Light Bodied White Wines Are a Great Place to Start

Last time we took a quick look at one of the characteristics of wine, its body.  A wine's body is simply based on how it feels in your mouth. And a wine's body is affected by its alcohol level, tannin, acidity and sweetness. And each plays a role. So let's explore light bodied wines a bit more. 

Light bodied wines are typically considered to be delicate with subtle flavors. Of the four previously mentioned characteristics of a wine, light bodied wines are lower in alcohol (generally below 12.5%), lower in tannin and sweetness, while being higher in acidity.

For this post, the light bodied wines being discussed are dry white wines.  There are red wines that are considered light bodied (e.g., Gamay and Pinot Noir) but that's relative to other reds, and will be the subject of a future posting.

Light white wines can have herbal, citrus, floral and aromatic tendencies.  The most commonly known light bodied white wine is Sauvignon Blanc (which is labeled as Sancerre, and Pouilly Fumè in France for the regions where it is grown). This is a wonderfully fresh, zippy and refreshing wine. When it is produced in cooler regions (e.g., New Zealand), it can take on aromas of herbs and vegetables such as tarragon, celery, freshly mowed grass and green peppers.  In warmer regions (e.g., California), Sauvignon Blanc transitions to the tropical and citrus fruit flavors such as green melon, grapefruit and lime. This is a wine that is widely popular and goes great with so many foods such as shellfish and soft cheeses.

Other light bodied whites that tend toward citrus and crisp fruit flavors include Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), French Chablis, Albariño, Grenache Blanc, Vinho Verde. Unoaked Chardonnays also tend to be crisp and fresh with green apple and citrus flavors.

Light bodied white wines such as Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Muscat Blanc tend to be very aeromatic with highly perfumed floral aromas of sweet fruit. Pinot Blanc, Verdicchio and Vermentino also typically have floral tendencies.

All of these light bodied white wines are able to retain their fruity characteristics by being fermented in stainless steel or concrete tanks versus oak barrels that can add additional flavors and aromas to a wine.

Light bodied white wines are a great place to start if you are just getting into tasting and learned about wines.  They are generally served cold and easy on the palette.  But don't get me wrong. Many of the wines in this category are highly praised, enjoyed by collectors and connoisseur alike and can demand high prices throughout the world. But, they are also some of the most approachable wines.  So try one of these. I think you'll like them. Cheers!



What is Red Burgundy?

Previously I covered the most widely known white Burgundy (Bourgogne Blanc) from Chablis. We learned that wines from Chablis are produced from the Chardonnay grape.

The other most notable wines from Burgundy are red wines (Bourgogne Rouge). And, the most widely produced red wine in France's Burgundy region is Pinot Noir.  French wine labels generally only identify the region where the wine is produced and not the grape varietal used to produce it. So you just have to remember that if you are looking for a French Pinot Noir, a Burgundy is what you are looking for.

Burgundy is the original home of Pinot Noir with records of its existence dating back to the 1300's.  And like most French wines, they are highly regulated. There are several levels of classification in Burgundy:

  • Grand Cru
    • These account for just over 1% of Burgundy's production from just 33 vineyards. And because of this, they go for top dollar. These wines are described as being bold, complex and worthy of aging.
  • Premier Cru (or 1er Cru)
    • These 635 vineyards, representing approximately 10% of Burgundy's production, may be located directly adjacent to Grand Cru vineyards, but are certainly more affordable.
  • Villages Wines
    • These wines are named for the town where are grapes are grown and represent 44 AOCs, or a bit over a third of Burgundy's production. These wines are fresh and fruity.
  • Regional Wines
    • These wines are made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy and may be labeled as "Burgogne Rouge" which is literally red Burgundy.  These regional wines, from 23 AOCs, account for approximately 50% of Burgundy's production.

Red Burgundy from France has been compared more with the Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley due to their bigger and bolder flavor of cranberry with notable earthiness versus Pinot Noir from the Central Coast of California (e.g., Sonoma and Russian River) that tends to have more strawberry, raspberry and cola flavors. 

While Pinot Noir is the most notable red wine produced in Burgundy, there is another red wine produced in Burgundy. You may have heard of it. It comes from the region of Beaujolais. It's produced from the Gamay grape and is usually known as Gamay Beaujolais.

While the Beaujolais Nouveau is widely popular, it is bottled immediately after harvest, is complete and arrives on store shelves within about two months of being picked.  The more sophisticated and aged Gamay Beaujolais will also offer a juicy, fruity scent, but they deliver a smooth texture with a bit of “earthiness” in the taste.  Because Gamay Beaujolais wine is produced at a much higher volume than the Pinot Noir, it is much less expensive, making it a great value for a nice French wine.

So if you are looking for a red wine with medium body, check out a Burgundy. Both the Burgundy (Pinot Noir) and Beaujolais (Gamay) are unlike any other wines produced in the world. Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Louis Jadot Burgundy ($17)

This Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) is widely available and moderately priced. A great medium bodied wine with flavors of raspberries and a bit of earthiness. This wine goes great with most foods.  Louis Jadot is one of the few French winemakers that, for American's benefit, also identify on the label that this Bourgogne is a Pinot Noir.

What is Chablis?

There was a time when ordering a glass of Chablis meant that you wanted a glass of white wine. No specific wine, just a white wine. But there is so much more to Chablis than just a white wine.

Chablis is a region located in the northwest corner of the province of Burgundy in France.  It produces light, dry white wines known for their minerality and crisp acidity. And all white wines produced in Chablis are made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape.  They tend to be dry and fresh in flavor with distinct minerality. Chablis is usually un-oaked to retain its bright, crisp flavors. A few Chablis producers do use oak barrels in their wine making but these are restricted to the higher-quality wines and does not lead to overpowering oak flavors.

The vineyards of Chablis are classified into four tiers of quality, all precisely regulated by the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), and noted on the bottles' label:

  • Chablis Grand Cru AOC- Highest quality wines from seven vineyards on one slope
    • Only region where some oak aging is done. These wines have flavors of passion fruit, apricot, apple and orange rind.
  • Chablis Premier Cru AOC - Seventy vineyards in some of the better locations
    • The limestone soils produce richer fruit with flavors of lemon, starfruit and flint minerality
  • Chablis AOC - Comprised of the vineyards mostly closer in to the town of Chablis
    • These wines have nice flavors of citrus, pear and minerals
  • Petit Chablis AOC - Vineyard areas in the outer areas from the town of Chablis
    • These tend to have higher acidity, tart citrus flavors, and are best enjoyed young

So when shopping for white wines from France, remember that a white Burgundy from Chablis is a Chardonnay. And, don't just order a glass of white wine, order a French Chablis and enjoy some of the finest white wine the world has to offer.

Next time I'll discuss the other famous wine from Burgundy, the red one. Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Jacques Bourguignon Chablis ($13)

It's Chardonnay, but if you've become accustomed to California Chardonnays, this is a different wine.  It's a lot more subtle in its flavors, a bit tart and has definite hints of minerality.  Give a French Burgundy from Chablis a try!