How to Choose Wine: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

How to Choose Wine: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

If you don’t know much about how to choose a wine, it can be overwhelming to choose from the seemingly endless varieties. There are so many different flavors from regions all over the world. When you’re browsing, you might be afraid of choosing something that is too dry or sweet, so you end up going with something familiar.

If you’re looking to expand your wine knowledge and branch out, you’ve come to the right place. By the end of this article, you’ll be a self-proclaimed “wine connoisseur!” Here at Cedar Creek Ranch & Winery, we know that drinking wine is both a social activity and simply a way to develop your own palate. To do both, here’s our guide to choosing wine.

Related: How To Drink Wine The Right Way 


Why Get Started with Wine Tasting?

Even if you’re not a wine connoisseur yet, it’s never too late to get started! We often get caught up in the ever-quickening pace of life, and thinking about which wine you want to choose will remind you to slow down and truly enjoy the world around you. Selecting wine is a fun activity that can lead to engaging conversations with friends and new connections at the dinner table. Show off your skills and entertaining capabilities with a wonderful selection.

The Basic Components of Every Wine

Everyone has a different palate, and as a result, we all have varying opinions on what is a “good wine.” Each wine has some simple components that define its taste. These characteristics are determined by age, location, grapes, and the fermenting process. Here are some factors to consider when choosing your next bottle.


  • Acidity: If a wine has high acidity, it will have a more tart flavor which often results in that dry flavor that some of us love. 
  • Sweetness: You’ll find a wine on the shelf that is either sweet, semi-sweet, or dry. Many cheaper wines are cut with plenty of sugar to enhance the flavor.
  • Body: A wine’s body refers to how it feels in your mouth. Some wines have a full body which gives them a heavy feeling when you drink them. Light body wines are typically white, and they feel light in your mouth. Grapes grown in warm climates generally have a full body as compared to ones grown in cooler regions.
  • Tannin: These are the compounds in the skin of the grapes. Since tannins get incorporated in the process of making red wine, that is why they usually have a dry and more bitter taste. 
  • Alcohol: All wine is measured using alcohol per volume. The more alcohol in the wine, the warmer it will feel when you drink it. 

Certain types of wines are associated with some of the above metrics. For example, our Sangiovese has about a 14% alcohol content, which is in the middle range. It’s higher in alcohol content than most pinot noirs and red bordeaux, but lower than sherry and port.

Ready to try some delicious wine? See what Cedar Creek has to offer!


How to Choose Wine: Taste

While there is no way to give you tips on how to choose the best wine, there are some ways to choose for yourself. Combine the factors outlined below to choose the right wine for your taste and occasion. 

Start Simple

Those who are newer to drinking wine are more prone to enjoy a white or rosé, since they’re more refreshing and simpler in flavor. A Sonoma State University study revealed that 54% people preferred sweet or semi-sweet white and rosé wines. They’re lower in tannins, so they have less bitterness and acidity. For a great white wine, try our 2016 Estate Viogner

Once you get used to really savoring the flavors in a glass of wine, you can start tasting more reds. These are higher in tannins and more complex in flavor.


Consider flavors you already enjoy

Are you the kind of person that can’t drink coffee unless it has plenty of cream and sugar? If that’s the case, you might prefer a sweeter wine. If you enjoy the bitter punch of a black coffee, you might like a high acidity wine. 

Many old world wines from Italy and France pack that full body flavor that true wine drinkers love. If you prefer a more mild taste with a bit of sweetness, try a new world wine from Australia or the United States. 


Take your time and read the label


Here’s a crazy idea. Fill a bottle with grape juice, and sell it as wine calling it “Best Wine Ever.” We believe it would fly off the shelves! That’s because most people don’t read the labels. They get so swept up by the drawings and colors that they overlook the most important part. 


Related: Sangiovese Wine - Everything You Need to Know

How to Read a Wine Label

Much of the time, you can get all the information you need about the flavor from reading the label. You’ll learn about the location, the grapes, the body, and alcohol content right on the bottle. Don’t be afraid to spend some time reading the labels to ensure you get the right wine for your taste. 

It’s key to be able to understand the adjectives on a wine label. In addition to looking out for the five basic components of wine, understand the difference between “sweet” and “fruity” (sweet typically refers to a sugary taste, while a fruity note is more complex and nuanced). Know that aroma and bouquet both describe smell, but bouquet applies more to older wines. There are plenty of wine glossaries available online, but reading a label is a skill that you must develop over time. You’ll develop a knack for understanding terms with more practice.


Ready to try some delicious wine? See what Cedar Creek has to offer!

Don’t worry about the age

Age is not as important as most people think. When you purchase wine from the store, it is ready for you to drink, and it doesn’t matter how old it is. Red wine puts more of an emphasis on age than white so if you’re torn between two reds, go with the one that is older. 


Try different types of wine

Even if you develop an affinity for one type of wine, keep your options over and consider keeping a rotation going. Choosing a different kind of wine can spice things up; if you’re planning a dinner where you’re cooking a staple dish, a new wine can change your entire perspective. 

Try wine from different regions

In the realm of wines, we call this, “Old World” and “New World.” Old World wines come from places like Italy, France, and Germany. These areas have long histories of producing wine, and much focus goes into their soil and climate.

New World wines are from places like the United States and Australia. These winemakers focus more on the marketing of their product compared to the region. Someone buys an old world wine because they enjoy wine from that region. People buy new world wines, usually because of marketing. 

