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What does full-bodied red wine mean?

Never quite sure what's meant by full-bodied red wine? Learn what wine body means and how to make the most of your full-body red wines.
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The wine industry is bursting with terminology to describe wines that can be simultaneously interesting and daunting. As a novice wine drinker or someone still trying to figure out what styles of wines are best for them, it can be tricky navigating your way through these terms and translating them to the wine you’re drinking.

A term that pops up frequently when describing wine is its ‘body’. This is especially true when discussing red wine in all its varieties and styles.

But a wine’s liquid, you say, so how can it have a body?

Don’t worry we’ve got the lowdown on full-bodied red wine, along with medium and light-bodied wines too.

Discover RedHeads small batch, sustainable and Vegan-friendly wines now.

What does ‘body’ mean in wine?

While you could be mistaken for thinking a wine’s ‘body’ relates to how it looks in the glass, that’s not the case regarding this wine term.

A wine’s body refers to its weight on the palate and how ‘heavy’ and rich it is. Full-bodied wines tend to be richer and more viscous than their lighter companions, which are typically leaner and neater.

An apt (and maybe unexpected) comparison is the different milk varieties available. It’s easy to tell the difference between skimmed, semi-skimmed and full-fat milk simply by how it feels when you drink it – it’s a similar sensation with red and white wine!

Read our guide on how long red wine lasts once opened.

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What affects a wine’s body?

Several factors can affect a wine’s body:

Grape variety: some wine grape varieties naturally produce more full-bodied wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

Sugar content: unfermented grape sugars left behind in the wine after production can increase a wine’s body without increasing its sweetness.

Alcohol level: wines with higher alcohol content (above 14% ABV) typically taste full-bodied.

Climate: grapes grown in warmer temperatures tend to produce more full-bodied and rich wines than those in cooler climates (although this also depends on the winemaking process).

Tannins: the bitter, naturally occurring tannins in wine can create a richer wine flavour and add structure to a full-bodied wine.

Ageing: wine aged in oak barrels can often taste more full-bodied, taking on warming, rich flavours like baking spices and vanilla.

Wines can come in various bodies – light, medium, and full.

Light-bodied red wines

Light-bodied red wines make for an easy drinking experience and are great for pairing with food dishes such as pork and salmon.

Light-bodied red wine varieties include:

  • Grenache
  • Pinot Noir
  • Gamay
  • Primitivo

These wines are characteristically delicate, with lighter flavours and colour than other wine varieties. They’re also the least viscous of the wine styles, with a consistency similar in lightness to water.

Light-bodied red wines have fewer tannins, making them less bitter and more smooth when drinking. They also have average alcohol levels – around 12.5% ABV.

Their lightness, plus the lack of tannins and lower alcohol levels, is what makes them the perfect easy-drinking option.

Read our guide on what is dry red wine.

Medium-bodied red wines

How a wine moves from being light-bodied to medium-bodied predominantly concerns its alcohol and acidity levels.

Medium-body is a bit of a grey area when it comes to wine and can be used to describe far more wine varieties than light or full-bodied combined. They have a slightly higher alcohol content – between 12.5% and 13.5% ABV – and come in a range of thickness and viscosity.

They’re typically juicer and more acidic than light-bodied red wine but miss the characteristic creaminess of a full-bodied red wine.

Medium-bodied red wine varieties include:

  • Sangiovese
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Merlot
  • Zinfandel
  • Garnacha
  • Montepulciano
  • Barbera

With their balanced tannin and moderate acidity, medium-bodied red wines pair well with most dishes.

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Full-bodied red wines

Full-bodied red wine is the exact opposite of its light-bodied siblings. The flavours of a full-bodied wine are more prominent and bolder, the aroma more robust and it’s texture more viscous – it can sometimes be described as chewy!

Full-bodied red wines have the highest alcohol content of the three styles – between 13.5% and 15% ABV. Because of how strong and bold they are, full-bodied red wine is meant to be sipped and savoured over a longer period, adding to the drinking experience.

The most well-known full-bodied red wine varieties are:

  • Shiraz/Syrah
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Malbec
  • Petite Sirah/Durif

At RedHeads, our small-batch wines offer red blends that produce light, medium and full-bodied wines. Shop our delicious blended wines now.