Tag Archives: Getting Started

How to Start Bird Watching So That You Keep Bird Watching

By Mike Bergin

From “10,000 Birds — Birding, nature, conservaton, and the wide, wide world.

Northern Gannet - Photo by Mike Bergin

Bird watching sounds simple, but for the beginner it’s anything but. Even the most barren habitat shelters enough stealthy, confusing, downright frustrating species to scare off newbies. Birding is exciting and fulfilling enough to sustain a lifetime of interest; but like anything else in life, first impressions are everything. Here are three simple steps to starting bird watching the right way

1. Consult the Calendar

Timing is everything. Unlike most outdoor activities, birding can be a year-round pursuit, but you’ve got to be attuned to the various seasons. If you look for ducks in summer or warblers in winter, you’re very likely to be disappointed. Figure out your quarry before you step out and you’ll have a better chance of finding what you seek.

In the United States, the best bird action pretty much follows this pattern, although your mileage may vary:

  • WINTER – waterfowl, owls, species from colder climes.
  • SPRING – migrants, particularly songbirds.
  • EARLY SUMMER – local breeders.
  • LATE SUMMER – shorebirds.
  • FALL – migrants, particularly raptors and songbirds.

Of course, your calendar may look a bit or a bunch different based on your latitude or longitude. The concept of observing the right birds in season, however, should hold true wherever you find yourself. Every season presents its specialty species in the full flower of their availability, diversity, and beauty.

BONUS TIP: The worst season in which to embark on your career in birding is probably early summer, that hot and humid period between spring and fall migration. Unless you’re a big fan of your local breeding birds, you’ll find that this is the most boring time of the birding year.

Caribbean Dove - Photo by Mike Bergin

2. Go Where the Birders Are

Notice how I didn’t say to go where the birds are. Get serious… birds are everywhere. No, if you want to see the right birds, go where the birders are.

The season should offer enough clues to figure out where avian enthusiasts are gathering. For example, in September on the northeast coast of the United States, you’ll find birders congregating at the shore for the last vestiges of shorebird season, hanging around migrant traps to pick up southbound songbirds, or situated atop mountains to partake in some quality hawkwatch action. Other times of year, you might comb old-growth forests or wetlands or landfills. Look for the folks decked out in earth-toned clothes and high-end optics and once you find them, don’t let go.

The ideal way to connect with bird watchers is to contact your local Audubon chapter or birding club. You may not realize it, but there is an excellent chance that some group in your area has a full slate of organized birding excursions open to non-members. Do yourself a favor and sign up for one of these trips. Not only will you get on the good birds and locate the right habitat, you’ll undoubtedly meet some very kind, very smart individuals. And, as a bonus, the trip leader will probably have an extra pair of binoculars on hand.

White Crowned Sparrow - Photo by Mike Bergin

3. Pay Attention

This final step may be the toughest for those of you who have a hard time coping with inexperience. Only the ignorant expect to hit a hole in one first time out on the links or to throw all strikes as a beginner bowler. Bird watching has a surprisingly steep learning curve. You’ll enjoy your earliest experiences of birding best if you allow the pros to do the heavy lifting for you:

  • Let them find the birds and, more important, identify the birds for you.
  • Be open to their descriptions of field marks, behavior, and habitat.
  • Marvel at how an experienced birder seems to conjure amazing new birds from the very air.
  • Look, listen, and learn.
  • Don’t pretend you know more than you do, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Getting started in bird watching is really as simple as this. If you have even the slightest predilection for nature or outdoor activities, but haven’t yet given birding a go, I challenge you to actually try these three steps for yourself. Once you experience a truly great avian display under the right conditions, be it a stream of raptors winging towards their wintering grounds, a thunderous flock of thousands of cranes, or a fall-out of jewel-toned songbirds where the warblers seem, for a brief time, to absolutely drip from the trees, you’ll be hooked!



Mike Bergin may be a leading authority in the field of college preparation, but he spends an awful lot of time focused on nature! Mike is the founder of the birding blog site 10,000 Birds and of the Nature Blog Network.



