He’s looking a little full, don’t you think?
In decent society, you probably don’t want to comment on people’s appearance. In the world of wine, it’s perfectly acceptable and even encouraged to remark on a wine’s body.
In truth, this might be because wine body is less about sight and more about feel. To determine a wine’s body, you’ll ask questions like:
How does this wine sit in my mouth? Is it light or heavy? Does it have a thick texture or thin?
It requires you to get in touch with your tongue and taste buds. But before you start swishing and swirling, let’s learn a bit more about what factors are at play in determining wine body.
What Is Wine Body?
All drinks have a body. Orange juice has a thicker body than apple juice. Skim milk has a thinner body than whole milk. Even hot sauce has a body.
Wine body is simply the richness and weight of any wine. This affects how it moves and feels in your mouth, as well as how it moves within the glass.
The main factor contributing to a wine’s body is the alcohol content. Alcohol is what gives wine viscosity, which is a measure of how much resistance a fluid presents to new movement.
For example, maple syrup is much more viscous than water. Caramelized sugars provide resistance, meaning it takes more force and pressure to move the syrup as a whole. The same principle applies to alcohol levels. The higher the alcohol level, the more viscous the wine.
Because white wines typically contain more acidity and less alcohol content, they tend to fall on the lighter side of the spectrum while rich reds are generally categorized as full-bodied. Though, there are notable exceptions to this rule of thumb. For example, Chardonnay is a white wine with a very full body.
There are other factors that contribute to wine body as well:
- Residual sugars
- Grape variety
- The aging process
- Growing climate
Unfermented grape sugars tend to produce a more full body without increasing the sweetness level. But don’t go looking for residual sugar levels on the label. Most winemakers don’t post that information.
There are about 10,000 wine grape varieties grown on vines across the world. Less than a hundred of these are popular in winemaking. So, for every grape that’s common in winemaking, there are about a hundred that aren’t. Some grapes like Zinfandel produce a distinct, fuller wine body while others don’t have much influence on the ultimate body of the wine.
If you’ve ever gone bourbon tasting, you know that spirits aged in oak barrels often take on a thicker texture. The same principle applies to wines, with oak-aged wines falling on the fuller end of the spectrum.
In general, grapes grown in warmer climes lend to full-bodied wines. The higher temperatures cause the fruits to ripen more quickly, allowing for more natural sugars and lower acidity.
Different Body Types
Wine comes in all shapes and sizes, and we’re not talking about the glass it’s served in. While no two wines are exactly the same, we can categorize wines between three different body types: light, medium, and full-bodied.
These wines are lower on the alcohol spectrum, generally under 12.5% ABV. Most of these will be crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling, along with some lighter reds.
These wines contain more natural acids than other varietals, lending to a lighter, sharper taste.
Light-bodied wines generally like to be paired alongside lighter foods like baked chicken, roasted salmon, or a cobb salad.
Some wine enthusiasts steer clear of white and light-bodied red wines because they contain less complexity than full-bodied wines. While it’s true the flavors in light-bodied wines are more subtle, wine drinkers are only missing out if they’re not partaking in the occasional light white.
These varieties find a home on the next rung of the body spectrum, usually containing an ABV of 12.5-13.5 percent. These wines fall in the disparity between a light red and a heavy white, with popular wines being Sangiovese, French Burgundy, and Rosé.
Because these wines are perfectly balanced between sharp acidity and delicious tannins, they pair well with nearly any food you can throw at them.
Though, you’ll likely be best served by paring a medium-bodied red wine or similar white with more complex meat like roasted turkey, a meaty halibut, or even a pasta bolognese.
Any wine with an ABV above 13.5 percent falls into this category. Nearly all full-bodied wines come in the red persuasion such as Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Merlot, though the full-bodied white Chardonnay is a noteworthy exception.
These wines are rich, heavy, and complex. Many wine enthusiasts are happy perfectly satisfied drinking a glass of full-bodied red wine without accompaniment, though they also make a natural pair to a juicy steak or a meaty lasagne.
Experiment With Wine Connoisseur
Wine body is one of the key aspects to pay attention to with any glass of wine. Like many other metrics, it ultimately comes down to your subjective experience. How does the wine feel for you?
If it helps, close your eyes and swish the wine around in your mouth. Does it move thicker or thinner than another varietal?
Compare a light-bodied white to a full-bodied red. See if you can tell the difference.
While you’re experimenting with wine body, be sure to also experiment with your wine’s proper temperature and oxidation levels. These two factors are some of the most important in amplifying the most desirable qualities of your favorite wine.
To get a perfect sip every time, your best bet is to use a personal sommelier system like the Wine Connoisseur. The Wine Connoisseur ensures every glass is properly chilled and optimally oxidated, helping you maximize enjoyment and pay even greater attention to the taste and body of your favorite vino.