View Full Version : Red wine for a newbie

08-24-2006, 18:50
So, I am trying to find a nice, moderately priced red wine for my girlfriend. She prefers something sweet, with little bitterness. I have done a lot of searching online, and I am finding the information to be, well, overwhelming. Perhaps somebody could give me a point in the right direction. Thanks so much.


08-24-2006, 20:49
Sweet with little bitterness doesn't generally describe red wines...

If she likes sweet wine, and you want something red, a port will do the trick nicely. Port is a red wine, traditionally made from Touriga, Tempranillo and a few other grapes, but it can be made from almost anything. There are some _very_ nice Zinfandel ports coming out of California these days.

However, port is traditionally a dessert wine. It is perfect at the end of a big meal. Generally I pour wines like this: I start with an unusual red, such as Malbec, Touriga, etc. after my guests arrive. Then when we serve dinner I move up to a "big" red, generally Cabernet Sauvignon or, depending on the meal, a Zinfandel or a Meritage (california term for US grown bordeaux blends). After dinner I will break out a bottle of port and a little chocolate.

Bitterness comes from a couple of things. One is being mistreated. Wine is delicate. You can't leave it in the trunk of a hot car for a few days and not damage the wine. It is supposed to be stored at 55 degrees, and there is a lot to that. I had a case (!) of wine ruined when it was delivered to my parents house, and they left it in their kitchen during a few very hot weeks. The wine has a bitterness and bite to it that is 100% from this abuse. The other bottles I have of the exact same wine are simply oustanding. $200 down the drain due to carelessness. Ouch.

The other thing you might be describing as "bitterness" is tannins in the wine. All wine has tannins, but the better wines generally have more because these are part of what allows it to age properly. This is what really messes people up. They go and spend $100 on a bottle of Stag's Leap and open it, and find that they don't like it. Well yeah, because it wasn't meant to be drunk for ten years or more! (Recently opened a bottle of 1992 Stag's Leap, and it was amazing, but it did take a while for it to decant first).

What I really need is more information. Do you want to buy a wine to go with a special dinner? A wine for her to keep for a long time? A wine for her to open and drink with spaghetti? When you say "sweet" do you really mean "smooth" or do you want sweet?

Just in case you don't have time to get back to me, I'll make a general suggestion. If you want a lighter bodied red wine that doesn't have a lot of tannins, you should look for a Pinot Noir. I don't know what brands you have available to you, or what you define as moderate. Kendall Jackson is a decent wine that is usually moderately priced. If you can afford it, a Robert Mondavi would also be a good choice. The problem with Mondavi is that they have so many labels with their name on them, it's hard to tell what is "the good stuff." Here's a tip: If it says "coastal" or "woodbridge" or anything like that, it isn't what you want. It should say "Napa Valley" at the bottom of the label (note: this is specific to this brand only. there are many GREAT wines from california from places other than napa valley). Oddly, the "private selection" of robert mondavi is anything but.

Another great choice, if you can find it, is Louis Martini. This is now owned by Gallo, but they have pretty much left it alone and Martini continues to produce fantastic wines. We opend an Imperial (6 litre bottle) of 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon this summer as part of a family celebration. Wow, what a treat!

I would suggest that you avoid things like Wine Spectator, as they aren't nearly as much help as you would think. They are far more marketing than they are objective testing (for example, a blind taste test ranked a wine dead last that actually won the "competition" once they saw the labels. they claimed that "re-tasted" the wine.).

Sorry to give you such a long answer, but wine is indeed very complex. With a little more information I think we can narrow your search to something that will be perfect.


08-24-2006, 21:06
Sorry to post twice, but I just realized that you are in San Diego!

I have a better idea. If your girlfriend likes wine but you aren't sure what to get her, take her wine tasting! You aren't far from Temecula, and there are some great wineries there. Unfortunately, none of them grow Pinot Noir (simply not possible in Temecula, yet anyway) but this will give you a great date and allow you to see what kind of wine she really likes!

I would suggest that you go to Wiens, Stuart Cellars, Wilson Creek, and Bella Vista Cillurzo. You can read my reviews of all of those wineries on my blog. I didn't care much for Wiens, but it is perfect for the tastes you have described with your girlfriend (the wines are all lighter and don't have as many tannins. I like "big" reds and cellar everything I buy for years before I drink it...). Wilson Creek is very accessible, and you will have a good time there. They are known more for their almond champagne than their red wines, but I think you will find it a worthwhile stop. Bella Vista Cillurzo is very fun, don't miss it! You need to try the late harvest Petite Syrah. It might be exactly what you are looking for. If you do this, be sure you stop for lunch (Ponte is a great place to eat) and don't drink too much and drive! Take your time and spread out the day so that you don't find yourself totally blotto after tasting 30 wines in two hours...

