It's time for another installment of Ask Tony: You have questions, I (maybe) have answers!
Today's question is quite the interesting one as it deals with a matter of taste and preference. Perhaps you are at a party or gathering with someone and wished this person loved wine as much as you do...or perhaps you wished you loved wine as much as your friend. Instead, beers, cocktails, or a dram of a favorite spirit take the lead and that is OK. I love all of those things, too. However, there is something magically relaxing about wine. I will tell you this...I have never seen an unhappy person sipping on a glass of wine. I know some find wine to be snobbish and exclusive, but I say it is just the opposite: it is as welcoming and inclusive as clinking beer bottles and whiskey glasses.
When it comes to drinking alcohol in America, there is an overwhelming number of products to choose from in an over 200 billion-dollar market. Even with beer still making up the majority (47%), spirits (about 36%) and wine (just over 17%) are growing and becoming more important. So with the question of "How do I get someone to like wine," comes choices from among what amounts to a $35 billion pool of adult grape juice. My goodness...
It's a question with many layers; there is not one defined way to attack this idea, but I do have a way to provide some guidance. These points are not to be taken in as a top-to-bottom order in which you do these things; you have lateral movement based on how you wish to go about enjoying and becoming increasingly comfortable with the nectar of the gods. However, item number one is the most crucial step and needs to be followed at all times:
Have an open mind
You or your friend are getting into wine, because you want to know more about it. It takes a small level of commitment to allow yourself to explore what is out there. If you taste one wine to start and you can't stand it, it doesn't mean you don't like wine...you don't like THAT wine. As an old colleague in New Jersey used to tell customers with whiskey, "Of course you like whiskey...you just haven't met the right one yet."
Start with the international grapes
When I use the term "international," I am referring to wine grape varieties that have proven to make quality wines in multiple countries of the world. You will oftentimes see these grape names prominently displayed on a label so there is no mistaking what you are drinking. The major players include the following: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. The wine geeks out there could argue some others, but lets stick with these. Four whites and four reds with easy access.
Think about the beers you like
I immediately point the IPA drinker to Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. The bitter finish of the IPA resembles the bold flavors, as well as aggressiveness of the acid and tannins in the two grapes above. A saison can have some fresh, but funky earthy components that a Pinot Noir can display. Like a malty ale? Chardonnay can show the same richness in texture, especially when oaked. Merlot's plush texture and plummy/chocolatey flavors can mirror malty sweetness, too. If you like something lighter like a pilsner, the delicate nature of Riesling or refreshing qualities of Sauvignon Blanc may be of interest to you. It is not always a direct match, but these qualities are something to think about if you are trying to find a wine based on the beers you like.
Think about the spirits you like
Using the same principles as above with beer, consider the following for spirits. Peated whisky matches up well with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc has intense, pungent aromatics that follow Tequila. Vodka's delicate flavors mirror Pinot Grigio and its body matches up with Riesling. Oaked Chardonnay can have a similar richness and sweet, ripe fruitiness to Bourbon or even rum's tropical fruit notes. Sauvignon Blanc's acid and spice in cool climates can show similar character to the forwardness of rye whiskey. Cognac's fresh, lively nature can mirror either Riesling or Pinot Noir, particularly from Oregon or Chile.
Think about the non-alcoholic flavors you like
This can be especially useful to a newbie alcohol drinker as this can be useful across all categories. As it applies to wine, think about fruits you like; the amazing thing about wine grapes is that each variety has phenolic compounds in the skins and juice that lead to a variety of "non-grape" flavors and aromas. Some of these compounds can be amplified or muted during alcoholic fermentation, or even the region of the world where the grapes are grown. This is why you hear or read people describing wines smelling like peaches, berries, or cherries in a description on a label or magazine article.
If you like citrus and "green" flavors (lemon, lime, fresh herbs), then Sauvignon Blanc might be right for you. Do you enjoy white stone fruits (apricots, nectarines, peaches)? Riesling or Pinot Gris may be your preference. How about plums? California Merlot has that type of flavor. Fresh raspberries and red cherries? Pinot Noir can show that in the Old World, but if you like raspberry jam then you may prefer California Pinot Noir. Blackberries and black cherries? Cabernet Sauvignon's got them. These are all broad generalizations, but some quick research and reading can give you an idea of what to expect in a bottle of wine.
Also note that many European wines can have earthy and herbaceous notes, more noticeable acids and tannins complementing the fruit flavors. New World wines tend to be fuller-bodied and riper/bolder in fruit flavor with softer tannins and acidity. Again, this is a broad generalization, but the concept should help you establish a starting point.
Be sure to (eventually) branch out!
I don't spend all this time writing about the different wine regions of the world, nor do you read this blog to have you stick with the same wine over and over again. Is it good to have some reliable wines you can go to anytime because you like them? Yes! But don't forget about the other grapes in the 35 billion-dollar wine market! Explore regional varieties like Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Gewurztraminer, and the like. There is plenty of good wine that needs a home...and we will spend time discussing these in the future. Keep these on the back burner.
Record what you like
Not everyone wants to bust out a journal and a pen to write down what you liked about your wine, but trust me...it can be very handy to refer back to when you need to remember what you sampled. At the very least, it is easy enough to snap a photo with your smart phone on the fly and research more afterwards. Then...
Share with friends
Wine makes things very easy when it comes to social sharing. Join Facebook groups, get on Twitter, take Instagram photos...get involved in the online community. Search hashtags on grape varieties and see what people are talking about. For example, #CabernetDay is taking place on August 31st. Share your favorite Cabernet and see what others are drinking and discussing on your favorite social media channels.
Have fun with it
I just outlined many ways you and/or friends can get introduced to wine and STAY with it. If that first wine you sample ends up turning you off, push the reset button and try again. One of the things you can always do to help yourself is get friendly with your local wine merchants. Talk to them about your experiences, and a reputable shop will be able to guide you to a style you have a good chance of enjoying. Getting into wine may not happen overnight, but if you have the interest and commitment to tasting and exploring, you will do just fine.