Zenergo is a free activities-focused social manager for active adults networking through their real-life interests. On Zenergo you can create activities, groups and events around Bird Watching. Please visit the site at http://www.zenergo.com to learn how more about how Zenergo can Activate Your Life.


Getting Started With TENNIS — or Getting Back Into Tennis

Tennis serverBy Gary Berner

Welcome to the wonderful world of tennis! This is first in a series designed for the new/novice tennis player, or the returning tennis player. You’d be interested in this information if you’ve never played before and are looking to take up the game, or if you played a long time ago when rackets were made of wood, and tennis balls came out of metal cans.

Either way, congratulations on taking the plunge into one of the truly great lifestyle sports.

I’m writing this from my point of view as an active competitive player, and an enthusiastic observer of professional tennis for nearly my entire life. A hundred years ago, I taught tennis at clubs in New York and Southern California. That means I’ve seen tennis played at all levels and all ages; from the newest four-year-old beginner, all the way to the incredible good fortune my son and I had of attending last summer’s Wimbledon Championships.

At every level, the most important mantra is to do your best, and have fun.

So how do you get started, or start again?

The good news about tennis is the initial capital outlay is very reasonable. You need a racket and sneakers. That’s it! And as a beginner, I’d recommend that you don’t go out and buy a racket until you’ve tried a few, preferably under the guidance of your local tennis instructor. I strongly recommend building a relationship with a local tennis instructor if possible. It doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, I think rather than plunking down hundreds of dollars on private lessons at a club, park, or school, the better way is to join a group instructional clinic at one of those places. You’ll have the advantage of actually meeting some folks you can hit with between clinics, and that’s really what it’s all about.

1910 Lady Playing Tennis

Practice, so you don't look like this!

Next Step: Practice (Of Course!) and Be Social

Once you’ve signed up for some instructional clinics at your local tennis facility, the next step will be to get out on the court at least once between each lesson or clinic.

During my years as a tennis instructor, I can count on one hand the number of beginning players who really got something out of the instruction if they didn’t practice in between lessons.

The other reason for doing this is that tennis is social! Make new friends by asking someone in your clinic if they’d like to get together in between. Do this, and you’ll find yourself getting out onto the court twice a week, chasing a ball and getting winded, and making friends. Isn’t that part of the reason you decided to pick this up?

Pace Yourself

Finally, go easy on yourself. The game is tougher than it looks. If you’ve had athletic experience before, that is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing because whatever sport you played will have some similarity, and your experience will make the learning curve a little flatter.

Curse because all sports are a little different. I’ve seen my share of former baseball players growling at how the baseball swing does nothing to prevent the tennis ball from flying over the fence, not a good shot in tennis!

It will take several months of hitting balls twice a week before you feel like you can sustain rallies and play games. That means you have to keep things in perspective so you don’t give up the ghost before it starts getting really fun. Hang in there. The rewards are worth the effort.

Well, that’s enough for today. My compadre will give you some tips on how to use Zenergo to help locate resources and possible partners. Stay tuned for more. I also plan to post some info for more experienced players in separate articles to follow.

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Use Zenergo to Help You Find Tennis Partners and Tennis Groups!

by Mac McCarthy

Take Your Tennis To Zenergo

Zenergo.com is the place you and your tennis friends can form a group to plan your games, schedule them on your group Calendar, share comments and pictures. Tennis coaches can manage their class schedules and your students can comment on Activity Talk — everything you need is in one place, fully integrated. Visit Zenergo.com – it’s fast, it’s free, it’s fun!

Sign up for Zenergo (it’s free and fast).


WINE TUTORIAL 4: Order & Drink Wine in a Restaurant Like A Pro!

By Mac McCarthy, Zenergo

We’ll do this tutorial mostly in bullet-list format — You’re busy, we’re busy, right?

