Focus on Matching Body for Perfect Pairings

In my last article, I focused on explaining tannins.  This week, I‘m focusing on body to help you understand how the weight of a wine plays a role in pairing.  Above is a picture of three small glasses:

  • One contains skim milk,
  • One contains 2 % milk, and
  • One contains whole milk.

Can you tell by sight which one is which?  This may be difficult to see.  I’m using this analogy as an exercise to help you think about body.

What is Body?

Body is an interesting aspect related to all beverages.  Think of it this way.  Anytime we consume a beverage, we know it may have acids, sugars, and a particular mouthfeel.  Body is different.  Body specifically refers to:

  • The weight of the beverage on your palate.

I equate it to having a scale in your mouth.  We all know that if we eat a piece of celery, it has a certain weight to it.  This is different than the same size piece of ribeye steak.  The ribeye will weigh more due to its density.  If you notice, I have not referred to anything else, only its weight. 

This is the same for wines on our palate.  They can have different weights to them.  For example, Pinot Grigio is a lovely grape variety that produces a light to medium body wine.  If I take a Cabernet Sauvignon grape to make a wine, the weight or body of the wine will be heavier on the palate.  Some say that it’s related to tannins in grapes, which is true.  However, remember that tannins are an acid, so they are related to acids, not this category.  

Body Explained.

Here’s how I explain it when I teach classes.  Relate body to the weight of dairy products on your palate.  We have all had skim milk at some point.  Since it’s missing some milkfat, it seems light (or some say watered down) on your palate.  Compare skim milk with 2 % milk.  The 2 % milk feels heavier.  Now compare this with whole milk.  The whole milk feels much heavier than the other two milks.

Using the analogy above, think about it this way:

  • A light body wine feels like the weight of skim milk,
  • A medium body wine feels like the weight of 2 % milk, and
  • A full body wine feels like the weight of whole milk.

Note that the above is not exact, but you can use this comparison to help you learn about the weight / body of the wine.  Body is very important for two reasons:

  1. Understanding what you want to consume at that moment, and
  2. Pairing wine with food.

Let‘s briefly discuss both reasons.

Weight and Wine Selection.

I’ve always felt that the body of a wine is dictated by our environment and what we feel like consuming at that moment.  I’m going to give you a scenario:

  • It’s summertime. The temperature is 94F and its late afternoon and you are sitting outside with friends getting ready to select a wine to drink.  No food is involved so pairing with a dish is not a concern.  What would you select?

The first statement that I’ll make is drink what you want to drink!! That to me is the most important factor since I want you to be happy (and you should).  Knowing this, let’s discuss what you may select.

For several of us, we might look at a chilled white wine or a rose.  These are refreshing (since they are chilled) and would have a flavor profile that you would like.  If this works for you, awesome.

Some may love a big red wine (such as a Cabernet Franc or a Zinfandel) since this is what they love to consume all of the time.  PERFECT!!  Love the choice again since you are happy.

For myself, I’d probably go with a Vinho Verde, or a Rose.  Why?  These are light bodied wines that are easy to drink so I do not feel ‘full’ after drinking them.  For me, a Cabernet Franc sitting outside is too heavy.  Don’t get me wrong……I will definitely drink it especially if I do not have to pay for it 😊.

But I want something lighter and refreshing.

What does this all mean?  Simply that each of us have a weight profile that we like.  It may change with the scenario (like mine does) but overall, everyone likes a certain body.  That’s perfectly fine.  I just want you to think about what you like.  I’ve heard many times from people who normally drink heavy reds that white wines feel ‘wimpy’ and too light.  The opposite is true.  Some find reds ‘too heavy’ to drink and want something lighter like a Riesling.  Nobody’s selection is wrong; it just makes you think about what you like in a wine.

Food Pairings.

Body and food pairings work hand in hand.  For example, if I have a piece of whitefish that I’m going to poach to serve, I’m going to avoid pairing a full-bodied wine with this.  The weight of the wine will overpower the fish.  Notice I’m not discussing aromas, flavors, or anything else.  The weight of the wine will be too heavy.  Therefore, try to use this mindset when pairing:

  • Attempt to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the dish.

What would work better is a Riesling, Albarino or even a Pinot Blanc or Pinot Noir.  These are all lighter bodied wines that can match the weight of the dish. 

Each week, I keep referring back to the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.  This was a Medium + body wine.  If this was placed only with the poached fish (no sauce, etc.), the body may be too much.  However, I do have some options.  If I stuff the fillet with crab meat, that will bring up the weight of the dish.  Adding a cream sauce would also assist.

Final Thoughts.

This was a quick overview of body / weight and how it can affect our wine selection.  Subliminally, we always think of the body of our beverages every day.  We just do not pay attention to it.  For my coffee drinkers, some like their coffee black so a spoon can stand up in it.  Others add cream until their coffee is tan color.  All of that is great as it shows body in our drink choice.

One final thought.  The first picture I showed you with the three wine glasses.  Did you figure out which glass held which type of milk?  Take a moment to go back and look before I give you the answer. 

The answer is:

  • They all are whole milk. 😊

It’s hard from the picture to tell if they were different.  Well, it’s exceptionally hard to tell the body of wine just by looking at it.  Next time you drink anything, take a moment to think about the body of the beverage.  It’s a great tool to understand when we talk about pairings in the future.

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