Clueless about wine? Don't worry, you're sitting in a pretty crowded boat. While it seems more and more people are drinking more and more wine, there's still a wide gap out there in terms of wine knowledge.
At the apex of the American wine scene are a small percentage of savvy wine drinkers. Most of the books, newspaper articles and blogs are aimed at them. Then there's everybody else.
"There's a huge gap. That's why I chose the American market for my book," said Carolyn Evans Hammond, the Toronto-based author of the just-published "Good, Better, Best: A No-Nonsense Guide to Popular Wines," published by Alpha.
"Right now, the United States is poised to be the biggest wine consumer in the world," she added. "The vast majority of what (it) drinks is popular big brands costing under $15."
Yet, as Hammond points out, most wine reviews and advice is aimed at higher-priced, small-production wines that often can't be found where you live. Her book seeks to rectify that by comparing the big brands by price point (up to $15) and grape variety.
"There's a huge gap in wine criticism," she said. "We need to look at the wines that are the most popular, rank them and tell people which are the best."
Her quest raised eyebrows among some of Hammond's wine friends, who thought the work to be a "grueling exercise." Yet she is quick to note that many professional tastings feature terrible bottles that cost a lot more.
"There is wine snobbery in the industry, of course," she said.
Just how pervasive that snobbery is, and how it can hobble a beginner's quest to learn about wine, really hit home for Tom Wark when he was asked to review a list of the top 10 wine questions on search engine Ask.com. The questions ranged from how many calories are in a glass of wine to the number of bottles in a case to the right way to open a wine bottle.
Wark is a wine publicist based in Napa, Calif., who blogs at Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog (fermentation.typepad.com). Those Ask.com questions opened his eyes to how much people don't know about wine — and how he responded.
"I really need to remember not to be flippant when I'm asked a wine question by someone who is without knowledge of the subject," Wark wrote on his blog.
"But I can help by rendering a response that isn't condescending," he added.
Wark said those starting out in wine should simply pick up a book for beginners and focus on the pocketbook.
Hammond agreed, saying you shouldn't spend more than $15 until you "understand your preferences" and take responsibility for discovering the flavors you like.
Start with the major grapes, she said. "Chardonnay? Citrus. Merlot? Cherries. Cabernet sauvignon? Like black currant. This is consistent, it's not going to change."
Ten wines to try Carolyn Evans Hammond lists more than 250 wines in her new "Good, Better, Best: A No-Nonsense Guide to Popular Wines." Here are her top 10 "must try" wines priced under $15. Prices may vary. For more information, go to her Web site wine-tribune.com.
1. Cavit Collection Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie, Italy; $7
2. Columbia Crest Two Vines Chardonnay, Washington; $8
3. Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Riesling, California; $12
4. Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon, California; $22 (for 3-liter box)
5. Gabbiano Chianti, Tuscany, Italy; $9
6. Mark West Pinot Noir, Sonoma County; $10
7. Bogle Petite Sirah, California; $10
8. Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet, South Australia; $11
9. Korbel Brut California Champagne, California; $9
10. Sutter Home Family Vineyards Moscato, California; $6
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