What exactly IS a full-bodied wine, anyway?

This is a question I get all the time. You may already know what ‘full-bodied’ means, or you may ‘sort of’ know what it means from having seen it a lot on wine back labels….or you may have no clue at all! In which case, let me enlighten you…

In wine descriptions and tasting notes you will often see the use of language which seems to be very far removed from the actual taste of the liquid. Wine writers have a frequent tendency to anthropomorphise their favourite vinous delights (anthropomorphism: the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities) such that you will see wines described as ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’, ‘sensitive’, ‘sassy’, ‘lean’ or ‘with a full body’. It may seem fanciful (and some do take it a little far!), but once you understand why they do it, it can genuinely help you to understand what experience you will get from a wine when you drink it.

When it comes to ‘body’ in wine, the term quite simply refers to how the wine feels when it’s in your mouth. The most useful analogies for me are skimmed milk versus cream, and water versus oil. The skimmed milk and water feel ‘lean’ or ‘light-bodied’ in your mouth, and the cream and oil feel viscous, ‘fat’ and ‘full-bodied’. It’s exactly the same with wine. Some wines feel light, some feel full.

Why DO wines have different levels of body? A lot of it comes back to what I teach in my lesson on ‘Wine = Geography’, available by signing up for my free video series here. Wines from climates far from the equator will be higher in acidity and lower in alcohol. Acidity reduces body in wine, and alcohol adds to it – so a cool-climate wine is light in body. Wines closer to the equator will be higher in alcohol and lower in acidity, and as a result fuller in body. Try this for yourself – see if you can get hold of a Pinot Noir from a cool location like Burgundy, Germany or even England, and compare it with a Pinot Noir from California or Australia. Feel how much ‘thicker’ the latter tastes in your mouth. That’s body in wine.

Why should body actually matter, though? Well, first of all, it is one of the factors that will determine whether or not you like a wine. Some of us prefer those rich, viscous styles and some of us prefer the lighter ones. As I’ve said before, one of the most wonderful things about wine is its diversity. Secondly, it helps you to create a perfect food and wine pairing. Keep an eye out for more on that in a future update.