Light-weight nimbleness or full-bodied presence? Which one is better? The answer is: none! Or rather: both! Each has in fact its merits. No body shaming around here, only body positivity! With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at what gives ‘weight’ or ‘body’ to a wine.
The ‘body’ of a wine can be thought of as its ‘structure’, or how rich a wine tastes in the mouth. This quality depends on many factors, which we briefly list below:
- Alcohol content: During fermentation the sugars in the grapes are used by the yeasts on the skins to produce alcohol (ethanol).
In addition to having both a sweet and a bitter taste, alcohol has a certain viscosity -or thickness- of texture, which is the main factor of a wine’s body.
Alcohol also carries and spreads flavours in the mouth, helping to prolong the finish.
Wines with an alcohol content of 14% or above tend to taste more full-bodied, however the appropriate levels of alcohol ultimately depend on the wine.
- Acidity level: Our senses tend to perceive wines of higher acidity as having a lighter body.
- Grape Variety: Certain grape varieties will produce more full-bodied wines. More natural acidity in the grapes often results in medium or light bodied wines.
- Sugar: This is the level of residual sugars after fermentation. They increase the body but not always the sweetness.
- Wood Aging: You can expect wines aged in fresh wood barrels to be more full-bodied.
- Climate: Generally, warmer climates tend to produce richer, more full-bodied wines (but this depends also on vinification methods).
Summing up, we can roughly divide wines in:
–Light-bodied: Often have average alcohol content, a lower level of tannins (which can make them taste smoother and less astringent) and a lighter colour.
The higher natural acidity typical of many wines produced in cooler climates often results in light and medium-bodied reds.
–Medium-bodied: Great with food! Apart from alcohol content, acidity levels affect the body of a wine, so grape varieties with more natural acidity will often result in medium-bodied wines.
Vinification methods also have an impact. For example, a wine aged in oak barrels for a shorter time, or with a lower alcohol content than the typical value for that variety, will be medium-bodied.
–Full-bodied: Their richness makes them stand on their own. Higher alcohol levels, increased tannins, lower acidity or more residual sugars are all factors contributing to a richer, more structured wine.
Special mention to glycerol, a tasteless substance resulting from fermentation which can increase the perception of body in a wine.