If you don't like the idea of a Temecula trip, then take the time to go to a quality wine store in San Diego. A good wine shop can help you find the right wine at the right price. Yes, you might find it somewhere else for $1 or $2 cheaper, but you probably wouldn't have bought that wine somewhere else! You might consider checking out this place: www.winesellar.com It is local to you and will probably have some great suggestions.

By the way, forget the Mondavi suggestion above, I discovered that the "real" Mondavi only makes Cabernet Sauvignon, which is not what you are looking for. The "reserve" is also $125 a bottle, which is hardly "moderately priced."

I hope this is helpful!


08-24-2006, 21:36

I would suggest you try something like Shiraz (Australian or California) or Pinot Noir (Cali or Oregon). Good, not great, Shiraz can be very reasonably priced and is often very fruity with plum, blackberry and pepper or smoke flavors and pretty light on tannins. Most (not all by any means) Oregon Pinots also tend to be bold and fruity with softer tannins.

I really like Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz 2003/4 for about $12-15, Jacobs Creek Reserve at $15 and Greg Norman Limestone Coast Shiraz for a couple bucks more. Down to $10 and below and Rosemount Diamond Label and Penfolds Koonunga Hill are still pretty good. I think the Rosemount is more tannic - To me that tastes more tart and has more oak flavor.

I drink more Oregon Pinot Noir, but the good, again not great, Pinot tends to be a little more expensive than the Shiraz I mentioned. For $25 and under, my favorites are Elk Cove ($18-20), Van Duzer, King Estate, Argyle and Adelsheim. These are all "Estate" Pinots made from the grapes of several Willamette Valley vineyards. Each winemaker has single vineyard wines that are significantly more $, and that I don't think I have the palate or the $ to appreciate. The Elk Cove is typically the least expensive of these five, and it's my favorite.

Good luck and enjoy your search,


08-25-2006, 15:50
I guess that I should have included a bit more information. I am not looking for anything that needs to age right now. I would like to find a few nice bottles that she likes to really turn her on to wine, then worry about aging once she gets hooked (if she does).

I would like to find an after dinner wine. She really likes Martini & Rossi "Asti Spumanti" champagne, maybe that will help some.

One more question, I have not found any liquor stores which store their wine properly. Are the bottles going to be affected by the time I get them? The only bottles they do refrigerate are over $50, I just don't want to spend that much right now.

08-25-2006, 15:57
If you're going to like red wine in general it's going to BEGIN most likely with something not that sophisticated.

Shiraz is a good choice.
Blackstone merlot.
Coppola Merlot

Those are good inexpensive starters that most people enjoy and are easy to find.

08-25-2006, 15:59
Whoops meant to add Rodney Strong Merlot to that list as well.

08-25-2006, 16:46
I guess that I should have included a bit more information. I am not looking for anything that needs to age right now. I would like to find a few nice bottles that she likes to really turn her on to wine, then worry about aging once she gets hooked (if she does).

I would like to find an after dinner wine. She really likes Martini & Rossi "Asti Spumanti" champagne, maybe that will help some.

One more question, I have not found any liquor stores which store their wine properly. Are the bottles going to be affected by the time I get them? The only bottles they do refrigerate are over $50, I just don't want to spend that much right now.

Regarding the 55 degree thing, that's ideal for long term storage. A wine shop that is 70 degrees day and night will be fine for the time that the wine is there. In my example, it was a 100 degree summer, where my poor wine was being subjected to temperatures between 75 and 95 degrees when my parents weren't around, and then cooler nights. I wouldn't fret about wine being stored inside an air conditioned environment. Now, if they were selling you a 1977 Robert Mondavi for hundreds of dollars and it was in a rather warm liquor store (believe it or not, I've seen this exact example) then I would pass.

As to the other recommendations, Merlot and Shiraz (which is also called Syrah, same grape, but NOT petite sirah, go figure) are probably not what you are looking for. They are going to be more tannic and dryer than you have described. Also, I realized that I forgot to mention that port is fortified with brandy.

