When we talk about the ‘body’ of a wine, we mean the overall feel the liquid has in the mouth. It’s a subjective term and difficult to quantify, but you could consider the difference in how, say, water and milk feel in the mouth and relate that sensation to different wines.
Body is a description in part of viscosity and liquid density. This is made up primarily of alcohol and sugar, components of all wines to a greater or lesser degree. Thus a ‘full-bodied’ red wine will usually have a high level of alcohol (14%+) giving weight to the liquid. Dessert wines are typically full-bodied on account of their sugar content, as well as alcohol.
When tasting wine, a full-bodied wine is often said to have a robust, full flavour. This is on simple account that more flavour molecules can be dissolved in the higher alcohol content of the full-bodied wine. A full-bodied wine should be balanced by sufficient acidity to ensure the wine remains refreshing. Acidity also helps carry those intense flavour molecules around the mouth after swallowing, contributing to a long finish.
At the opposite end, a light-bodied wine is typically more delicate in flavour. These are typically white. Such wines may be described as ‘weak’ or ‘thin’, but this is only a valid description if the wine is expected to have a heavier body – for instance a red wine that might underperform on account of a cool vintage. There are many styles of both white and red wines that are naturally light in body, and delicious because of that!
Sign up for Jonell Galloway and James Flewellen’s “Celebrate the Chartres Festival of Lights & Autumnal Equinox with a Food & Wine Tasting Masterclass” in France from September 19 to 22, 2013.
About James Flewellen
Dr James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. James learned his trade in taste through the Oxford Blind Wine Tasting Society, of which he was the President from 2010-2012. During his term, he represented Oxford at many international blind tasting competitions – twice winning the prestigious ‘Top Taster’ Award in the annual Varsity blind tasting match against Cambridge University and captaining winning teams in competitions throughout Europe.
One of James’s goals is to clarify the complex and hard-to-navigate world of wine for both novice and experienced tasters. He applies his scientific training to wine education, illuminating concepts of taste, tannin and terroir in an approachable, entertaining manner. James runs wine education courses in Oxford through the Oxford Wine Academy and is completing the WSET Professional Diploma in Wine and Spirits. He is the regular wine writer for The Rambling Epicure and is the founder of The Oxford Wine Blog. He is also currently co-authoring The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting – a book surveying the wine regions of the world and how to blind taste.