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What is Wine Body and How To Taste It

Written by Madeline Puckette

Wine body is defined by how heavy and rich a wine tastes. It’s a combination of several factors: grape variety, alcohol level, and even sweetness level.

If you’re trying to find new favorites, wine body is a great way to differentiate grape varieties to find your style preference. Let’s break down the different body styles with a few examples so you can find more of what you love.

Several factors go into wine body.

How To Tell The Body of a Wine

It’s easy to taste the difference between whole milk and skim milk because of the fat level. That being said, wine body fullness of flavor isn’t as easy to pinpoint because it involves many factors.

Fortunately, there are a few clues you can look for on the wine bottle:

  • Alcohol Level: Wines above 14% alcohol tend to taste more full-bodied.
  • Grape Variety: Certain grape varieties produce more full-bodied wines (see below).
  • Oak Aging: Much like Bourbon, wines aged in fresh oak barrels often taste more full-bodied. Wine producers often mention oak aging on the back label.
  • Climate Type: As a general rule, grapes grown in warmer climates tend to produce richer, more full-bodied wines (this depends on the producer!).
  • Residual Sugar: Unfermented grape sugars leftover in a wine increases the body without increasing the sweetness. Unfortunately, this is rarely mentioned on a wine label.


Grape Variety vs. Wine Body

Some grape varieties are known to produce wines that fit neatly into a wine body type. Here are a few examples to explore.

Light-Bodied Red Wines

Generally speaking, light-bodied red wines have average alcohol levels, lower tannins, and less color. They often taste smooth because of reduced tannin (e.g. they’re less astringent).

Also, when grown in cooler climates, light-bodied reds sometimes taste a bit “sharp” or “spicy” from increased acidity.

Medium-Bodied Red Wines

The food wines! The difference between medium and full-bodied wines has a lot to do with alcohol, and acidity level. We humans tend to perceive wines with higher acids as tasting lighter-bodied. So grape varieties with more natural acidity often fit into the medium-bodied category.

Additionally, many wines slide into this category because of how they’re made. For example, a Merlot with lower alcohol (under 14%) and less oak-aging may also be medium-bodied.

Full-Bodied Red Wines

The cocktail wines! Full-bodied red wines taste so rich that they can stand on their own. What makes them taste big? Well, all that increased tannin, higher alcohol and lower acidity results in a heavier taste.

Additionally, aging wines in oak barrels not only adds oak flavors of vanilla, cedar, and baking spice to wines, but it also softens the flavors.

For you geeks, there’s also a tasteless substance called glycerol derived naturally from fermenting grapes that increase the perception of wine body.

Different types of white wines organized by Body - infographic by Wine Folly

What About White Wines?

The exact same rules for red wines apply to wine body in white wines as well. For example, the main reason Chardonnay is considered a full-bodied white wine is because of oak aging.

Show Me More Wines by Body

Definitely take a look at the Grapes page on Wine Folly, to see how varieties stack up!

Or, you can get the Wine Folly: Magnum Edition book – it contains a collection of 100 common grapes and wines to explore.

Additionally, if you’re looking for some good beginner red wines to start with, check out this short list of 6 wines!


Written byMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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