To begin. I have seen a progression in regard to learning and enjoying wine. Those brought up as the "Coke Generation" are used to their sweets and this tends to reflect how people begin to drink wine. They may start with muscats, or muscadine wines, which are really really sweet. Some are downright syrupy, while others, like our Hog Island Sweet White, have been blended to bring out the best of these grapes without having the experience of swallowing a teaspoon of sugar. For those from up north, maybe an introduction to Rieslings or Mosels provide the same sweetness fix.
From here wine drinkers tend to try the semi-sweets or the fruitier dry white wines. Chablis used to be a big hit, but Chardonnay seemed to take over. A stainless steel Chardonnay isn't over-oaked, and can show you how well a particular grape can taste if you just leave it alone.
Now the big step: going from whites to reds. There are what I would call "gentle reds", and then there are the reds with much more personality, if I am allowed to describe a wine with those traits.
I would include in these gentle reds wines like Shiraz (or Sirah....same grape) and Merlot. Both are French, originating from different regions. They tend to be easy to swallow, have some character without jumping right out at you. They are a nice way to ease into the Bordeaux wines that I describe as being able to stand up for themselves. These more robust reds, as far as French wines are concerned, include those that can be used in a Meritage blend, a blend legally defined as requiring a minimum of 3 Bordeaux grapes. These include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
Lastly, if you want to "graduate" to the heartier, bolder reds, take a short trip eastward on the Mediterranean and land on the shores of Italy. Whether it be a Tuscan Red, or a Barolo or a Montepuciano, all of these wines provide a punch. These tend to be higher in tannins, appear drier, and have strong fruity aromas.
Now purists might say I've forgotten quite a few grapes in this quick summary, and they're right. I didn't slot in any of the Spanish wines, and wines such as Beaujolais, Sauternes, Pinot Noir, along with hundreds of others all have their place in the world of wine enjoyment.
And of course even within the specific wine types themselves there can be significant variations in how they are presented and hence how they are received. I have poured plenty of wines to people who declare they hate reds, only to find our medium bodied, light on tannens Cabernet Franc gets us at least to 2nd base for many (some we hit triples!). Terroir and the wine maker can have a major influence on how these wines turn out, year to year.
All of this gets me to understanding our customers. They may be anywhere along this path to wine enjoyment and experience. Some never gravitate to anything other than the sweets. Others are willing to try our lineup of wines recognizing that they are still in the everlasting journey of broadening their wine knowledge. (And others will proclaim they are willing to try, make ugly faces when we provide tastings of dry wines, and only smile when we finally get to the sweet wines which we pour last.....oh well).
But on rare occasion I find the consequent wine drinker. They have run the list I've described. Yes, they have their favorites, but they also recognize the flavors within each of these levels and have an appreciation on when and where each of these wines fit into their daily lives, and daily meals. It is the dry red wine drinker who can still sip a sweet wine with dessert. The white wine drinker who can enjoy a Port after dinner. They judge the wine not on their preferred selection, but against it's peers or how it will fit in the overall scheme of wine drinking. They tend to be rather humble in their wine knowledge, though they are really at the top of the pack. They are continually learning and realize they will never learn it all.
I met one this past weekend.