18 gateway wines for converting even your stubbornest beer buds
“I never had a taste for wine. I think it’s because my family didn’t really drink it, so I never got into it. I did drink a super cheap magnum by myself once when I was 20 and I had to army crawl back from the brink of death, so it kind of ruined wine for me.” ~ Bridget Q.
I have just arrived in Buffalo, NY, where my husband was born and raised. We come here as a family often, and, over the years, I have fallen in love with the city as well as the exciting food and wine scene that is happening in parts of the downtown area.
But my husband – and all his family and childhood friends – are from South Buffalo, a distinction he is always careful to make when discussing his upbringing. He says it with pride, as do all who are from this part of the city. But he also says it with a twinkle in his eye, the sort of “If you know, you know” nod to those familiar with what this means.
The area is and has always been the heart of Buffalo’s Irish working class community. Streets are dotted with Republic of Ireland flags and bustling Irish pubs. It’s a classic neighborhood, where every bar feels a bit like Cheers, and everyone – everywhere – really does know your name… as well as what street you grew up on, how you got that black eye at your uncle’s wedding, and what your parents do for a living. It’s two-parts close-knit, ultra-loyal community, one-part nightly bar fights, and most who are born here rarely leave.
Like many neighborhoods like this, the beer-drinking culture is strong. And it’s not a craft beer scene per se. It’s beer in all forms, but mostly light, cheap, and cheerful lagers consumed in large quantities.
I have made the mistake on occasion of ordering the “house wine” from the local bar (there’s usually only ever one on offer), and resigned myself, a wine professional, to joining the rest of the crowd sipping Michelob Ultras and Miller Lites instead. Despite the presence of some cool wine bars in nearby towns, not to mention the proximity of several wine destinations like Niagara, Lake Erie, and the Finger Lakes, the loyalty to these light beers remains strong. Impenetrable, even.
With this in mind, I set out to figure out what it takes to change a die-hard beer-drinker’s habits. Is it even possible? What prevents beer lovers from venturing into the wine world? And, are there any wines that might serve as enticing gateway options to lure the brewski-obsessed crowd? I ended up with a breakdown of most beer drinkers’ excuses for not drinking wine, as well as what wines to counter with when you’re trying to convert them… or trying to ditch your own suds-sipping habit.
If they say… “Beer is lighter .”
“I always choose beer because it is just lighter in general,” says Marie, a 41-year-old professional, born and raised in South Buffalo. “I also drink Ultras and Coors and most beer people would say they are basically water.”
As someone who regularly has to check myself because I suddenly realize I am slamming white wine while cooking dinner, I know many an easy-drinking-wine fan would take great offense to this statement.
For those looking for lightness in a beverage, we all know there are tons of crushable white and rosé wines out there, not to mention fun, chillable reds that are both lower in alcohol and easy to drink. If they’re reaching for beers that are “like water,” there are also plenty of options that are refreshing without being cloying. Hand them a glass of Pinot Grigio, Albariño, Muscadet, or Txakoli if you can find it. Even lighter? Throw a little seltzer in their wine and whip them up a cool, refreshing spritzer.
Wines to try:
Baskoli Txakoli Bianco, Txakolina, SP, $26
Donnafugata Bell’Assai Vittoria DOC Frappato, Sicilia, IT, $25
Condes de Albarei Albariño, Rias Baixas, SP, $19
If they say, “I get a wine hangover.”
“I don’t like wine hangovers,” continues Marie. “They are the worst for me. Granted I probably chugged a really cheap bottle to feel that way.”
Well, yes. Hangovers are awful. But while there is some science that shows correlation between certain components of wine and hangovers, the main cause of feeling like death the next day is… drum roll, please!… alcohol.
We all know not all wine ABVs are created equal. Round up a few selections that are lower in alcohol to show your beer-drinking friends that it is possible not to end up toilet-side after an evening of sipping.
Wines to try:
Tank Garage The Alright Fight Club White Blend, Edna Valley, CA, $32
J. Lohr Wildflower Valdiguié, Arroyo Seco, CA, $13
Quinta da Raza Branco, Vinho Verde, Portugal, $14
If they say, “Wine is too complicated.”
