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Apr 19, 2010 11:15 PM

How to find out if wine is full bodied vs. medium bodied

Is there anyway to determine if a wine is full bodied vs. medium bodied or even light bodied without drinking it first? Do I look for something in the label, or the apperance of the wine in the bottle?

I've got a recipe from a cookbook and it says to use a full bodied red wine, but I don't know how I would pick out such a wine from Trader Joe's .

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  1. I use 2, 3 criteria to determine if a wine is considered medium or full body wine wine.

    1- alcohol level
    2- color (lighter reds will generally be lighter in body)
    3- grape varietal (some grapes will give more full body wines ( grenache, malbec, ... )

    In any case, ask your store clerk next time you buy some wine. (or google)


    1. In a word, No.

      1. I have had light bodied wines with high alcohol levels, and full-bodied wines with high alcohol levels.

      2. I've have light bodied wines that were very light in color, and light bodied wines that were were dark in color. (The same is true for full bodied wines, too.)

      3. I've had light-bodied wines made from (for example) Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, etc.; and full-bodied wines made from those very same grape varieties.

      The ONLY way to know *for sure* is taste it. Secondarily, you can ask a knowledgeable store employee . . .

      3 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        I agree with Jason. There are two ways, and only one is a sure bet:

        1.) taste it yourself
        2.) read reviews from people, who you either know well, or trust.

        The chemical aspects can mislead completely. One can ascertain possible attributes base on the "numbers," but there are too many exceptions to the numbers. Otherwise, most of our wines would be designed by a computer program and spectrometers.

        Good luck,


        1. re: zin1953

          I agree with all of that, although I would say that I've never had a wine in a heavier than standard bottle that wasn't quite full bodied.

          I would ask the clerk for a recommendation, or, failing, that , get an Australian shiraz, young Rhone, or malbec from Argentina or Cahors, and expect that you'll almost certainly have something full-bodied on your hands.

          1. re: craig_g

            Depends upon the producer (obviously), and the bottle he/she chooses, rather than the wine itself. That will -- in all likelihood -- serve as a reasonable "rule of thumb" for Caliofrnia wine, but I can think of plenty of exceptions from France, Italy, Spain, etc.

        2. For cooking, I would think most varietal red wines (not rose wines) would be fine. Unless there are other recipes in the book calling for light bodied reds etc, I would think that the writer just wants you to avoid roses and white wines. I should think most cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels, etc would be good enough. If you are really concerned, just stay away from the cheapest bottles, which often tend to be lighter. I have also found the folks at TJs to be very helpful in pointing me to good choices. Don't worry - it'll turn out OK.