The Body of a Wine

2809066322_5e06e9f968[1]I know all of us have heard the term "body" used to describe a wine, but what exactly is that referring to?  Certainly not the muscular nature of Michelangelo's David, but wine does have it. 

The body of a wine has to do with weight, or how it weighs on your palate.  The best way to understand this would be to take four glasses, filling the first with water, the second with skim milk, the third with whole milk, and the fourth with cream.  Take the water in your mouth and feel it.  It feels light and, of course, watery.  The skim milk will feel a bit more weighty, but still light, while the whole milk will start to feel more full.  The cream will be the heaviest, with a full palate feel.  You can go further with either heavy whipping cream or olive oil, but I think we should get the point.  These go on a light to heavy scale just like wine!

Body can be judged in both white and red wines, still and sparkling, sweet and dry.  White wine varietals which typically feel more like water or skim milk could include Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, with reds being Gamay or Pinot Noir.  Fuller bodied varietals tend to be more weighty like whole milk or cream.  Full white varietals can be Chardonnay or Viognier, while reds can include Shiraz/Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Contributing factors for body are numerous.  Not only does the varietal's natural juice count toward the weight, but so does it's vinification.  Stainless steel fermentation, oak aging, maceration, malolactic fermentation, chaptalization, etc. can all affect the end product.  Getting to know your varietals will help you determine what body each are, as most varietals tend to be around medium body, but can be lighter or fuller medium, depending upon where they are grown and the winemaker. 

Getting to know about the varietals will also help you determine what you'd like to drink.  If I am outside on a warm summer day eating some oysters, I might pick a Muscadet, made from the Melon de Bourgogone varietal, which is lighter, with a touch of salinity.  If it is a bit cooler out, and I am eating some cumin spiced pork chops, I may go for a Sonoma Zinfandel, for its rich weight and slight sweetness and spice.  If you have any trouble finding a good pairing, ask the Windy City Wine Guy!

(photo courtesy of flickr)

Sweet vs. Dry vs. Fruity

1292176_687052edef11While working as a sommelier, I have noticed a huge misconception regarding the individual terms sweet, dry, and fruity when it comes to wine.  Guests say they like "wines that are sweet like Reisling (can be dry or sweet) and Pinot Grigio (wrong- always dry)".  Or they like "reds that are sweet like Pinot Noir (wrong- always dry)".  We are now about to dealve into the realm of sugar content and fruitiness in wine.

When looking for a wine, it is important to know about Residual Sugar (RS).  RS is natural grape juice sugars either left over after fermentation, or can be added later (liqueur de tirage) when producing sparkling wine.  RS gives wine a sweetness level.  Any wine, even a bone dry one, will have some amount of RS. 

There are many different levels of sweetness, judged upon where the wine is produced.  The EC (European Commision) has four sweetness levels (Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, Sweet) for still wines.  There are seven levels (Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Demi-Sec, and Doux) for sparkling wines and six for German Reisling.  In the US, we measure RS in degrees Brix.  These are all based upon sugar levels.

Most of your still wines: Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Malbec, Viognier, Grenache, etc. will be considered dry because they typically contain less than 9 grams per liter (g/l) of RS.  Once you get to know your varietals and global styles, then you will know the type of wine to expect from each.

Now that we know what dry/sweet is, let us get to fruitiness.  Most wines may contain only a small amount of RS, but every wine is fruity.  Just think about it- they are made from grapes, a fruit!  But many other fruit aromatics and flavors come about through the maturation of a grape's juice, as well as through the fermentation and aging of the wine.  Some wines just have more fruit come through than others. 

So when you give a description of want you would like to your local wine expert, just remember what it means to have a sweet wine (means dessert!), a dry wine (less RS), and a fruity wine (more aromatics and flavors associated with fruit).  Also try to associate yourself with varietals which let the fruit come out more (Grenache, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Gris, etc.) and the varietals that can let the sugar out!

(Image courtesy of Flickr)