I would argue that the kaleidoscope of different flavors and textures in wine is precisely what makes this category so exciting. Then again, I also cried once while sipping a barrel sample from two side-by-side plots of the same vineyard because I was overwhelmed by how nuanced the differences were, so my perspective may be a little different.
When someone seems overwhelmed by the world of wine, it’s a great opportunity to have a conversation. Jennifer, a daycare teacher and mother of three, didn’t realize she was setting up a perfect scenario when explaining why she is more of a beer drinker.
“When I do drink wine, I tend to be more of a red wine drinker,” she says. “I love Shiraz, Pinot, Grenache, Merlot, and red blends, which are more in line with the heavier beers I drink in the fall, like porters, stouts, and seasonal blends. I’ll blame it on the ever-changing weather here in Buffalo. My taste changes right along with the seasons.” What a great approach to take when introducing wine to beer lovers!
Wine has admittedly created an exclusivity problem and is faced with somewhat of an existential crisis as it tries to figure out how to reach younger, more casual drinkers who are put off by the category’s perceived lack of accessibility. A good place for us to start is reminding the insistent beer lover that there’s no wine exam afterward; they don’t need to analyze what’s in their glass any more than they need to summarize the tasting notes of their Coors Light. Hand them a glass of something you like, tell them what you like about, staying away from wine geek terms like “tension” and “oak integration,” and see where the conversation takes you.
Wines to try:
Ettore Chardonnay Pure, Mendocino, CA, $28
The Paring Red Blend, California, $25
Juggernaut Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA, $20
If they say, “Beer is Way More Refreshing.”
“I find beer to be so refreshing,” says Jennifer. “And I haven’t found many white wines that I love.”
The desire for something refreshing often stems from the sensation of being thirsty. Tell your friend to down a glass of ice water or a frosty club soda and then crack open a bottle of Piquette. You will have an instant convert, I promise.
Wines to try:
Malene Rosé, Central Coast, CA, $22
Anarchist Wine Co. Crushpad Piquette, California, $19
Cuvage Metodo Classico Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC Brut, Piedmont, IT, $40
If they say, “My family never drank wine, so I don’t.”
This argument just reeks of a fear of change, which is never good and even worse when it comes to beverage options. Go back a few generations and your family also never carried a supercomputer around in their pocket or rode in cars that drove themselves.
Of course we are shaped by our upbringing, with neighborhoods like South Buffalo more entrenched in tradition than other, more transient cities, but this mentality is a slippery slope. Save the family conventions for whether you all run a 5K or pour mimosas on Thanksgiving morning. When it comes to food and drink, traditions are meant to be challenged and new ones created; so invite your change-averse friend over for dinner and present some new wine options instead of beer. Hell, get a little crazy and try a pairing menu. Few rituals compare to the opening and pouring of a bottle of wine at a meal with family or friends…which may just become their new favorite tradition.
Wines to try:
Louis Vallon Crémant de Bordeaux Brut, Bordeaux, FR, $18
Domaine Bousquet Gaia Malbec, Mendoza, AR, $20
Flora Springs Trilogy, Napa Valley, $90
If they say, “Wine is Too Expensive.”
When comparing beers like Bud Light to a bottle of relatively good wine, this is perhaps a fair assessment, but it’s also comparing apples to oranges. If approaching it from a risk perspective, it’s understandable why someone might not want to shell out big money for a wine they may not like, when something as reliable as their favorite beer is within reach. Although, we all have our go-to wine finds under $15, and it’s tough to do a scroll through Instagram these days without seeing at least one round-up of top value-driven wines from Trader Joe’s and Costco.
“I’m happy to try a bottle of wine I know nothing about at home for a reasonable price,” says Mike, a 65-year-old retired bank executive and father of five. “But I’m not willing to pay an unreasonable price at a bar or restaurant for something I may not like.”
These days, with customization and personalization as key cornerstones of many successful start-up brand strategies, there are plenty of wine kits out there designed to assess what your wine preferences might be and ship you either single-servings or sample kits to explore. There are also many great canned wine companies that make it possible for you to try specific wine types on a smaller scale. The key is translating these occasions into greater confidence when buying wine, especially when mark-ups feel more pronounced.
Wines to try:
Bright Cellars Wine Subscription, $60 to start