Body is one of the most common descriptors of wine – and I think most of us know instinctively what it means. It’s easy to identify with. Some wines are thin. Some are rich and full. Others can be described as ‘muscular’ or ‘flabby.’ Sounds like people doesn’t it?
Body is really about how the wine feels in your mouth and much of that has to so with how much alcohol the wine has and the grape variety as well as the wine making style. For a lot of wine drinkers, full bodied wines are the wine of choice. After all, they tend to pack the most punch per sip. We love the roundness of the flavor and heft of the wine. Americans have never been accused of embracing delay of gratification in anything, have we? I also think that we have learned to seek out these taste experiences in the US since we gravitate to bigger flavor foods. How many of us were raised on a meat and potatoes diet? Lots of dairy. Burgers? Not a lot of nuance there.
And then there is the “New World” style of winemaking and the very popular rating scales used in the media. The New World style, of which California’s influence is the most notable, is fruit forward, mostly drink-it-now, driven by the grape variety and the winemaking. More extraction and higher alcohol are common. A highly respected and followed publication, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, became known for higher ratings of big and powerful wines. Higher ratings mean higher prices and greater sales – and more wineries jumped on the upfront style. So it’s no wonder that fuller bodied wines seem to dominate what we drink most.
What are these wines? Most are red, but there are a couple of whites (particularly Chardonnay and Viognier, although we’re talking red today). If you like it full and bold here’s what to look for, with one caveat – one size does not fit all. Each of the following cover the spectrum of weight and body. Consider these a place to start.
Cabernet Sauvignon: In my post, “A Taste of Cabernet” I wrote, “Cabernet is a conundrum – big, bold and powerful as well as elegant, refined and beautiful.” Cabernet has it all – structure, weight and depth to go along with its finesse and age-worthiness. It fills your mouth with bursts of dark fruit and plum, tobacco and leather, cedar and mint – all kinds of layered flavors. California, Chile and Australia lead with the fuller bodied styles dominated by fruit and drinkability. Bordeaux wines can also be considered full bodied for sure, but to me where they fall is much more dependent on the specific area of Bordeaux and the nature of the blend in the bottle.
Syrah/Shiraz: Syrah from the Northern Rhone – Cote Rotie (the “Roasted Slope”), Hermitage and St. Joseph, and the Aussie Shiraz are midnight dark and intense with blackberry, currant and smoke. The tannins are softer than Cab. I love Syrah/Shiraz with lamb and beef. More Syrah is coming out of California too.
Petite Sirah: Not the same as the above, it’s its own grape and it is a chewer! It’s on the shelves on it’s own from California and is frequently blended into Zinfandel to add punch to that wine. Inky black and bold.
Zinfandel: Much Zin is really more medium bodied, but there are bolder styles driven by the blacker fruits, as opposed to red, and higher alcohol, as well as those with some Petite Sirah in the blend. The “old vine” estate and single vineyard Zins are typically fuller bodied.
Merlot: Yes, Merlot is usually fuller bodied. But it tends to get overlooked by its softness, its less tannic structure. To appreciate Merlot’s full bodied appeal have a cheddar cheeseburger.
Malbec: Malbec has come into its own in Argentina. It’s softer than Cab and to me has more of an edge to it than Merlot. It’s affordable and approachable – a good choice to have on hand at home as your go-to glass of red.
To get into all the potential full bodied reds and the iterations of blends and indigenous grape varieties would turn this post into a tome! One thing to take away – if the wine is 14.5% alcohol or higher you can be pretty sure that it will be a full bodied sip.
But know that the truth is in what YOU taste, and in what you expect out of the wine and the time you’re enjoying it. I don’t like rules about wine. I like guides that leave up to me to decide what I like or don’t like. And the fun is in exploring it all.
Not a bad way to sip.