Wine is a complicated subject so it’s no wonder it’s baffling if you haven’t made a study of it. After all:

  • Wine is made from living fruit, so hard to predict exactly how it will taste.
  • It’s made from various grapes with different flavors.
  • It’s grown in a variety of soils, countries, climates, and weather conditions–and the weather changes from year to year.
  • Wine growers have choice of various methods of growing, tricky decisions about when to pick the grapes.
  • Winemaker has many choices as to exactly when and how to crush, how long to leave the skins in contact with the juice.
  • Many choices as to type of yeast, type of barrels, how long to ferment, how long to age, how much sugar vs alcohol to allow.
  • Blending different wines produces still more variety.

So no surprise when there are so many different wines, flavors, styles, so it seems you’ll never catch up.

You won’t ever catch up, but it sure can be fun trying!

And then there are the pompous twits, who try to intimidate you.

Don’t be intimidated! It’s a beverage!

Don’t know much about wine? Most people don’t!

The great thing is: Learn a little, and you can get a lot of mileage out of it. You will be surprised how many people know less than you’ve learned!

So just follow the THREE SACRED RULES OF WINE TASTING which I just made up:

Rule 1: Like What You Like

Don’t like wine? Alcohol, tannins the usual cause for young people. You still have taste buds! Don’t be embarrassed. Eventually your taste buds will die like everybody else’s, and you can tolerate that harshness.

Anyway, if you find something you like, drink it; if you find something you don’t like, don’t drink it. Don’t force yourself to drink more than you like of what you don’t like.

Rule 2: Learn More by Tasting, Tasting, Tasting! Try, try, try. You will never run out of new things to learn. (This is the most fun rule, isn’t it!)

Rule 3: Don’t become a Pompous Twit. Be nice! Remember when you were a wine novice!

Bonus Rule: Don’t be a wine bore, either; not everyone is as interested as you are.


When you get stuck ordering wine for the table, just keep it simple:

1. If you don’t know anything about wine, get someone else to choose.

“Hey, Bob over there knows everything about wine — Let him choose.” Bob can deny it but he’ll be stuck. Heh heh.

2. If you get stuck, ask what everyone else likes. Let them argue among themselves.

3. When in doubt, get a White. It has no tannins, often less alcohol, so it’s easier on everyone.

You can order Chardonnay, but try a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Gris/Grigio.

4. When in doubt, ask the waiter “what do people like?”

5. Don’t order White Zinfandel, so you don’t get laughed at. White Zin tastes fine, but it’s a cheaply made wine that more knowledgeable people disdain, so skip it. On the other hand, “Rose” is a newly hip wine now, so ordering one of the pinks can be a good outflanking move.

What’s a Rose? It’s a light-duty Red: The skins on red-skinned grapes give the juice its red color during the crush–the longer it soaks in the skins, the redder the wine. Just take the skins out sooner than usual, and you have a Rose. Less skin contact=less red color, less tannins, and uh less flavor but easier drinking. Most Roses are drier than White Zin is.

6. Rule: If you don’t know much about wines, don’t get experimental! Not in a business dinner, anyway; with your newbie wine friends, go ahead, though!

7. Rule: When in doubt, buy it BY THE GLASS. Reduces your losses if you don’t like it. (Sometimes the waiter will even replace the glass with something else if you don’t like that one. Don’t abuse this privilege.) Besides, bottles of wines are wildly overpriced in all restaurants.

8. Rule: If someone else pays, or you’re splitting the tab, don’t over-buy! Get something from the middle of the list.

9. Rule: At a restaurant or bar, don’t buy the most expensive wine. It’s stupidly overpriced and not worth it!


Don’t bother. They skip half the letters, and use this accent.


You can’t. Even though they pronounce all the letters, it turns out they’ve got letters you never heard of.

11. How to Ask for Wines in a Wine Store (or bar)

“Hello there, I want to buy a wine and I don’t know much about them, so I could use your guidance. Here’s what I like:

“I like reds.”/”I like whites.”

“I like heavy-bodied (big) wines.”/”I like light-bodied wines.”

“I don’t like it too alcoholic (“hot”).”

“I do/don’t like sweet wines/dry wines.”

“I don’t like too much tannin (‘pucker’).”

“I don’t like too much acid (‘tang’).” More acid is excellent for food wines, by the way, because it’s “palate-cleansing.”

