What the F*** is Body?
Body is one of the most important elements of a wine, and understanding what it is will go a far way to understanding which wines you like, when, and for what occasions they go best with. The problem is, not too many people really understand it, or we have a misconception of what it means and why we enjoy it. To be fair, probably every Sommelier in the world has had to serve customers who claim to only drink big, bold, heavy red wines because they think its manly, and then leave because the combination of a full bodied Syrah did not do too well with their oysters and grilled fish. Likewise, you would probably stay away from a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon on a hot day and opt for something that is crisper, lighter, and easier to drink because it will quench your thirst better. Body plays a huge role, if not the foundational role in how we enjoy a wine.
So what is "body"?
Simply put, body is the perceived weight that a wine has on your mouth, or the fullness of how it feels. We generally categorize body in terms of light, medium, and full bodied and determine everything by how it feels inside our mouthes. It is pretty simple to grasp, but a pretty neat trick is thinking of light, medium, and full bodies as the difference between skim milk, whole milk, and cream.
What gives a wine its body?
The biggest contributing factor to a wine's body is the alcohol content. So alcohol level, which should ALWAY be printed on the label, should give you a good idea of the wine's body. Alcohol makes the wine feel heavy in your mouth, the more alcohol the heavier the wine feels. Generally speaking, wines with less than 12% alcohol are considered light bodied, 12% to 13.5% can be considered medium, and wines of 14% alcohol and above are considered to be full bodied.
Can white wines be full bodied?
Absolutely! You CAN have heavier bodied white wines. Chardonnay and Viognier are great examples of fuller bodied white wines, while Sauvignon Blanc is a nice medium bodied wine that screams to be drunk at the peak of summer. Refreshing and meaty, like a damn good passion fruit.
So is it really manly to prefer full bodied wines?
Good, full bodied wines often have a magical, velvet like feeling on your mouth, but this notion that it is somehow manlier to drink full bodied red wines all the time needs to be put to rest. There is a perception that wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel are more rugged, but nobody really knows why. If you really want a rugged wine, try a Spanish Garnacha that has been growing for months in the hot sun, given little water, and only hot stones for company. That, my friends, is a rugged wine. Oh, and its usually a lighter body than your typical Zins and Cabs, so there.
Ultimately when it comes to body, you have to go with what feels right to you. The different occasion you are going to have your wine with will call fro something lighter, crisper and more refreshing to party with, or maybe it will call for something bigger, meaner, for occasions when you need to sit down and contemplate the great scheme of things. Either way, the body of a wine plays a huge role in how much you are going to enjoy that wine, so with our little guide to understanding wine body, you are all set to make the right choice. Just remember to look out for the alcohol content on the label.