How thick is your wine?
While we often bang on about smells and flavours, there’s one term that is always bandied about with little explanation.
And that’s a wine’s ‘body’ (or its fullness).
We tend to categorise wines in terms of ‘body’ to help describe how they might taste – rich or lean, light or heavy. Each category, in turn, is its own market segment – like full bodied reds or light bodied whites.
But what influences the perception of ‘body’?
Well, one of the key influencers is alcohol. Alcohol influences so much of how a wine tastes – and more than you think. The most obvious one is that sensation of heat or hotness – the alcohol ‘burn’. But, curiously, alcohol can also give a perception of sweetness, which is best seen in more pure spirits (lie vodka).
Studies have shown that increased alcohol is directly correlated with increased perceptions of body, with a de-alcoholised wine tasting ‘thinner’ than the normal wine.
But it doesn’t stop there. One of the other key influencers on a wines ‘body’ is sugar – or, more accurately, glycerol.
You can see the influence of body and sugar most accurately when comparing a dessert wine (like botrytis Semillon or a late picked Riesling) with a normal white, as the sweeter wine will give a ‘fuller’ mouthfeel that is directly correlated to sugar.
A final influence on body comes down to other structures in wine – like tannins. Tannins, to get technical for a second, are phenolic compounds that come from grape skins, seeds and oak barrels. Tannins help by giving an extra flavour – a tactile one that affects taste quite profoundly. While tannins are typically found only in red wines, there are other phenolic compounds that are found in white wines that can also give add ‘weight’ and add to this sense of body.
The only problem with trying to define ‘body’ is that it’s hardly an objective measurement. A red wine can be full bodied to one wine drinker who drinks mainly light red wines, while it’s only ‘medium bodied’ according to someone who just drinks dirty great big Barossa Shiraz.
I guess we all get a bit funny about our body, don’t we?
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(Photo by Mini Ozzy)