Wine body is one of the facets of wine mouthfeel. Wine reviews often describe a wine as light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied. Let me clarify a few basics for you; Wine Body is not as trivial as some wine experts may want you to believe.
If you are new to wine, you may have searched the web for a definition of "wine body." My recent Google search listed 18 relevant articles on the first two pages. I saw that most popular wine sites define wine body as "the weight of the wine in your mouth" or "the viscosity in your mouth."
Think of having a glass of full-fat milk and how it feels in your mouth compared to a glass of fat-free milk. Full-fat is thicker, and the fat-free is thinner in the perceived consistency in the mouth.
In this quick web search review, I also found that most writers identify alcohol as the component defining wine body. You would read that the higher the alcohol content, the fuller the wine body.
Here are some of these definitions.
Others also associate glycerol and residual sugars (the sugar that did not convert into alcohol during wine fermentation) as components contributing to the perception of the wine body.
I run the same search on Google Scholar (a search engine scoping the academic literature), and it showed only four relevant scientific publications on the topic. You might think, so what? May be scientists are not that interested, or they know it all already. Not exactly.
It looks like, on the contrary, we lack scientific evidence to explain what wine body is!
In a 2017 review, Laura Laguna and colleagues concluded after a thorough search of scientific evidence that:
And that's a common assumption made by wine or food technologists.
They believe that whatever their instrumental analysis shows-such as viscosity increases, humans must perceive this change. Not always.
Alternatively, there are also many examples when humans detect flavor changes, and the instruments can't pick them. That's true, for instance, for wine off-notes such as corked taint.
Jun Niimi and colleagues conducted a study with Australian consumers to get to the bottom of it. They did an online survey and asked participants to:
1-Rank in order of importance different wine characteristics they believe indicate wine quality.
2-If they use the term "wine body" to describe wine, if yes, how would they describe "wine body"?
3-To match a list of familiar varietal wines with the wine body style (light, medium, or full), they associate with each wine style.
In this study, Australian consumers believed that full-bodied wines were more flavorful and robust. That might indeed be related to the wine alcohol content.
These consumers also described Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon as full-bodied wines. But remember, the science says alcohol only plays a minor role in the wine body when measured by trained tasters.
These results may not be generalized to all English speaking countries, and other languages as well.
Fortunately, building a common descriptive language is possible through wine tasting training.
How have you been trained to explain the wine body?
Could you leave me a note in the comment box?
Niimi, J., Danner, L., Li, L., Bossan, H., Bastian, S.E.P. (2017). Wine consumers' subjective responses to wine mouthfeel and understanding of wine body, Food Research International, 99, 1, 2017, 115-122.
Laguna, L., Bartolomé, B., & Moreno-Arribas, M. V. (2017). Mouthfeel perception of wine: Oral physiology, components, and instrumental characterization. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 59, 49–59.
Published October 10, 2019