Wine body

Wine body. What does “body” mean and how does it affect your appreciation of a wine?

Several factors combine to determine a wine’s body. Grape variety, alcohol, sweetness are important factors, with grape variety the most influential.

Among major grapes, pinot noir has the lightest body. It also typically has higher acidity—it is a cooler weather, lower alcohol, and less tannic wine. All those qualities work together to create less body. Shiraz/syrah land on the opposite end of the scale—particularly Australian shiraz. Shiraz typically has lower acidity. It is a warmer weather grape, typically has higher alcohol because of warmer weather and riper fruits. It also has more tannin thanks to darker skin and generally more skin contact in the winery.

Other factors:

• Wines above 14% ABV tend to taste full bodied.

• Wines, including white wines, aged in new oak barrels taste more full bodied.

• Wines from warmer climates, where grapes tend to be riper, tend to be more full bodied. Warmer climate also can reduce acidity. Reduced acidity contributes to sensation of fuller body.

• Residual sugar creates sensation of fuller body. Dry wine still can have some residual sugar, even sugar added after fermentation. Such wines tend to be cheaper commodity wines. Quality wines with sweetness almost always have redeeming virtue of acidity. When wine seems full bodied, noticeably sweet, low acidity, major oak, you probably paid less than $10 for it.

Pinot noir almost always is the lightest-bodied red wine. There are exceptions, but when pinot noir has body usually is because it was blended with other, fuller-bodied grapes. Grenache, valpolicella blends, gamay, and cinsault are other lighter-body wines.

Medium-body wines include carménère, cabernet franc, sangiovese, barbera, merlot, and zinfandel. Full-body wines include malbec, syrah/shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah—with the delightful irony that “petite” means small and trim. Petite sirah has high tannins and heft, and thus often is blended with other wines—pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, for instance—to add body.

The heaviest-bodied grape may be tannat, signature wine of Uruguay. But in Uruguay—interestingly—it is made in lighter bodied, lower tannin style. In the Basque regions of France, however, tannat is so high in tannin and full bodied it is blended with cabernet sauvignon or cabernet franc in order to tone it down.

Last round: In my opinion, a bad day with wine is better than a good day without wine.