to go wrong with California cabernet sauvignon. This plush, rich bottling comes from the Central Coast’s Paso Robles region, known for a warm, dry, and sunny climate that’s ideal for producing ripe, user-friendly wines.
The True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best values you’ll find there, with powerful dark fruit flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and plum accented by vanilla, spice, cola, and toasty oak notes. The tannins here add structure but are not too drying, and a splash of acidity keeps this big wine from feeling heavy or overpowering.
Related: The Best Red Wines
Best White: 2019 Dr. Loosen Dr. L Riesling
Region: Germany | ABV: 8.5% | Tasting Notes: Yellow Apple, Pear, Peach, Lemon Curd
Forget everything you think you know about riesling—this seriously underrated variety makes some of the greatest serious white wines in the world, but it is also responsible for some of the best introductory styles. Riesling comes in every level of sweetness imaginable, from bone dry to lusciously sweet, but most beginners will want to start with an off-dry (lightly sweet) version like this best-selling classic from Dr. Loosen.
Vibrant acidity keeps this wine from being cloying, and ripe citrus, orchard, and stone fruit flavors make it delightful to drink. The best part is that, like most rieslings, this food-friendly wine is pretty low in alcohol, so it won’t cloud your judgement if you’re tasting it alongside other wines.
Best Sweet: 2019 Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto
Region: Italy | ABV: 7% | Tasting Notes: Raspberry, Strawberry, Red Cherry, Rose Petal
This northern Italian sparkler is festive, fun, and irresistibly tasty. Made from a red grape called brachetto, it smells and tastes of candied fruit and fragrant flowers. It’s similar in style to moscato, but with red berry fruit rather than citrus and tropical notes and is a gorgeous cranberry hue in the glass. Banfi’s bottling is the gold standard for this attractive, elegant style of wine, with its raspberry, cherry, and strawberry fruit and a perfume of rose. It’s perfect on its own or as an accompaniment to dessert, especially when paired with rich, creamy dark chocolate treats like mousse or ganache.
Best Budget Red: 2019 El Libre Malbec
Region: Argentina | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Plum, Blackberry, Tobacco, Vanilla
Argentinian malbec is insanely popular for a reason—its smooth, velvet-like texture and plump black fruit flavors make it one of the most crowd-pleasing red wines on the planet. Malbec is a great alternative to cabernet sauvignon, with similar bold, dark fruit but softer tannins.
El Libre is one of the most budget-friendly options we’ve come across, and it doesn’t sacrifice flavor for value. Inky plum, blackberry and black cherry fruit get a bit of an edge from earthy notes of tobacco and leather, and oak aging adds toasty vanilla and spice flavors.
Related: The Best Cheap Wines
Best Budget White: NV Broadbent Vinho Verde
Region: Portugal | ABV: 9% | Tasting Notes: Green Apple, Meyer Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit
Few wines offer better value than the northern Portuguese specialty vinho verde—even the priciest bottles typically clock in well under $20. Made from a blend of local varieties, this ultra-crisp, low-alcohol white from a cool coastal climate has a slight spritz that makes it incredibly refreshing.
Zesty citrus notes of lemon, lime, and grapefruit mingle with tart green apple in this playful wine that sings when paired with fresh seafood. If you can enjoy it outdoors, even better. But regardless of the season, this lively, satisfying wine will make every day feel like a warm-weather vacation.
Best Rosé: 2020 Pratsch Rosé
Region: Austria | ABV: 11.5% | Tasting Notes: Strawberry, Watermelon, Peach, Raspberry
Rosé has been having a moment for a while now, so there are many great options to choose from in a wide range of styles. For beginners, we recommend a light, dry style with lots of fresh, vibrant fruit, like this high-value gem from Austria.
It’s made from the zweigelt grape, a locally popular variety that is known for bright berry flavors accented with a hint of black pepper, reminding us a lot of pinot noir. Succulent strawberry, watermelon, raspberry, peach, and pear notes are lifted by vibrant acidity and a hint of hibiscus perfume in this refreshing pink wine that makes a perfect companion to parks, picnics, and pools.
Best Sparkling: 2020 Avinyó Petillant Blanc
Region: Spain | ABV: 10.5% | Tasting Notes: Peach, Grapefruit, Honeysuckle, Orange Blossom
This lightly sparkling Spanish white isn’t as well known as Cava or Prosecco, but beginners and experienced wine drinkers alike have been known to become enchanted with it from the first sip. From the Penedès region, where Cava is made, it’s a cheerful bottle of bubbly made from muscat grapes along with more traditional local varieties.