A typical beginning wine taster would likely be happiest asking for this: “I’d like an inexpensive (‘$10,’ or ‘$10 to $20’) red/white wine that’s ‘approachable,’ (easy to drink for someone still learning about wines), not too heavy or tannic, please.”


Made to sound complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward.

Main rule is: Reds with red meat; whites with white meat/fish

Red meat is beef, steak, pork chops, any barbecued or heavily sauced meat.

White meat is chicken, fish, pork chops (swings both ways).

Reason: Tannins in red wine match tannins in red meat.

Delicate flavors of chicken, fish aren’t overwhelmed by white wines.

EVEN BETTER: Have European-style red wines with meals:

–Lighter red wines like Burgundy, Italian reds.


By contrast, American-style wines are COCKTAILS. Because we don’t drink wine with all our meals, we drink them at cocktail parties in place of mixed drinks….

So don’t try to hard to match American reds with foods. Remember my mantra: “What goes best with a Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel? Why, another bottle of Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel, of course!”

With Chinese food: Try German white wines: Rieslings are the classic. French Beaujolais work well too. Any wine that’s light and crispy.

Thanksgiving: No hope, too many tastes; bring what you like, pretend you know what you’re doing. Remember! Nobody else knows much about wine either!


Much rigmarole. Here’s what to do at a fancy or business dinner if you’re stuck being the one ordering the wine:

1. If you order by the glass, it will just be served to all of you.

2. If you order a bottle of wine, by the bottle, the waiter will first show you the bottle. Nod wisely, as if you know what that means.

He will then open the bottle. If he offers you the cork (very rare these days), wave it off.

He will then pour YOU a little. Give it a swirl, a sniff, a taste. Then nod approvingly. He will serve the rest.

OR, if you’re gutsy, just wave your hand and say, “It’s fine, serve everyone.” This makes it seem like you are so beyond all that.

THE REASON they offer it to you to taste before serving the rest of the table: a.) To ensure it’s what you ordered (but how would you know?) b.) To ensure it’s ok (but how would you know?) c.) To ensure it’s not “corked” – actually, you WILL know this! If it seems to smell odd (for a wine), frown – then ask the waiter “Would you check this please?” and hand him the glass. If it’s corked, the waiter will know and replace the bottle immediately. If not, he’ll say it seems fine. Say OK and let him pour.

3. When it’s time to drink:

a. Hold glass by stem so it doesn’t get warmed up.

b. Swirl to air it out. This releases some of the alcohol and some bad aromas. (That’s why you serve yourself less than half a glass.)

c. Sniff. You may learn to enjoy what you smell, over time. SOME wines smell WONDERFUL! Many don’t smell like anything. Oh well.

d. Sip. Just a bit. See if you like it.

e. If so, continue to sip. DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH. This is a SIN anytime, but especially at a business dinner.

f. If you don’t like it, just put down the glass and ignore it for the rest of the evening, or from time to time pick up the glass and take a tiny sip.



1. Lots of mumbo jumbo, mostly b.s.

2. But not completely: The bottom line: Thin-walled glasses make wine taste better than thick-walled, like beer glasses, jugs, or water glasses (also better than paper/plastic cups).

3. BUT! Wine in anything is better than no wine!

4. FOR YOURSELF, go to BevMo and buy wine glasses.

Riedel is most famous, also expensive — $10 a glass!

But there are competitors at much lower prices.

Don’t worry about special glasses for each wine type (Bordeaux, Pinot, Cabernet, Zinfandel, etc., etc . !!) — Note that the glasses aren’t MARKED so you won’t remember which glass goes with what.

BETTER IDEA! Go to IKEA to the section where they sell glasses

Get a DOZEN pretty decent glasses for $10-12!! Get two cases and you can throw a party!

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Guides for beginners, even how to pronounce French wine labels

Wine for Dummies:

Also Dummies books on French Wine, Red Wine, White Wine, Italian Wine, and Champagne. Author McCarthy (no relation) has also written other wine guidebooks.

SAVVYTASTE.COM – Slogan is “Find the Wines You Like!”

