Even with Robert Parker’s first few newsletters at my side, it still seemed that with the hundreds of American and European wineries in the marketplace, I would never be able to distinguish one wine from another. And, considering the wide variety of reds and whites, as well as the numerous vintages, I found the task confusing, and, frankly, quite daunting. Why bother, I thought, it’s either red or white, or something in between. And, rather candidly, they all tasted somewhat alike. I was in fog, uninformed and needed direction.
Then, one day, while browsing in a bookstore I leafed through a wine book whose contents grouped wines, and their underlying grape varieties, by body style. Up to that time my notion of body was “lean and athletic,” “well rounded and cuddly,” and “My gosh Paul, look at that one.” In this book, however, the divisions were on an asexual, vinous order. The author’s sytematic and well organized approach seized my analytical mind. Hierarchy. Categories. Order. I loved it.
I came to understand that wines—no matter their provenance, their color or varietal composition—possessed an innate body style. Also, I noted that their intrinsic body (weight), very generally, tended to be light, medium, or full. And, at a closer, more attentive savoring, they would more likely be “light to medium” or “medium to full” or outright “full bodied.” Body style became my pivotal starting point and navigator in demystifying wines. The haze was beginning to disperse.
Body style relates to the impression or weight of the wine in your mouth. While alcohol levels account for much of this “mouth-feel,” other winemaker options also contribute. And as far as distinguishing the various styles from each other, most wine writers point to the milk analogy. Consider the relative palate impressions of skim, 2%, whole, half-and-half and whipping cream.
Those lactic examples are obvious because everyone knows milk. Though not quite so striking, the same distinctions reside in the body styles of wines. That same awareness will evolve as you carefully assess your dinnertime wines. (Hint: check the bottle label for alcohol level and other winemaking details.) You will begin to discern, at least with this one aspect of a wine’s anatomy, how and why one wine differs from another.