For what you want to do, the wine tasting trip to Temecula is sounding better and better. If you've never done it, it's a fun trip. It will also allow her to taste a lot of different wines and see what she likes.

So, back to the original question. An after dinner wine, red, sweet with little to no bitterness, you are asking for port. Port originated in Portugal, but there are excellent california ports. I particularly enjoy the ones from Fenestra and Jewel, but those will likely be hard to find in San Diego. On the other hand, you should not have trouble finding a port from Stuart Wine Cellars or Temecula Hills in your area. Both are good, I prefer the Temecula Hills port myself.

Asti Spumante is a very sweet sparkling white wine. If you are looking for a similar level of sweetness but don't want a port, then you need to find a "Late Harvest" wine. The temecula winery Bella Vista Cilurzo sells a late harvest petite sirah that would fit the bill nicely. A napa winery by the name of Van Der Heyden sells a late harvest cabernet that is TO DIE FOR, but it is no longer the best kept secret in Napa. What used to cost $35 for a 750ml bottle is now $75 for a 375ml bottle...

If you want a red wine that is not a dessert wine, then you should go with the Pinot Noir or, if you can find it, a Touriga. The Touriga would be perfect, it's a lighter red that is relatively sweet and very good. Fenestra (www.fenestrawinery.com) makes one of those as well, although it might only be available to wine club members.

Another thing you can do is PM me for my cellphone number and call me from the wine shop :-)


08-25-2006, 16:54
My favorite sommelier is going to kill me for this (he hates Indiana wine), but based upon the fact she likes sweet, as in Asti, I think it might be better to forego the fine wines of CA and come home to Indiana where there the local wineries (Easely, Simmons, Oliver, etc) do make sweet red wines. While they are not my choice, they do seem to be popular with those that drink them.

As far as standard wines, I second the idea of syrahs. I would especially recommend any Marquis Phillips syrahs if you can find them, especially since I have heard their latest (and last) bottling is being dumped on the market at below $10 retail (the wine is good, but the 2 partners had a legal falling out and this is their last effort...I heard the partner with control of the product just wanted to get rid of it quick in order to make way for a new product line).

One non-red suggestion, since she likes Asti, I would recommend finding a nice Moscata d' Asti. This is a totally different wine (only the name is close), not as sweet or as bubbly, but a real nice wine to have with Thanksgiving turkey.


08-25-2006, 17:10
WOW!! Thanks so much for the advice guys.

Joel, you have been a big help. I think that we are going to head on up to Temecula next weekend.


08-25-2006, 18:37

If you visit Wilson Creek Winery, please take note of a gazebo on the west side of the building. For a couple of years it was the site of a community band festival where yours truly played his dreaded euphonium.

If you see either of the two Labs that served as greeters and doorstops back then, stop and give him a pet.

Now I'm getting nostalgic for the area I still think of as home. Sniff . . .

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield

08-26-2006, 14:54
Back when I was married, my wife preferred sweet wines, whereas I tend toward dry, full-bodied reds. One compromise we found helpful was German wines. Though not dry nor red, they have enough quality and variety for me to enjoy exploring, while she liked their sweetness, and you can enjoy them with food if you are broad-minded. After all, plenty of people drink sweet soft drinks with food, why not sweet wine?

If you want to try some red table wines you both can enjoy, merlots are a good place to start. If she finds a merlot too tart, there's no point even trying most other reds.

If she likes Asti she probably would like Lambrusco. These slightly fizzy, sweet, red wines were very popular about 20 years ago, then were killed off by wine coolers, which themselves then died out. However, I think there might still be some Lambruscos available. They aren't fine wine, but might be something you both can drink and enjoy.

As for the comment about refrigeration, I don't know of any wines that need to be refrigerated for any reason. The only reason they are refrigerated is so they can be consumed cold. Also, very few wines sold today need or will even benefit from additional age. The vast majority of wines are sold ready to drink.

I find the wines of Australia, Chile and South Africa to be very good values.

08-27-2006, 19:53
As for the comment about refrigeration, I don't know of any wines that need to be refrigerated for any reason. The only reason they are refrigerated is so they can be consumed cold. Also, very few wines sold today need or will even benefit from additional age. The vast majority of wines are sold ready to drink.

I find the wines of Australia, Chile and South Africa to be very good values.

If you lived in southern california I'd have you over to try some of the 1999 Fenestra Cab that wasn't in the heat vs. the 1999 Fenestra Cab that was, and you would understand the value of keeping wine cool. Anyone can tell the difference between them.

