Body is a tasting term that refers to the weight of a wine on the palate – its mouthfeel in terms of heavy or light. Body is commonly referred to in three ways: full bodied, medium bodied and light bodied. Where the wine falls on that spectrum depends on grape variety, alcohol, tannin, sugar and extract levels.
The body of the wine is one of the most important characteristics. Working with the other characteristics of a wine, such as acidity, fruit and body influences the overall impression of a wine.
All liquids have a specific weight, determined by the presence of fats, alcohols, sugars and more. Wine is no different; this weight is the body. Think about the way milk feels heavier on the tongue than water, and you're on the right track to understanding how to determine a wine's body.
LIGHT BODIED WINES:
These feel like something between water and skim milk. Thin, refreshing and wet. Light bodied wines can have a long aftertaste (or finish) without filling your mouth. The following are common light bodied wines:
Chardonnay (cool climate; unoaked)
Sauvignon Blanc (cool climate; unoaked)
Pinot Grigio/Gris (unoaked)
Light bodied wines are low in alcohol, tannins, sugars and extracts. In general, they have under 12.5% alcohol. There are different ways of referring to light bodied wines:
Whites: light, zesty, airy, lean, racy, crisp, zippy, austere, long tingly finish, brilliant, lively.
Reds: subtle, delicate, elegant, crisp, thin, finesse, bright, floral.
MEDIUM BODIED WINES:
Medium weighted wines are mid-way between skim and whole milk. They are considered the best food wines because they have enough character to complement without being overpowered by the flavours of food. Medium bodied reds are often referred to as: food friendly, moderate, elegant, juicy, spicy, fleshy, mellow or soft.
Medium bodied wines sit right in the middle in terms of alcohol, tannin, sugar and extract levels. The general consensus in the wine world is that medium bodied wines have between 12.5% and 13.5% alcohol.
The following list shows just a few medium bodied varieties:
FULL BODIED WINES:
Full bodied wines are heavy in the mouth, some even consider them to be chewy or fat. They will feel like whole milk or even as heavy as cream. The following are typical full-bodied wines:
Chardonnay (warm climate; oaked)
Pinot Grigio (warm climate; oaked)
Full bodied wines have high levels of alcohol (over 13.5%), tannin, sugar and extract. However, when only one of these is in excess the wine will be unbalanced. Full bodied wines are commonly referred to in the following way:
Whites: rich, lush, oily, buttery.
Reds: rich, lush, opulent, rigid, intense, bold, extracted, high alcohol, high tannin, firm, structured, muscular, concentrated, hot.