James Feldkamp provides his beginner guide to wine

Jun 24, 2021 4:00 PM ET

In 2020, most of us stayed bottled up.

The stress from being locked inside is bubbling over. Another glass of wine isn’t an option. It’s necessary.

James Feldkamp understands this more than most. Since retiring from the U.S. Navy, he’s also served as an FBI special agent and Congressional nominee. Currently, he’s a professor at Georgetown University. If anyone deserves to relax with some vino, it’s this former officer.

Yet, he also understands that wine can feel exclusive for beginners. Whether it’s ordering a bottle at a restaurant or picking one up at the store, the process can feel intimidating. But, you don’t have to become a sommelier to enjoy. With years of experience sipping and sampling, James Feldkamp recommends these tips for anyone wanting to uncork their first bottle.

Start with the basics. Understanding the process and what’s in each bottle is important. Wine is produced from fermented grapes when juice is released by pressing. These drinks get their names from either the types of grapes used or the region they originate. The color is derived from the grape. Red wine is made by soaking skins with the juice, but white wines are created without these skins. Labels are helpful. Each will typically contain the maker, the vineyard’s name, production year, the region, and the type of grape used.

Although the varieties and combinations are endless, all wines fall into one of five groups. Red wines, like Pinot Noir and Merlot, range from light to bold. White wines can be light or very rich. Some varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Chardonnay. Both dry and sweet kinds are popular. Sparkling wine can be any of those three types but involves another fermentation to produce bubbles. Dessert wines typically lean sweet. Dessert wines, like Sherry, have been fortified with spirits. Despite all these options, there’s no reason to be overwhelmed. James Feldkamp advocates selecting a few from each type and simply trying each. Develop your taste by comparing their flavors and finding what you like.

Taste is mostly subjective, but there are some common flavor profiles. To describe what you’re tasting, practice using terms like sweetness, acidity, tannin, and body. As it sounds, sweet is easy. The opposite of this is dry. Acidity is big for white wines, making them taste refreshing and crisp. For red wines, tannins are equally important. High tannins produce bitter notes, while lower levels are smooth and soft. The body is a wine’s perceived heaviness. Full-bodied types feel thick. Finally, the flavors can be described as fruity, spicy, earthy, smoky or even flowery. Knowing these terms creates common ground amongst wine enthusiasts and helps refine your own palette.

While there’s lots more beyond these introductory suggestions, this will get you started. Luckily, there’s no requirement to simply grab a glass. Sit back, relax, and just un-‘wine’-d.

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