One of the most common ways that wine is described is by its body. A wine’s body has no physical aspects, it is the sensation that we feel inside of our mouths when we taste it on our palate. Red, Rosé, and White wines all have different bodies, and the final body of the wine is dependent on which grape varieties are used, how they are grown as well as the method that the winemaker uses to make the final wine.
Wine Body Categories
Light-bodied wines are generally anything that has less than 12.5% alcohol and are described as being very refreshing and crisp wines. Champagne and sparkling wines are an example of typical light wines.
Medium-bodied wines are anything with an alcohol level between 12.5.% and 13.5% percent. Medium-bodied wines are considered perfect for food consumption because they have well-balanced tannins and acidity. A Burgundian Pinot Noir or oaked Chardonnay is a medium-bodied wine.
Full-bodied wines are anything that has an alcohol level of more than 13.5%. The wine will also have a heaviness that feels dense and thick on the palate. A California Zinfandel or an Australian Shiraz is a full-bodied wine.
What are the factors that determine the body of a wine?
Alcohol Level - the level of alcohol is one of the main determining factors that determine the body of a wine. The more alcohol there is in the wine, the more viscosity the wine will have and the slower it will move in the glass after it has been swirled and the “legs” appear on the sides of the glass.
Sugar - The amount of sugar in the wine also adds viscosity to the wine. Dessert wines are categorized as being full-bodied as they contain high levels of natural sugar or have had additional sugar added through Chaptalization are considered as being full-bodied. Sugars are often added to non-dessert wines to make them more appealing to the mass market.
Oak Aging - Oak aging offers the ideal conditions for malolactic fermentation which means that the malic acid is converted into lactic acid which results in a creamier wine texture
Grape Variety - different grape varieties have more sugars, alcohol, and tannins than others and this will affect the final body of the wine.
Glycerin - Glycerin is odorless with a syrupy texture and is a natural component that is created during the fermentation process, it is around 1% of the final wine composition. Some winemakers choose yeasts that produce more glycerol which creates a fuller-bodied wine.
Tannins - Add complexity to a wine, along with a higher concentration of flavor which gives the impression of a fuller-bodied wine. However, tannins are not an important aspect when deciding a wine's body.
Vineyard Climate - Grapes that mature in a hotter climate will always have a higher level of alcohol and sugar. Do not assume however that all wines from countries with hot climates are full-bodied. They are often light or medium-bodied.
What are the different types of wine bodies?
It should be noted that, unlike red wines, the body of white wines can be very variable and is very dependent on the amount of oak and malolactic fermentation that is used during the aging process. A Chardonnay can be either full, medium or light-bodied depending on the winemaking process that has been used, which also holds true for other white grapes. It must also not be assumed that all Rosé wines are light-bodied, the body of Rosé wines is very dependent on the grape variety and the amount of time that the juice is exposed to the skins during the fermentation process.
Some Dessert Wines are light, however, it is more common that they fall into the category of a full-bodied wine due to the fact that they have alcohol levels of over 13.5% and very high sugar levels, in some cases, a dessert wine has up to 220g of residual sugar per liter!
Once you understand how the wine body is calculated, selecting your favorite style of wine will become second nature. If you are still unsure, your local wine merchant or Sommelier will be able to further advise you in choosing your perfect bottle of wine.