Australia, Chile and South Africa are all emerging markets, and tend to produce wines that are ready to drink off the shelf because of their price point. There are a LOT of wines that should be cellared before they are drunk, but they generally aren't sold in grocery stores. That's not a knock on buying wine at the grocery store, just a comment on their market. They sell wine to people who want to take it home and drink it. Thus, they do not sell wines that need to be aged properly.

I have bottles in my cellar that, ideally, should be drunk in about ten years. I have others that I age only a few years. I purchased bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon for my kids that they will open on their 21st birthday and they will be 21 year old wines at that time. They will be divine bottles of wine when that day comes.

My aunt & uncle have a wine cellar with over 1000 bottles of wine in it. We have done vertical tastings (open four or five bottles at the same time, all from different years) of the same wine, and I can tell you that age most certainly does have an impact on quality red wine. Age is not the only thing; however, as vintage also plays a part. We most recently did a vertical of Silver Oak Napa Valley. I ranked them as follows: 1993, 1996, 1997, 1995, 1994. As you can see three younger wines were better than the 1994, but the oldest of the group had the best combination of age and vintage. Obviously they were all fantastic wines, but when you taste them side by side the differences really stand out.

White wine is entirely different. Most white wines are actually damaged by aging beyond a few years, they do not improve.

It is also important to realize that every wine has a peak age. With a "grocery store" red wine, it will be better in a year than it is today, but at some point it will reach it's peak and then begin to decline. When that happens it eventually turns to vinegar. I have aged wines past their prime, and it's _very_ disappointing. How to know? Better wines will tell you on their label how long they expect the wines to age and when they will be at their best. If you have a relationship with the winery or are in a wine club, they will tell you. When the winemaker says "drink it now" it's time to start drinking it, because it isn't going to get better any longer.

We actually purchased a few bottles of "two buck chuck" on a whim and aged it. It was 2001 vintage cabernet, and in 2004 or so it was simply amazing for what it was (no amount of age was ever going to turn it into a stag's leap or a silver oak, but it was a lot better than it was in 2001). Six months later I opened the last bottle and it was utter swill.


09-17-2006, 17:32
Well, finally got up to Temecula today, just got back actually. What a fantastic time. I haven't that nice of a time in a while. I will go ahead and list the stops.

1. Miramonte - Got there at 10:01, they were closed.

2. Stuart Cellars - What a great place. We showed up just as they were opening (approximately 2 minutes after Miramonte), and were greeted by Marshall, the owner. Just an overall friendly place, and a real treat. I WILL be visiting here again. Great. Picked up two bottle of Callista, their house blend, at $7 a bottle. I couldn't pass the deal.

3. Longshadow Ranch - Nice place, not as upscale as SC, but very friendly. As it turns out, Claus, the host, spent several years in my small hometown in Indiana. Picked up a bottle of White Feather Chardonnay here, something about it really stuck on my palate.

4. Wilson Creek - Wow. Beautiful place, but too busy for my likings. The wines were good, but the Champagne was better. We left with a bottle of the Almond Champagne, and I really look forward to popping that open.

Dave - I looked for your Dogs, couldn't find them. I only saw one Golden Retriever, and he had no interest in me. Sorry.

5. Temecula Hills - Long drive, but I rather enjoyed it. Very quaint facility, but SO peaceful. Had a late lunch under the gazebo here after tasting. Great view, and the Thompson grapes overhead were delicious. I liked the fat little dogs. The wines were good, and I just could not leave without a bottle of Port. Scrumptious.

6. Miramonte - Just stopped in real quick, as they were now opened. Didn't taste the wines, but enjoyed looking around a bit. I was startled by the bear skin rug, oh, wait, that was the dog. My girlfriend was convinced that Mira was a bear, I think she still is. Beautiful place, expensive, but beautiful.

Overall I had a great time, and I find that I am actually attracted more to the white wines than the reds, same with the girlfriend. I cannot express how great of a time this was. Can't wait to go back.


09-17-2006, 23:27
Hey Jeremy,

Since you live in San Diego there's probably a BevMo near you. They usually have a great selection of wines (both white and red) with many low price specials that are generally quite good. I've learned a lot by just buying some of the wines on sale and comparing them. In particular you might want to look for wines from Chile and Mendoza, Argentina, which are generally inexpensive (at least at BevMo) and quite delicious.