Virgin Sailboat Shopper
First of all a 33 to 40 foot sailboat is a very big boat to really learn to sail on. While you can learn the rudimentary aspects of sailing on a boat this size, it si very hard to really develop the finer skills of sailing. Of course people''s definitions of ''learning to sail'' can vary pretty widely so if developing a high skill level in sail trim and boat handling isn''t important to you, then you might get by with a boat that size.
As to the topic at hand, of the big three manufacturers, in general sense, Beneteaus First series seems to have the better windward performance. Beneteau has several series that they manufacturer from their basic (Idyle, Oceanis and ''Number'') series to their more performance and better build quality (First) series, to some extremely high quality custom and semi-custom series which we don''t see much of in the US.
In that size range the 38s5 is a really nice boat. I have spent quite a bit of time in and around the 38s5''s. They sail very nicely on al points of sail. The 38s5 can be gotten with three keel options with the two deeper (5''6" and 6''1") options being lead, and the shallower option being iron.