JOIN A  GROUP — See for example:

Us! ZENERGO.COM has  groups in your area, and people you can friend as wine-tasting buddies, also  events. And if you don’t see one near you — start one and invite people in your area to join!


SKIP NAPA, it’s so touristy that they are overwhelmed, overpriced, and don’t serve the good stuff (too many young tourists just trying to get drunk; it must be depressing).

TRY SONOMA, the next valley to the West — just as many wineries, just as tasty, less expensive, less crowded, and less rude. The old town of Sonoma is very pleasant too.

Cuda Ridge, Livermore

Cuda Ridge, Livermore

–EVEN BETTER: TRY LIVERMORE, about 45 minutes east of San Francisco, out 580 towards the Central Valley; has some of the oldest vineyards in California. More than 40 wineries, under-discovered, unbelievably tasty wines, not overpriced, and glad to see you.

EVEN *MORE* BETTER–TRY THE (San Francisco) EAST BAY URBAN WINE TRAIL! Believe it or not, there are a dozen “urban wineries” in Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, and San Leandro — in former warehouses and airplane hangers. The wines are wonderful, some you’ll never see anywhere else, prices are reasonable, and they love tourists! Check http://eastbayvintners.com/ for winery locations and hours.

And the two dozen Santa Cruz Mountains Wineries (see http://www.scmwa.com/index.htm for maps and details) produce some of the best wines in the country! Worth the drive, it’s about an hour south of San Francisco.

This hardly scratches the surface! California has famous wineries in Santa Barbara County (“Sideways” anybody?), down in San Diego County, and up in the Sierra Foothills. Just think: Every time you come to California, you can visit another wine-country area, with completely different wines and different vibes! That’s why your California friends are smiling all the time — it’s not the weather, it’s the wine!


That’s an order, not a headline!

There are commercial (=real) wineries in every state in the United States. Even Alaska.

Most are pretty doggone good. Some are, uh, not doggone good. But it’s fun to visit and try! Make your own list of good/not good! (And send it to us. We’ll post it. Or post it yourself, on your wine group that you create on Zenergo! Maybe we’ll put it on the Wine Page for everybody else to read too!

Just remember: Learning about wine will take you the rest of your life. That’s the good news! And your life will probably be longer because of it!

See the other three posts in this series:

For Beginners: What To Taste (and What Not To Taste!)

Wine Tutorial: Roses, Champagne, White Wine, and Dessert Wine

Wine Tutorial: Getting Started Tasting and Drinking Wine

Copyright Michael “Mac” McCarthy 2011, all rights reserved. The four posts in this Wine 101 series are now available combined as an Amazon Single for your Kindle. Click the link for more info.

Wine 101: Getting Started with Wine Tasting: Your Wine Cheat Sheet

By Mac McCarthy

Consider this a cheat sheet for wine beginners.

When you want to start or join a wine group in Zenergo, or find a wine-Activity friend, or go to a wine Event — it can be intimidating if you’re just getting started learning about and enjoying wine. Jargon, buzzwords, pompous wine twits, puzzling wine-bottle labels, and so many types, prices, and opinions!

First piece of advice: Don’t let it get to you. Rule One in wine — and the only real rule — is Find Out What You Like!

When you taste a wine, you either like what you’re tasting, or you don’t. Nobody else can tell you what you’re supposed to like — it’s your taste buds, and your preferences. If you hate red monster wines and they like ’em — great! That’s what makes horse races.

And Rule Two: Try New Wines! You’ll find more you like.

Over time, your tastes will change and develop as you try more wines. So don’t jump to conclusions too fast — you may not like this kind of wine now, but another winemaker, making wine from the same kind of grapes, will make it very differently — and you may like that. The only way to know is to try!

Of course, you could go broke buying random bottles of wine to see if you like them. So don’t do that. Do this instead:

BAWDY--Our Winetasting Group

BAWDY–our amateur winetasting group–it’s all about fun, not formality!

1. Go to wine parties. Or hold wine-tasting parties of your own, with your friends. Or make wine-tasting friends on Zenergo and try wines together. Sharing gives you more choices and more tastes, and costs less.

