What does it mean to say a wine is "full-bodied"?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What does it mean to say a wine is "full-bodied”?

—Julio, Bronx, N.Y.

Dear Julio,

A wine's "body" refers to its weight, or how heavy or viscous it feels in your mouth. Body is determined by the wine's combination of tannins, extract, alcohol, glycerol, acidity and residual sugar. In ascending order, a wine might be described as light-, medium- or full-bodied, and I've often heard that progression compared to skim milk, whole milk and cream, as a way to understand how a beverage of varying bodies might feel in your mouth.

Body isn't just a wine term; beer drinkers might identify a similar concept with a beer's varying gravity levels, and coffee lovers will also understand how coffee beans from different origins and roasts will have different bodies, plus how adding milk or cream to a cup will change the body.

A full-bodied wine isn't necessarily better than a light-bodied wine. It really depends on the wine. I'd expect a young, dense Cabernet Sauvignon to be more full-bodied than a crisp, zingy Sauvignon Blanc, but both can be terrific.

—Dr. Vinny

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