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Wine Q and A

Q. “I’m new to wine … so many choices to try. Which wines should I start and end with?”



A. I find that in some instances, newcomers to California are hampered by puritan standards, and the palate needs a slow awakening in the direction of wine education. Coming to Wine Country, U.S.A., does indeed present a challenging change, a definitely different lifestyle from where they came, to wine mindful Nevada County.

Traditional beginning says to start with bone-dry wines, work into softer and slightly sweeter whites, switch to the lighter reds, work toward the “big” reds, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, zinfandel, then conclude with dessert wines.




For the newcomer, that’s usually a tall order. First of all, bone-dry whites are hard to love if you’re new to wine with a sweet-tooth background, unless you have food to provide a framework for them. Taste them sparingly, unless you really enjoy them already, then move to the more accessible.

Don’t take my advice as a warning to avoid dry wines such as semillon and sauvignon blanc. They are among my favorite whites. They show their appeal with both fish and chicken, but especially when chicken is cooked with white wine. Also, both wine types will have special appeal if you are still learning the environment of the California cuisine.

And don’t let the snobbery of chardonnay keep you from other fine wines. Yes, chardonnay is great, but often people become so busy with making sure they know all of its nuances that they miss out on some other delightful wines.

It might be difficult to find Riesling and Gewurztraminer produced in Nevada County, but it’s produced elsewhere in California and can be found on wine lists in most of the finer restaurants in both towns. Both white wines, along with chenin blanc, are made in a softer style. All three offer stunning floral and fruit flavors that are especially rewarding to novice tasters.

Among the reds, don’t immediately migrate to pricey merlot, cabernet sauvignon or the county’s newly trendy syrah. You might miss out on a yet-to-be discovered gold medal winner, a zinfandel. So do a little research at the wineries you’ll be visiting. Certainly, you ought to taste the wines on which the county wineries have built their reputations. And also ask the folks in the tasting rooms to let you taste the wines they’ve really been taken with recently. You’ll fine some great surprises – in both red and white!

Norm Gates can be reached at


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