2. Go to wineries. Every state in the USA has winemakers — and most countries of the world too. There’s probably a winery association in your area — they’ll have guides and maps and special events and tourist weekends. Visiting wineries is a great weekend activity!

3. Buy cheap wines. Not just box wines or jug wines — they can be easy to drink, but they aren’t good examples of what wine can be. You can find very interesting wines in your supermarket these days, or at your Trader Joe’s or other specialty grocer. You’ll actually find wines for less than $5 — some of them quite tasty. The great thing about picking up bottles of Two-Buck Chuck, for example (Trader Joe’s famously cheap wine brand) is that if you don’t like a bottle — it was only two or three bucks, you can pour it out, it’s no big loss. You’ve at least learned you didn’t like that one.

4. Keep track. Keep a notebook — just jot down the wines you find you like. That way you can get it again next time, because I promise you that you won’t be able to remember exactly which ones were which. And write down the exact info on the wine label: The maker, the year, the name of the wine, and any other special words, like Reserve, or Estate Bottled, or the name of a vineyard. Wineries make lots of different wines, and they can vary a lot in how much you like them. You might love the “Gallo Sonoma Reserve” and then get a bottle of the “Gallo Sonoma Cellars” and find out it’s very different, and that you don’t like it at all.

So you have to pay attention to a lot of detail on the wine label, unfortunately. So fair warning – if you really like something, write down the stuff on the label. “Gallo Sonoma Reserve 2005 Merlot,” for example, tells you that it’s made by/for Gallo, it’s more or less from Sonoma County in California, it’s their “reserve,” which usually means it’s their better stuff, it’s grown in 2005, and it’s a Merlot grape wine. All 5 of those facts are meaningful – the Gallo Cabernet, for example, will taste very different, and the 2004 Merlot may taste better, or worse.

(Good luck with French or German wines — there’s so much hard to decipher info on the label.)

Your Wine Cheat Sheet–Part 1: Background on Red Wines

We’ll start by giving you an overview of the main grapes made into wine — like Merlot and Cabernet — and the main countries noted for their red wines. In our next blog post, we’ll look at white wines, roses, champagnes, and dessert wines.

Even if you don’t like reds, scanning this blog post will let you keep up with wine-snob chitchat.

Red: A Rosenblum St Peter's Church Zinfandel

Red Wines in the United States

In the US, what the wine is called is usually based on what grape makes up most of the bottle, like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

In some parts of the world, like France, what the wine is called is based on the name of the area where it is grown – like Burgundy, or Bordeaux, or (in Italy) Chianti – and not on what grape is. But don’t worry about it. Areas tend to use specific grapes, such as Pinot Noir in Burgundy or Gamay in Beaujolais.

In the US the main RED wines you’ll find are: Cabernet Sauvignon, which can be robust and dense and “big” – more intensely flavored; Merlot, which can be somewhat lighter, with softer tannins (that tongue-stinging sensation like teabags) than Cabs and thus more “approachable;” and Zinfandel, the red version (not the white), which can be jammy and intense (and higher in alcohol). Pinot Noir makes lighter wines that are still very flavorful and vary a lot depending on the maker. Syrah is increasingly popular among the hip and can range from dense to very dense. Shiraz, which is a variant on Syrah, common in Australia, and can be light and fruity and very easy to drink. And Petite Syrah, which is less common, varies greatly in taste from winemaker to winemaker, and which a beginning wine drinker usually doesn’t like at first. Barbera is the main component in many Italian wines, and in the US can be made into a flavorful, fruity, easy-to-drink wine.

There are other grapes bottled in the USA that you’ll come across once in a while, and new ones being tried out all over the country, like Cabernet Franc, Primitivo, Charbonno, Nebbiolo, Carignane, and Gamay, and a hodgepodge of other lesser-known grapes. Never pass up a chance to taste something you’ve never heard of!

Red Wines in France

2011-Bordeaux Grand Cru tasting, San Francisco--A Lunch Bage

Chateau Lynch-Bages–a $$ “Grand Cru” French Bordeaux.