Be sure to sample flavors from all over the world to learn more about your palate and your desired taste. 

What makes a great wine?

A good wine differs from person to person, but there are certain elements that are known to be almost universal. A good wine usually doesn’t taste too bitter, and tannins are balanced out by flavor notes. It should also taste smooth and not gritty.


Oak wines are popular because the aging process in oak barrels produces more developed flavors. All of our wines are aged in New French Oak barrels.


Developing a Sense of Taste 

In the end, what makes up a ‘good wine’ is up to you. The most important thing is to be able to understand why you like it using the qualities described above. Do you tend to like wines with floral bouquets, or fruity notes? Do you like French wines or Italian wines? Do you like oaked or unoaked? Understanding the qualities you prefer not only allows you to enjoy the wine more, but to pick out your next bottle with more information.


How to Buy Wine


Where to Buy Wine

The good news is that wine is readily available online and you can order from the comfort of your home. This allows you to take your time, really take the time to read the labels, and parse through reviews. You can also book a tasting to try wines in person. You’ll get to taste the wine before you make a larger purchase and attain guidance from skilled viticulturalists.     

Price isn’t that important

If you’re deciding between two bottles and the main thing separating your decision is price, go for the cheaper one. Price isn’t always important if you’re putting the other factors first. If something is on sale, it doesn’t mean that it’s not selling, it might be out of season or due to surplus inventory. 

Discounted wine allows you to try a few different bottles you’ve never had before. Also, don’t assume that a “twist-off” cap means that the wine is low-quality. All this means is that the wine must get consumed within a year, so it has nothing to do with the quality. These are also more convenient for storage if you don’t have a way to re-cork the bottle. Just make sure to be wary of wines on sale. You don’t want to end up with a wine that no one is buying or that might even be expired.


Consider the Occasion

What kind of event is it?

Make sure not to supply red wine for cocktail parties where people are standing up and walking around. It’s easier to spill during these kinds of events, and you don’t want anyone to have to walk home with a red stain on their nice outfit. 

What are you eating?


Wine pairings are popular, but you can take it far beyond that. Think about the occasion and your reason for buying the wine. If you’re entertaining a lot of guests, you might want to provide a few options. Consider getting something sweet and something dry. 

If you’re trying to pair a wine with your meal, there is a general rule to follow. Pick a white wine for chicken and fish dishes. Go with a bottle of red wine for beef, lamb, and veal. We’ve provided some specific wine pairings below to help you. 


When mixing your wine into something else like a Sangria, you don’t have to worry as much about the details. For this, we would recommend choosing a cheap bottle because you won’t taste the slight differences in flavor if you’re adding other components. 

How to Pair Wines

Now that you understand the basics of what makes a wine, now let’s look at how to drink it. If you pair a great wine with strange food, you might not get the full experience. Keep sweetness, acidity, and body in mind when pairing wines. 

Salty Food

Pair salty food with sweet wine. Sweet and salty works with food, so it also works with wine. Sipping a sweet wine after a salty bite will cut the salty flavor and also highly the sweetness of the wine. 

Acidic Food

Acidic food works best with acidic wine. If you’re eating acidic food, you’re shocking your taste buds. High acid ingredients require highly acidic wine; otherwise, you won’t taste the wine as much. For example, tomato sauce and citrus need a highly acidic red wine for an ideal pairing. 

Fatty Foods

The fattier the food, the higher the acidity. There’s a reason why wine and butter are a common combination. The alcohol in the wine cuts through the fat, and when you cook it down, it provides a delicious flavor. The same goes for pairing a drinking wine with a fatty meal. If you have a steak or cheese stuffed dish, you want to have a high acidity red wine to go along with it. This also applies for hearty desserts like cheesecake. 


Wine Pairing Examples

Now you understand the characteristics of wine and how to pair them with food. Next, we can play a little match game and see if you can pair some of these wines with the right foods. Let’s see how good you do! 

  • Pinot Noir - Light body red wine with high acidity and red fruit flavor
    • Pairs with chicken, pork, veal, and cream sauces
    • Ideal for French and German dishes
  • Zinfandel - Medium or full body red wine with fruit flavor and low acidity
    • Pairs with chicken, pork, beef, barbecue
    • Ideal for Italian, American, and Chinese dishes
  • Chardonnay - Medium bodied white wine with fruit flavor and mid-level acidity
    • Pairs with fish, shellfish, chicken, and cream sauces
    • Ideal for French dishes
  • Cabernet - Full bodied red wine with high alcohol and tannins
    • Pairs with heavy dishes like beef, lamb, and smoked meats
    • Ideal for American dishes
  • Riesling - Light bodied white wine with high fruit flavor, sweetness, and acidity
    • Pairs with chicken, pork, and turkey
    • Ideal for Thai, Indian, and Moroccan dishes
  • Pinot Gris - Light bodied white wine with moderate acid and slight sweetness
    • Pairs with salads, fish, and light dishes


Now You Can Choose 

At this point, you should know a lot about wine and how to choose the right flavor for you. As you browse the assortment of wines, make sure you keep all these factors in mind before committing to a bottle. Now that you know how to choose, do you think you’ve made some mistakes in the past? We hope you enjoyed this article and hope you enjoy the wine you choose! 


For delicious wine, see our collection of finely cultivated Sangiovese, Syrah, and more from the Sierra Foothills.