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Body of Evidence

By Debra Meiburg MW

Fat, round or lean, we’re all obsessed with body image. Even wine hasn’t escaped the mania. With wine, body is the term used to describe its weight or perceived thickness. Many components of wine contribute to the sensation of body, including fruitiness, sweetness and alcohol.

Hold a swallow of wine in your mouth and balance the liquid on your tongue. Compare the weight to water, milk or cream. If the wine feels thick, heavy and viscous, it is full-bodied and should be serve with robust cuisine, such as grilled steaks or roast goose. Grapes producing full-bodied red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Zinfandel. These wines will be deeply colored with concentrated fruit flavor.

Medium-bodied red wines are produced from lightly pigmented grapes, such as Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, which from Barolo, Italy. Like the rest of us, the wine world is experiencing unprecedented weight gain. Consumers respond favorably to fat, heavy wines, so producers use winemaking techniques to craft red wines that are concentrated and heavy. The king of medium-weight red wines is Pinot Noir, whether grown in France’s Burgundy region or in newer wine producing regions, such as Marlborough or California’s Central Coast.

There are few light-bodied reds these days, but occasionally one will bump into a slimmed down Chianti, Valpolicella or Pinor Noir. Light-bodied wines can be as light as gossamer and are praised for their delicacy. If there isn’t sufficient flavor to round out the delicacy, however, then the wine is disparagingly described as thin or watery.

When it comes to white wines, you can be assured that Riesling is always a light-bodied wine – unless it is sweet. Sweetness adds weight and thickness to a wine, just as liquid sugar adds weight and roundness to iced tea. Other light white wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chenin Blanc; they can be easily spotted as their colors are very pale, similar to water.

The heavy-weight champion of white wines is Chardonnay. Like grandmothers, winemakers love to plump up their little darlings, so they use a bag of winemaking goodies, such as fermenting in oak barrels to give chardonnay substantial weight. On the other hand, the famed Chablis region in France produces Chardonnay in a light, tart style and as the market increasingly wearies of fat Chardonnays, many Australian vintners are dressing Chardonnay for its body shape, emphasizes its lightness. Another buxom grape is Viognier, the key grape behind the classic white wines from France’s Rhone Valley.

While grape variety primarily determines a wine’s weight or style, climate also has a role to play. Warm climates produce wines with high alcohol levels. Because alcohol levels add to the perception of weight, wine from warm climates are almost always full-bodied. Wines from cooler climates are usually light-bodied wines. Thus a Cabernet Sauvignon from sunny Napa Valley will always be fuller bodied than its slimmer cousin from France’s cooler Bordeaux region.

High quality wine comes in all sorts of weights, but it is important the weight of the wine is in balance with its fruity character, acidity, sweetness and alcohol content. Just like humans.

Comments One Comment for “Body of Evidence”
  1. Stephen Reiss, PhD, CWE on 07.29.14 at 23:01

    Thank you for writing an entire article about body, mouthfeel, and the “weight” of wine without resorting to the myth of glycerin.

    While you were not aiming to be technical, I would ask what your feelings are on Dry Extract as a source of body (for non techie readers, this is what is left when you take out all the liquid from wine). Reduced yields can ( but do not necessarily) add to the amount of dry extract in a wine, helping to distinguish wines from the same variety by quality, and therefore mouthfeel or body.

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