Very light red wines from France that are easy to drink for beginners include Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau, and an American cousin, Gamay Beaujolais. Beaujolais is pronounced the French way—that is, stupidly: Boo-Joe-Lay (except the Joe is a soft J, not a hard J like in Joe – ask somebody) – Beaujolais Nouveau (Noo-Voh) is a Beaujolais fresh from the barrels and not aged at all – it comes out Thanksgiving week and is great that week – and more awful every week that goes thereafter. Try it. it’s fun! (Beaujolais are made from the light-and-fruity Gamay grape.)

Burgundies can also be very tasty and easy to drink, light yet flavorful; they are made from Pinot Noir grape, but good Burgundies can be expensive. Very expensive. Very very expensive. So if somebody brings in a Burgundy, make that little eyebrow-raising “Well! I’m impressed” expression so the host will feel flattered – and will think you’re savvy. Score!

Also popular, with a distinctive aroma some love and some don’t, are French RHONE wines (pron. Roan or Rone), which are made of a blend of wines usually starting with a light fruity fun grape called Grenache, plus Syrah to give it some punch, and other random grapes like Mouvedre and Cinsault that you never heard of–up top a dozen grapes in the blend. No way to tell whether you’ll like them until you’ve tried them. Both Rhones and Burgundies (and Bordeaux) can vary widely in taste from winery to winery so if you try one sip and don’t like it, do try sips on other occasions from other makers.

And finally, though usually first in mind share, is Bordeaux, which is a red-wine blend made in the Bordeaux region of France and made of up to seven specific grapes, the main ones of which are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, in various combinations. Bordeaux is challenging for Americans mainly because quality varies wildly: The good stuff is expensive, and the affordable stuff is unpredictable. If you’re a beginning wine taster, you should drink other people’s Bordeaux rather than try to negotiate the purchase of the right bottle at the right price on your own.

Red Wines in Italy

In Italy, Chianti is easy to drink because it’s not very intense. There are intense Chianti’s, called “Super Tuscans,” that have more flavor, but even these are easy for a beginner to try. Chianti in general is a safe bet as a wine that won’t scour your mouth out. It is based on the Sangiovese grape, which is mellow; California makes a small amount of Sangiovese-based wines too. Another grape, called Tempranillo, bottled in Italy and elsewhere under various names, as well as in the US in small quantities, is also a safely mild wine. Also easy to drink is anything called Valpolicello, which I think is a Sangiovese wine.

Barberas, Brunellos, Nero d’Avola, and Primitivo wines can be stronger, more intensely flavored, but not too tannic, so give them a try – I love them; you might want to work your way up to them. (Primitivo is a Sicilian relative to American Zinfandel, by the way.)

Reds in Other Countries

There are a number of reds from Spain that are gaining popularity. Rioja (ree oh hah!) is the best known, and is usually milder than it likes to think it is. Mostly the popular reds tend to be somewhat heavy-duty, so sip cautiously.

Chile and Argentina make wine from a grape called Malbec (which is only a blending wine in France) – these used to be very cheap but very nasty, but Argentina, in particular, has learned how to make a truly wonderful, grand wine out of it. A great Argentine Malbec can compete head-on with a good California Cabernet — and unfortunately is priced similarly.

OK, that’s a start. Is your brain full yet? You may have to go try a glass of red wine, then!

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Move Your Wine Group To Zenergo!

But first, take a moment to consider the virtues of moving your (formal, informal, casual, super-serious, let’s-start-one-right-now) wine-tasting group onto Zenergo.

On Zenergo you can create your group, maintain your mailing list, send event invites, post pictures, keep a group calendar, store scoring sheets members can grab, and (if you choose) open your group to other Zenergo members to grow your group!

A Wine Group on Zenergo, with a Group for the January event.

In PART 2 we’ll look at Roses, Whites, Champagnes, and Dessert Wines!

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Copyright 2011 Michael “Mac” McCarthy, all rights reserved. The four posts in this Wine 101 series are now available combined as an Amazon Single for your Kindle. Click the link for more info.