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A Guide to Wine Body: Light, Medium, and Heavy

The wine we drink is often as complex as it is refreshing. If you really love your wine, you know that there is quite a bit of jargon that goes into explaining that complexity. We’ve talked about tannins and the difference between oaked and unoaked wines—but there’s even more to learn about our favorite wines.

One of the terms that you’ll hear if you head to a winery or look up the profile of a specific variety, is the body of the wine. This is quite different from the body shape we think of when we talk about humans; instead, it delves into how the wine feels in our mouths. Below, we’ve created a guide to wine body and its three categories—light, medium, and heavy. Learn more here!

What is Wine Body?

As we mentioned, wine body does not have anything to do with shapeliness but rather how the wine feels in our mouths. You can think about it in three categories—light-, medium-, and heavy-bodied wines. To understand what those terms mean, think about it as the difference between skim milk, whole milk, and cream. Those three types of milk all feel differently in your mouth for a variety of reasons, but when it comes to wine, the main reason for these different mouthfeels is alcohol.

Alcohol is what gives a wine its viscosity. What’s viscosity? It’s a term that might sound familiar from high school science, but in simple terms, it’s what’s used to define a liquid and how easily it responds to stress. For example, water is less viscous than honey—it has less weight and moves more easily than the slow run of honey. Therefore, the more alcohol, the more viscous the wine.

One of the ways you can figure out the viscosity of the wine is by spinning the wine gently around in a glass. The wine will rise up the glass, and as it comes down, you can tell how viscous the wine is by how slowly or quickly the wine drips fall. We’ll delve into how viscosity affects the body of wines below!

Light-Bodied

Typically, under 12.5% ABV

Light-bodied wines are the “easy-drinkers.” They’re typically classified as crisp and refreshing and have a light viscosity, or consistency, that’s similar to the lightness of water. Again, this doesn’t mean that the wine is “thin” but that it’s smooth in the mouth.

Light-Bodied Wine Examples: Riesling, Pinot Noir, and some Prosecco

Medium-Bodied

Typically, between 12.5% and 13.5% ABV

The fact that medium-bodied wines exist is what trips up a lot of novice wine drinkers. It’s that blurry middle ground between heavy-bodied wines and the easy-drinkers. That said, medium-bodied wines are still quite easy to drink and are designed to complement a variety of foods.

Medium-Bodied Wine Examples: Rosé, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc

Heavy- or Full-Bodied

Typically, over 13.5% ABV

Heavy-bodied wines are where you’ll really start to notice the viscosity of the wine. These can be a little “harder” to drink, partly because of their high ABV but also because they tend to have more tannins drying out your mouth. Most wines over this alcohol level are reds, but Chardonnay is an example of a white wine that’s often considered full-bodied.

Full-Bodied Wine Examples: Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec, and Chardonnay

We hope you enjoyed our guide to wine body: light, medium, and heavy. For all your wine needs, turn to Wines ‘Til Sold Out. Order one of our tasting packages and you’ll be able to put your wine body knowledge to the test. Our premium wine online is just what you need to get through self-isolation! Shop our collections now, and see what you’ve learned about wine thus far.