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Dear Dr. Vinny,
When I taste some red wines, I feel like my jaws are locking up. What kind of wine would you suggest for someone new to wine? The sweeter the better.
—Rebecca, Chelsea, Ala.
It's not unusual for a big, tannic red to cause your mouth to feel like it's tightening. Wine (especially red wine) has tannins, which can be bitter or even astringent, and that sensation is the tannins affecting your saliva glands, causing a rapid increase in saliva secretion from the glands in your mouth. You might have a similar reaction to other bitter things, like black tea, certain beers or cranberry juice. Sometimes very tart things, like fresh lime juice, give me the same reaction.
If that’s your experience with dry red wines, I agree you might want to start with something sweeter. That’s not to say you will never enjoy red wines—tannins are something that we can become more accustomed to over time.
The good news is that many of the most popular wines in the U.S. are sweet, semi-sweet and off-dry wines like Moscato, or red or pink wines with a touch of sweetness left in them. Even more good news is that most of those don’t cost very much.
If and when you think you’re ready to graduate to more “serious” wines, find a wine shop you like and tell them the wines you’ve enjoyed, and how much you’d like to spend. After you've tried their recommendations, let them know what you liked or didn't like about them. A good wine shop employee will be able to help guide you in your discoveries.
Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.