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Wine Styles

Table of White Wines with matching foods | Table of Red Wines with matching foods | What are wine legs, body and nose?

While there are many thousands of different wines to choose from, the first simple step is to understand the five basic styles of wine, and within each of these are further bespoke styles and weights (body):


What is body in wine terminology?

Body is often defined as how a wine feels in the mouth - mouthfeel - on wine tasting. This feeling is called an impression and it is determined by a wine's weight and texture in the mouth. The acidity and alcohol content also play a role in determining wine body.

The usual reference to body comes in whether the wine is "light-bodied", "medium-bodied" or "full-bodied".

Acidity and tannin influence the texture of the wine, as does the alcohol. Higher levels of acidity in a wine create a "crisp" impression, while lower levels cause a "fat and flabby" impression. Higher levels of tannins in a wine create an "intense" impression, and at the mid tannic levels a "firm" impression is felt; and finally, the lowest levels of tannin leave a "soft" impression. 

How to distinguish between acidity and tannin.

Both acid and tannin create a dry sensation in the mouth, so how can you tell whether it is one and not the other you are actually tasting?

It's straight forward - acid causes the release of saliva in the mouth to help neutralise its effect; whereas tannin makes your mouth pucker with its astringent bitterness.

There is an good article on tannins at

Food pairing - what wine goes with what food? 

When you have a meal, it is considered correct to begin with a lighter wine, then moving towards a heavy or fuller bodied one as the meal progresses. Choose a lighter wine to go with light food and more full-bodied wine to go with heavier food.

Hearty meat dishes like lamb chops, barbeque ribs, beef or veal, are better paired with a rich, intense wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or Red Rhône. On the other hand, a lighter dish like a simple pasta primavera (fresh vegetables and olive oil) is better complemented with a white wine or even a lighter red wine such as Pinot Noir, Lambrusco, Valpolicella or Beaujolais.


Sunshine => sugar => alcohol %

The body of a wine is related to the alcohol content, so for a wine produced in a very hot country with loads of sunshine to ripen the grapes, the alcohol will be higher and the body will pack a punch! Conversely for that wine grown at altitude with very little sun, the grapes won't be as ripe, so the wine will be light and and have a lower alcohol by volume (abv).

Age => body

If you're wanting to match a wine to food, these tables will help you choose the right style of wine by its body or weight. The lists here are of red wines and white wines in order of their lightness to heaviness.

The aim in pairing wine with food is compatibility, so neither should overpower the other. The following tables provide a general guide to the style of certain wines in terms of the body they typically exhibit. However, do remember that individual winemaking styles as well as a particular vintage may influence the weight of these wines.

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Selected WHITE Wines - Light to Heavy

Matching Foods
style indicator
  Frascati, Soave, Orvieto,


  Riesling off dry, Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, Scheurebe
  Pinot Grigio
  Riesling dry
  Muscadet, Melon De Bourgogne
  Champagne and other dry sparkling wines
  Pinot Blanc unoaked (Alsace and the United States)
  Vouvray, Chenin Blanc   Snapper
  Veal Paillard
  French Chablis, unoaked Chardonnays
  Pinot Blanc oaked
  Sauvignon Blanc
  Chardonnay unoaked United States or French (like those from   Chablis)   Salmon
  Roast Chicken
  Sirloin Steak
  Burgundy - Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint Véran, Mâcon-Villages
  Pinot Gris (Alsace, Tokay)
  Chardonnay barrel-fermented and aged in oak (United States,   Australia), Chablis Grand Cru
  Burgundy - Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Voignier


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Selected RED Wines - Light to Heavy

style indicator
  Valpolicella, Bardolino   Suckling Pig
  Leg of Lamb
  Steak Tartare
  Spätburgunder, Portugieser
  Valpolicella, Dolcetto
  California Pinot Noir
  Burgundy   Beef Bourguignon
  Filet Mignon
  Beef Teriyaki
  Prime Rib
  Veal Chops
  Barbera (United States, Italy)
  Chianti Classico
  Pinot Noir (United States)
  Barbaresco, Barolo   Game Steak
  Wild Boar
  Lamb Chops
  Beef Curry
  Barbeque Ribs
  Roasted Game
  Malbec, Merlot (United States, French are lighter)
  Syrah, Shiraz (United States, Australia)
  Zinfandel (United States)
  Cabernet Sauvignon (United States, Australia, French are lighter)


Useful site for further information -


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What are wine legs, body and nose?

by Len Napolitano -

These commonly used terms describe how three of our senses are used in evaluating the anatomy of wine. Starting with an observation of the tiny streams of wine that cling to the inside of the glass, these "legs" are indicators of the overall richness, or power, of the wine. Wine higher in alcohol or sugar will exhibit these "tears" that creep back down after the glass is swirled.

Try comparing legs of a Sauvignon Blanc with 12% alcohol with those of Chardonnay made with about 14% alcohol. The Sauvignon Blanc will exhibit faint legs that fall back into the glass fairly quickly while the Chardonnay’s legs will appear a little fatter and slower moving. Then taste the difference in richness between the two with the legs having clued you in to the wine’s style before you sip.

Our sense of touch comes into play when a wine’s body is assessed. Also known as "mouthfeel," body can be light, as in a domestic Riesling, medium, like a Pinot Noir, or full-bodied, such as Syrah. As a general rule, wines that are made in a full body style will also have a higher alcohol content to help balance the overall makeup of the wine.

Many popular "New World" (USA, Australia, Chile) wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz (the Australian name for Syrah) are described as full bodied. To the contrary, many notable Cabernets and Syrah from the "Old World" (France, Italy) are generally said to possess elegance and complexity in a more delicate, medium body style. Neither approach is necessarily superior--only personal preference matters when choosing one or the other.

Finally, the term "nose" is used as a synonym for smell. A wine is said to have a nice "nose" if it has distinctive and pleasing aromas that invite the taster to indulge.

When you evaluate a wine’s nose, stick your nose deep inside the glass and take several strong sniffs while concentrating on the scents that hit you. Although wine is made from grapes, its aroma (sometimes interchanged with "bouquet") is seldom "grapey". Instead, you'll get the smell of anything from wild berries to jasmine, depending on the wine.


Len Napolitano - Wine Writer and Weekly Wine Columnist
Certified Specialist in Wine by Society of Wine Educators; Certified in Wine by Wine & Spirits Education Trust