This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007.

Full body and back labels

Maybe it's just me, but I find it a little more challenging to judge a wine's body than just about anything else about its appearance, aroma or flavor.

Perhaps this is because body, after all, is the only aspect of wine analysis that uses the sense of touch as opposed to sight, smell and taste. Body is not a flavor thing but a texture thing, the feeling of weight, thickness and viscosity (or the lack thereof) of the wine in your mouth.

This characteristic in wine may vary from light-bodied (as in some ethereal whites like Muscadet or lightweight reds like Beaujolais) through medium-bodied (a typical Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, maybe) to full-bodied (think buttery-style Chardonnay or "chewy" Chateauneuf-du-Pape) and on to a few so full that they start evoking terms like "unctuous" (as in the weightiest Alsatian Riesling or late-harvest dessert wines).

Alcohol is a determining factor in body or weight - higher-alcohol wines typically come across as fuller-bodied than their more modestly endowed kin - but residual sugar, tannins and even fruit extract can contribute to the textural impression. Short of laboratory analysis, the boundaries between light, medium and full body are very much up to the observer, and I've often seen reasonable judges disagree about a specific item.

The bottom line, as it so often is with wine, is that the judgement is up to you, and there's nothing like practice to develop skill.

Today's ruminations were inspired by a couple of recently tasted wines whose back labels contained descriptions that varied from my own impressions, leaving me to ponder whether the labels lied or if I simply can't tell the difference. Or maybe both!

Be that as it may, the back label of 2005 "Le Pigeoulet en Provence" - a tasty Grenache-based Vin de Pays red that the Brunier family of Domaine Vieux-Telegraphe make from grapes grown in the Cotes-du-Rhone and the adjacent Cotes-du-Ventoux in Provence - declare it a "full-bodied" wine. I judged it rather light-bodied, and considered that a compliment to its refreshing, racy style. Another evening I opened a fruity, juicy, slightly sweet and very full-bodied Oregon white, the 2004 Pinot Gris from Iris Hill, and found to my amusement that its back label described this unctuous bowl of fruit as merely "medium-bodied." (Curiously enough, the winery Website came closer to agreement with my observation, describing the 2005 release as "round soft structure.")

Go figure. I'll draw two lessons from today's sermon: Practice, practice, practice; and don't trust the back label.

Pigeoulet en Provence Brunier 2005 "Le Pigeoulet en Provence" Vin de Pays de Vaucluse ($14)

Dark garnet, with a clear edge. A blend of 80% Grenache and 10% each Syrah and Cinsaut, it shows off its Grenache character in ripe red berries and leafy herbal notes on the nose and palate. Light-bodied but juicy and forward, raspberry fruit and snappy acidity. Mouth-watering, refreshing, good with food - it was a delight with leftover smoked pork ribs and chicken from a fine local barbecue joint - but I'm a little puzzled by the back label's "full-bodied" language. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (Jan. 8, 2007)

Find Le Pigeoulet en Provence on

Iris Hill Iris Hill 2004 Oregon Pinot Gris ($14)

Clear straw color with glints of gold. Luscious pear and melon aromas, ripe and full, lead into a full-bodied, unctuous texture that's perceptibly off-dry with a pleasant, restrained fresh-fruit sweetness well balanced by crisp, fresh fruit acidity and just a whiff of peach-pit bitterness in the finish. Its 13.5% alcohol level is a bit on the hefty side for Pinot Gris, and perhaps contributes to its full body, but I remain bemused by the back label's assertion that it's "medium-bodied" and "dry." Good with richer poultry dishes or pork; it was fine with a somewhat gourmet-ified turkey hash with onions, finocchio and celery. Winery Website: (Jan. 9, 2007)

Find Iris Hill Pinot Gris on