The bubbles are fine and smooth and the flavors are seriously fresh—think just-picked peaches, juicy grapefruit, and crisp green apple—and scented with a fragrant bouquet of honeysuckle, jasmine, and orange blossom. The fruity and floral notes make it smell like a sweet wine, but on the palate, you’ll find that it’s deliciously dry.
Best Bold Red: 2018 The Fableist Zinfandel
Region: California | ABV: 14.7% | Tasting Notes: Plum, Blackberry Jam, Cinnamon, Vanilla
Zinfandel is one of the best red varieties for fans of bold wines with serious flavor. Bursting with jammy purple fruit, this Californian specialty is perfect for those who believe that bigger is better, thanks to its typically robust body, high alcohol, and intense concentration. Smooth tannins keep zinfandel approachable, especially in this juicy Paso Robles rendition from The Fableist.
American oak gives a boost of spice-tinged vanilla and cocoa to the opulent plum and blackberry fruit in this plush, opulent, yet well-balanced red. It goes down extra-easy when paired with hearty meat-based dishes, but skip the spice—piquant foods will add unpleasant heat to high-alcohol wines.
Best Light Red: 2019 Marcel Lapierre Vin de France Raisins Gaulois
Region: France | ABV: 11.5% | Tasting Notes: Blueberry, Strawberry, Red Cherry, Pomegranate
Most people’s first experience of the gamay grape is with Beaujolais Nouveau, a lighthearted French specialty typically consumed young and usually reminiscent of sweet soda pop. But gamay can make excellent light-bodied, dry reds that strike a fine balance between playful and serious, like this carefree quaffer from renowned late winemaker Marcel Lapierre.
The organic fruit for this wine comes from prime Beaujolais real estate, but the bottling is classified as a French table wine because it’s made from young vines—which is part of what makes it so refreshing (and affordable!). Bright, vivid flavors of blueberry, cherry, strawberry, pomegranate, and cranberry make this light, fruity wine remarkably easy to drink.
Best Rich White: 2018 Bernardus Chardonnay
Region: California | ABV: 14.4% | Tasting Notes: Yellow Apple, Peach, Lychee, Butterscotch
California chardonnay needs little introduction, but it’s wildly popular for a reason! The rich, creamy wines often made in this style are a favorite of both new and seasoned wine drinkers because of their textural interest and intense flavors. While chardonnay itself is a relatively neutral variety, winemaking techniques like oak aging and malolactic fermentation (which softens the acids in wine) can add toasty and buttery flavors, respectively. Naturally, the chardonnay grape can express a wide range of fruit flavors depending on where it’s grown; notes of tropical and stone fruit tend to come out in warmer climates, while chards from cooler regions are more focused on crisp citrus and orchard fruit.
This powerhouse from Monterey, California displays the best of both worlds, with warm days and cool nights producing a balanced beauty with notes of ripe, juicy peach, apple, melon, lychee, pineapple, and lemon curd. Moderate oak influence and full malolactic fermentation add a complex character of butterscotch, caramel, warm baking spice, vanilla, and toasty wood to this full-flavored crowd favorite.
Related: The Best White Wines
Best Crisp White: 2018 Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc
Region: New Zealand | ABV: 12.6% | Tasting Notes: Passionfruit, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon Peel, Fresh Grass
Fans of crisp, refreshing whites can never get enough of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Not only is it always a great value for the price, but it also offers unique and complex flavors and aromas not commonly found in other inexpensive wines.
There is so much going on in this beautiful bottle from Amisfield—it shows vibrant tropical notes of passionfruit, mango, lychee, and papaya alongside zesty grapefruit, lemon, and lime, fragrant honeysuckle and elderflower, and freshly cut grass. Expressive but not overwhelming, it makes a great match with freshly shucked oysters, vegetable dishes or anything with plenty of fresh green herbs.
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Nikki Goddard is a wine writer with 14 years of industry experience as well as CSW and WSET Diploma certification. She is passionate about taking the intimidation out of wine education and has taught classes for WSET levels 2 and 3. In 2019, Nikki was named a top young wine writer by Vinous Media.