Light bodied white wines are a great place to start when learning about and tasting wines. They are fresh and crisp with bright fruit flavors and high acidity. So the next step up is into medium bodied and full bodied whites.
As I have been researching and putting together notes on white wines, I've found that it's been tough, as expected, to describe and define a wine's body. That's because there are not strong lines between the categories of light, medium and full bodied wines. But the characteristics of alcohol levels, tannin, residual sugar and acidity do give some basic guidance on a wine's body.
While white wine with less than 12.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) would be considered light bodied, medium bodied white wines are said to have 12.5% to 13.5% ABV and full bodied white are those with greater than 13.5% ABV. These are general guidelines, but at least this is one of the few characteristics that is actually shown on a wine's label (ABV percentage is legally required to be printed somewhere on a bottle of wine).
A wine's residual sugar (RS) is also a telling characteristic of its body, but it is directly related to a wine's alcohol level. The lower the alcohol level, the more residual sugar; the higher the alcohol level the lower the alcohol level. So you can expect a light bodied, lower alcohol, wine to have some residual sugar and to have a slightly sweet taste. The medium and full bodied white wines will have higher alcohol, lower RS and little to no sweetness to them.
The acidity of medium and full bodied white wines is much lower than light body whites. While the acidity in a light bodied white wine will give it a bright, crisp and mouth watering finish, medium and full bodied white wines will not. These will be richer and smoother.
And finally, there's the characteristic of tannin. This is something that isn't really a factor in white wines. Tannins come from the grapes skin, seeds and stems. Most every white wine is pressed and the juice is immediately separated from the skins, seeds and stems. So tannin levels are next to zero. So called "Orange" wines are made from white wine grapes and they to get contact time with the grape skins, seed and stems, giving them the characteristic light orange color (not the flavor of an orange). Tannins do play a huge roll in red wines and we'll say more about this when we address the medium and full bodied red wines in future postings.
In addition these four characteristics, one must consider that a wine's body is also influenced by the wine maker. The grape variety isn't necessarily the key to determining the body of a wine. Take Chardonnay for example. A Chardonnay that is produced in stainless steel or concrete tanks is considered light bodied. But, if the wine maker chooses to age the Chardonnay in neutral oak it's going to be medium bodied. A Chardonnay that goes through the addition step of Malolactic Fermentation and is aged in new oak will be full bodied. So, it isn't just the grape variety that determines a wine's body, it's also how it's made.
While Chardonnay is a great example of a medium or full bodied white wine, there are certainly others. And we'll get to them next time. Cheers!