Build a Better Wine List: Part Two

Last updated on May 27th, 2021 at 09:38 am

Wine bottlesAs mentioned in Part One of this series, below is my suggested list of must-have wines for the beginner winos out there. I’m a long time wine lover, so I’ve done my research. I’ve also cobbled together suggestions from the Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, and The New York Times.
Here’s a fun fact, according to a survey by the Harris Poll, 62% of Americans buy wine. Even better, about 80% of that wine is consumed within 24 hours of purchase. This is great news for most Zinfandels, which in my humble opinion, taste best if you drink them in the checkout line. Trust me, they’re not made for a prolonged shelf life.

The list below is comprised of reasonably priced wines that should be present on every wine list. Some taste great upon purchase, and some will age with grace…not that they’ll be on your rack that long.


A perfect introduction to first time wine drinkers, Riesling is fruity and sweet. Germany offers great vintages, but I can’t mention Riesling without giving props to Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington State. The winery has formed a partnership with Ernst Loosen of Germany’s Mosel, making their Riesling one of the best.

Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the big reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and full-bodied. However, not all Cabernets are made for aging – in fact, about 90% won’t. There are some good though, like Fuse 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon that you can drink young and enjoy. Once you move up in scale, i.e. top grade Cabernet you can expect a 10 year bottle to really develop its full spectrum of flavors.


One of the most popular white wines available, you can’t go wrong with Chardonnay’s well-balanced flavor. Logan “Sleepy Hollow Vineyard” Chardonnay is a great California white. Aged with oak, the flavor is round, rich and creamy. If you can’t find that, try a mid-range offering from Mondavi or Beringer.


Syrah tends to be a bold wine with a peppery, smoky taste. They’re great paired with food that is slightly spicy. Most Syrah is sold with a bit of age, so there’s no need to be choosy. Food & Wine magazine provides a great list of American Syrah and Petite Sirah.


I’m of French heritage, so it’s practically my birth right to believe champagne does not get better with age. However, I celebrated my 30th birthday this year with my parents and a bottle of bubbly from the back of their cellar. To my surprise and delight, it was delicious and rich in its age. Just the boost I needed to embrace the new decade of my life. I love Laurent Perrier 2002, however any California Champagne is a great addition to your wine list.


Despite the bad rep it got in the film Sideways, Merlot is one of the most accessible red wines. It can be paired with any medium flavored food, particularly beef and lamb. Try a Spanish Merlot like the 2000 Gran Toc Hill Reserva.

Pinot Noir

While I never used to favor this complex grape, Clos Du Bois recently hired a new winemaker (from my beloved Chateau Ste. Michelle) that has elevated their 2003 vintage, Marlstone onto my list.

Honorable Mentions:

Chianti, an Italian restaurant favorite, it’s an easy-to-drink wine that will complement your favorite pan of lasagna.
Dessert wines such as Sauternes or Moscato. Most of us confess to having a little sweet tooth, splurge on a Vintage Sauternes or a high end Moscato and you won’t be disappointed– these aren’t your mama’s wine coolers.

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