Wine Body 101: Light, Medium and Full Bodied Wines

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, supermodels suddenly became a thing. Up until then, there had always been the odd one that stood out from the rest – Twiggy in the 1960s, Iman in the 70s and Brooke in the 80s. But suddenly, along came the 90s and a bevvy of beauties were defining the decade – Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington… Each of these ladies was more lovely than the last. All of them had been enviously blessed by Mother Nature – with their stunning good looks and long, coltish limbs the world was their oyster and boy, did they know it. 

While all the supers were stunning, there was one that was famous not only for her beauty, but for the rest of her too. Elle MacPherson. This Australian supermodel broke records by being the five times cover girl for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, leading to her nickname “The Body”,. And the name stuck. In fact, she was so famous for her shape that she actually just became known as “The Body” (and today, almost 30 years later, has a very lucrative line of health and beauty products in her moniker).

The point of this is that there is power, wealth and success in having a great body. Unfortunately we have not all been as blessed as Ms. MacPherson when it comes to our physicality, but we can at least be knowledgeable about the body type of the wine we put in our glass when it comes to our wine. Now that’s body positivity. 

What is Wine Body

We expect you’ve already heard the terms ‘medium’, ‘full’ or ‘light’ when it comes to body in wine. But what do they mean?

Basically, the wine body is its mouthfeel. In short, fuller wines will feel heavy, thick and viscous in the mouth, and have a rich, complex, well-rounded flavour that lingers. Light bodied wines are characterised by their lean, delicate nature, and will usually have a light viscosity, or consistency, akin to the lightness of water. This doesn’t mean that light bodied wines are thin or watery, it just means that it’s a wine that is easy to drink (think whites and roses, rather than big, Bordeaux reds). Medium bodied wines – you guessed it  – fall somewhere in between the two. Most medium bodied wines usually have an alcohol content of between 12.5% and 13.5% and are considered as the best wines to pair with food. 

What Determines Wine Body

So how is the body of your wine determined? Like most things oenological, it’s a tale of many layers. The five main things to consider are: 

  • Alcohol Content: Wines that have 14% alcohol or over will taste more full-bodied.
  • Grape Variety: Some grapes – think Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauternes are known for producing fuller-bodied wines. The Pinots – Noir, Gris and Blanc will give you a light to medium body while Sauvignon and Riesling will guarantee you a light white. 
  • Aging: Wine which has been aged in new oak barrels will give a much fuller taste. Look out for this on the label.
  • Climate: Not an exact science here as much depends on the vinification methods, but wine that is grown in warmer climates lean towards a fuller body. See also Grape Variety (above).
  • Residual Sugar or RS: This is the sugar that is left over in the wine post fermentation. It usually occurs when the yeast has not been able to convert the sugar to alcohol. Unfortunately, RS is rarely mentioned. 

Light Wine

Light wines are generally characterised by their low ABV (alcohol by volume). This will usually be around the 12.5% mark, as in the case of Riesling or Prosecco. They’re light in the mouth and pair well with salads, seafood and lean meat. 

Light Red Wine

Light bodied red wines are further characterised by their lower levels of tannins (which accounts for their easy drinkability). They are also typically paler in colour than other red styles – you should be able to see through them in a glass. Flavours profiles will include cranberry, blackberry and cherries. 

Common varieties of light red wines include: 

  • Pinot Noir
  • Gamay
  • Cinsault
  • Frappato

Our special favourites in this category are: Château Malescasse 2009, Haut-Médoc

Château Lanessan 2015, Haut-Médoc

Light White Wine

Light bodied white wines are the perfect go-to white when you’re not quite sure what to serve. Because of their “zestiness”, they go with most things (bar big cuts of fatty meat). These are crisp wines that are made for drinking, not keeping, so don’t be afraid to crack open a bottle or two, even when they’re young. Flavour profiles include citrus, melon, apple and peach. 

Common varieties of light white wines include: 

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Soave

Medium Body Wine

Medium bodied wines are the go to wine. Because of their balanced acidity and tannin levels, they strike a cord with wine lovers everywhere. They are a smooth transition for those who like their wines light but with a bit more oomph. Considered as the most food friendly of all the wines, these pair well with almost everything, from winter salads to more complex foods such as meaty fish, roasted chicken, or pasta. 

Medium Body Red Wine

Grape varieties (see below) with more natural acidity often fit into the medium-bodied category. But it is important to consider the vinification process as much as the varietals here. For example, some red wines may fall into the medium body category because of their aging process (new vs. old barrels) and their ABV levels. 

Some popular medium bodied wine varieties include: 

  • Grenache
  • Sangiovese
  • Merlot
  • Zinfandel
  • Montepulciano
  • Cabernet Franc

Vindome loves: Château La Gurgue 2016, Margaux. Château Laroque 2018, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru

Medium Bodied White Wine

These can be hard to characterise as white wines tend to fall into either the light body or full body category – there is not much in between. Medium bodied white wines will most likely have an ABV of between 12.5% and 13.5% and work well when paired with seafood such as oysters and scallops. But, all good wine lovers will know where to look, so should this be your glass of vino, look out for:

  • Chenin Blanc
  • Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Dry Riesling

Full Bodied Wine

These are the holy grail to a wine investor. Full bodied wines have superb ageing ability, are packed full of tannins and are bold on taste, be they red or white. Having said that, these are not easy drinking wines. These will be high in alcohol and carry a complex taste profile. 

Full Bodied Red Wine

Expect big, bold flavours that require no introduction. Think strong flavour profiles that include tobacco, cherry, cedar, black pepper, vanilla, spice  and currants. Expect a high ABV, high tannin and most likely, at least 24 months of barrel ageing prior to the mise en bouteille. These are beauties that need correct cellaring, regardless of whether you intend to drink or sell your bottles. 

Examples include: 

  • Merlot
  • Malbec
  • Bordeaux Blend
  • Petit Verdot
  • Tannat
  • Sagrantino

Vindome loves: Château Kirwan 2015, Margaux. Château Malescasse 2015, Haut-Médoc

Full Bodied White Wine

Full bodied white wines are the hedonist’s choice. Rich, smooth and buttery, these are wines that pair well with rich, fatty foods – think foie gras, creamy pasta and lobster. They can be a bit of an acquired taste for some, especially for those who believe that white wines should be light and fluffy, not syrupy and heavy. But, they are delicious and from an investor’s point of view, they are the ones to keep correctly, if you want to see any return on your investment. Expect a high alcohol content and almost certainly, many months of oak ageing.

Grape varieties that result in full bodied white wines include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Trebbiano
  • Roussanne

The choice is vast, and down to personal taste. But, if like Ms. MacPherson, you have the body you desire, then we think you’ll go a long way.

Now that you are familiar with what wine body means, learn more about the different wine flavors.


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