and why it matters for food and wine pairing
Wine professionals will commonly refer to wine body. Specifically, they will say a wine is light-bodied, medium-bodied or full-bodied. Wine body is tactile; you can feel it when you put it in your mouth.
And although referencing wine body is common among the wine elite, it is understandably not appreciated by most people. What does wine body mean exactly? Why is it important?
For one, knowing the body of a wine enables you to be specific about what you like or dislike about it. So if your trying to search out new wines, it’s a great way to differentiate grape varieties to find your style preference.
Most importantly however, understanding wine body is imperative to knowing why some wines work or don’t work with specific foods. Wine body is extremely important for food and wine pairing.
For my subscribers (who have access to my food and wine pairing exercises), you may remember the chicken wine pairing exercise here.
To that end, the most important wine and food pairing rule is this: match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food.
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What do we mean when we discuss wine body?
A wine’s body could be more accurately described as mouthfeel or weight.
Think about what it’s like to leave skim milk in your mouth versus 2% milk. Then think about what the mouthfeel of whole milk feels like in your mouth.
That’s the difference in mouthfeel between a light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied wine. Body is how we describe a wine’s weight or mouthfeel.
When I’m discussing wine with layfolk, I like to use the terms ‘lightweight wine’, ‘mid-weight wine’ and ‘heavy weight wine’. That’s because more people understand me when I refer to a wine as being lightweight as opposed to saying, “This wine is light-bodied.”
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What do we mean when we discuss the weight of food?
On the same token, I do feel that most people understand food in terms of weight.
Words like rich and heavy are common descriptive words for foods that are filling.
Foods such as roastbeef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy come to mind. Additionally, creamy, reduced Indian Rogan Josh or Butter Chicken are just as satiating. I’d also say casseroles or roasted vegetables topped with aged cheddar cheese sauces are just as rich.
In short, the above are all heavy dishes, or ‘heavyweight foods‘ if you will.
On the other hand we say most salads are light. Moreover flaky, white fish such as halibut or sole is considered light as well. Therefore, we can put these foods into the lightweight category.
In the middle-weight range, there are dishes such as herb-crusted pan seared chicken breast. Furthermore, most roasted vegetable dishes like ratatouille, roasted beets or cauliflower are mid-weight. I’d say most dishes based on tomato sauce (without cream) are mid-weight foods. I’d also include oily fish such as sable fish and sockeye salmon in the ‘mid-weight‘ food category.
Examples of light, mid-weight, and heavyweight foods
light, flaky fish such as halibut or cod
grilled chicken breast with chimichurri sauce
roasted vegetables like ratatouille
pan-seared chicken thigh
sable fish or sockeye salmon
roast beef, Yorkshire pudding with gravy
rich, creamy curry dishes
dishes with melted aged cheddar sauce
Now, let’s take the above foods and apply them to wines with different body weights…
Examples of light, mid-, and heavyweight wines
Light weight wines
Italian Pinot Grigio
most Pinot Blancs
Beaujolais from France (Gamay)
most Sauvignon Blancs (New Zealand or Sancerre
some Chenin Blancs (Loire or South Africa)
Cabernet Franc from Chinon, France
Crianza Rioja from Spain
most Gewurztraminer, Viognier,
and California Chardonnay
most Cabernet Sauvignons
Malbec from Argentina
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Limitations to the above wine examples...
The above categories are pretty darn good guesses. I mean, if you buy a mid-priced Loire or South African Chenin Blanc, for example, you have a pretty darn good chance those wines will be mid-weight wines. (If you buy on the inexpensive end, you’re probably going to get a light weight wine; you pay more money for more weight in wines!)
So not ALL Chenin Blanc’s are mid-weight wines. But, in wine we like to speak in generalizations as it makes complex topics easier to digest. Generally, you will either have to ask your local wine shop clerk if the Chenin Blanc you are purchasing is a medium-bodied wine.
OR, just take a sip and ask yourself, “How heavy is this wine in my mouth. Is it light or heavy, or somewhere in between??” If the wine feels somewhere in between, you have a wine that is medium-bodied.
Wine and Food Pairing Rule
Match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food
With any food and wine pairing, we are really trying to make sure the wine still tastes good.
That’s because if a food and wine pairing clashes, it’s the wine that will taste bad, not the food. Truly, the main reason why we think about food and wine pairing at all, is so that the wine isn’t spoiled by eating your meal.
So, let’s apply that rule to above examples of wine body and food weight. Generally speaking, if you drink light bodied wines, such as Pinot Grigio, you should pair it with light foods such as halibut.
If you are eating medium weighted foods such as ratatouille, you should choose a medium-weighted wine such as Sancerre or a Loire Cabernet Franc from Chinon.
Finally, if you are eating roastbeef with Yorkshire pudding served with rich gravy sauce, you should opt for the Viognier (for white wine), or a Malbec from Argentina, or a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine body is one structural element of wine only
If you thought this was a little too simple, you’d be right. But this is a good place to start for food and wine pairing basics.
For wine body is what we call a structural element. Therefore, the body of a wine relates to the relationships between other structural elements in the wine as a whole. We can discuss that concept more in other posts.
For now, know that if you don’t follow these weight guidelines, you risk not being able to taste your wine!
Wine body is a structural element that anyone can sense. Simply by putting wine in your mouth and holding it there for a moment, you will know if a wine is light bodied, medium bodied or full bodied.
But the next time you taste wine with your friends, use the terms lightweight, mid-weight or heavyweight wine. Then, explain the skim milk, regular milk or whole milk analogy to them. Ask your friends if they can predict what the wine body is of the wine you are drinking.
Why do this?
For one, it’s fun!
Secondly, discerning between light, medium or full-bodied wines enables you to be specific about what you like or dislike about said wine. But most importantly, understanding wine body is imperative to knowing why some wines work or don’t work with specific foods.