Guide to wine tasting – part 3

Published by Sally on June 7, 2010

A version of this article first appeared in France magazine, March 2010.

For this series we’ve divvied up reds into full-bodied, medium-bodied and light-bodied because they each give very different flavour and texture sensations.  As emerging spring is only a distant dream, we’re starting with full-bodied reds which we hope will give you a warming, nourishing glow in the frosty winter, as weightier reds are best accompanied by some serious hearty casseroles and other rich comfort food.

So what makes a red wine heavy, weighty, full-bodied? Firstly, certain grape varieties produce more full bodied wines by their very nature.  Powerful reds come from the likes of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre (think of the ‘GSM’ blends that Australia does so well). Secondly, warm to hot climates create weight in reds.  Lots of sunshine makes lots of sugar in grapes, and the plentiful alcohol that this turns in to during fermentation adds weight and body to a wine. But the grape variety and the warmth need to be matched. If delicate, cool climate loving pinot noir is grown in a hot climate all the aromatics are blown off and varietally-indistinct, meaty ‘red wine’ is the best to be hoped for.

Wines reviewd below

Wines reviewed below

It’s not so simple as there’s some crossover when a really warm vintage, in an otherwise cooler region, occurs.  So 2003 and 2005 will have resulted in some full-bodied Bordeaux wine, which is normally medium-bodied.  Similarly in a cooler vintage some Bordeaux could become quite light-weight.

Thus in France, the best places for full-bodied reds are the warmer Mediterranean regions.  Add to this the unique appellations of south-west France, which each have their own specialty grape variety, such as meaty malbec in Cahors and tannic tannat in Madiran. The classic cassoulet and confit duck of South West France are the most marvellous accompaniments for the local wines, which have the tannin and acidity to cut through the fat of the local fare, leaving the mouth refreshed, and undoubtedly aiding digestion!

To complicate the picture further, winemaking can influence style and weight.  Beefy, full-bodied styles of wine can be made from traditionally medium-bodied wines or grape varieties.

The strong grape varieties that result in full-bodied wines are generally high in tannin, and often in acidity too. And strong grape varieties can support and absorb a lot of oak, and if that oak is new it will add extra tannin and thus fullness to the wine.

With all that sugar from the warm climate, high alcohol is a by-product. In the good examples, it will be balanced with succulent fruit and rich, ripe tannins.  In poor examples, the alcohol may burn in a sensation of heat right at the back of the palate.   

The wine’s texture and mouthfeel has much to do with the ability to carry alcohol and the integration of any oak used. Too much chewy, new oak accentuates high alcohol and can make it challenging, chunky winter casserole or not.

The warm, Mediterranean southern Rhône valley is chokka with both full and medium-bodied wines, according to specific location, the blends of grape varieties, winemaking and vintage. Here, and throughout the Languedoc and Roussillon, is the heartland of grenache and syrah, with bits of carignan.  Add mourvèdre in the Languedoc and stretching east to its apogee in Bandol, plus those local specialities in the southwest to get pretty decent coverage of full-bodied styles. 

Fruit flavours will vary, but are likely to include anything from strawberries to dark, rumtopf-influenced blackberries, loganberries and mulberries. Warmth and richness are on the agenda, as is mouth-filling volume of fruit and spicy notes. Expect full-bodied wines to have quasi-physical weight on the tongue, and to take up the whole volume of space in the palate. Full-body, not skinny-body.

Sensitivity to, and appreciation of, high alcohol – in the context of full-bodied French wines, 13.5% to 14.5% –  vary with the individual, but expect anything from a gentle seeping of wet warmth across the tongue, to a spicy, piquant heat rising as imagined steam right at the back of the tongue, and into the aftertaste.

Integrating the alcohol is one of the crucial things for full-bodied wines. With dense, rich, palate-enveloping fruit, and sufficient defining acidity, this is no problem.

Château Montus 2005, Madiran
£19.30 Four Walls Wine Company  
Cork, 14.5%
Owned by Madiran-maestro Alain Brumont, this one is a blend of 80% local tannat grape, ‘softened’ out a little with 20% cabernet sauvignon. The beef steak and stewed black berry nose is complexed by notes of allspice and cinnamon. Ripe berry fruits adorn the still youthful, very fine-grained tannin framework. On this, well-toned, structural muscles provide the gently chewy backbone for intense flavours of black tea, black berries, plus layers of leather and rich spices. The alc is supremely well harmonised into this fully substantial wine with lingering finish.   
Domaine la Bouïssiere, Gigondas, 2007                               
£18.95, Lea and Sandeman
Cork, 14.5%
Sweet-baked red berry fruit on the nose, with hints of dried orange slices pierced with cloves. Lush, smooth palate entry, sweetly spiced, youthful, red and black forest berries. Big structured wine beguiled by silky smooth tannins and sweetly aromatic spices. The full body has the warmth of well integrated alcohol surreptitiously peeping through at the end after a long finish. Made with two-thirds grenache, with most of the rest being syrah as well a muscley morcel of mourvèdre.

Domaine Le Galantin Bandol AC, 2004                 
£12.90  Tanners
Cork, 14.5%
This one made from 100% mourvèdre, that dark, inky, brooding variety.  It has a lifted blackcurrant and wild strawberry nose, enticingly aromatic and perfumed for such a full bodied wine, with a tarry, leathery note of complexity. The fresh red berry attack is followed by subtle richness with a tarry backbone softening into the flesh of fruit after 18 months in barrel and three and half years in bottle. The smoothness of texture and fineness of the tannins absorb the alcohol extremely well.

JL Chave Séléction, Mon Cœur Côtes du Rhône, 2006                     
£11.50 The Wine Society
Cork, 14%
Jean-Louis Chave is owner of a prestigious Rhône estate, and for his ‘Séléction’ wines, he buys in young wines on which his attention and skills are bestowed. This wine has an intriguing combination of violet perfume and fresh beef nose. Its smooth attack of dark-berried forest fruits: blueberry, mulberry, loganberry, with a sweet fruit core surround a rich palate texture of creamy aromatic spice. This modern expression of the Rhône is rich, lush – in a dry manner – and forward, focusing on fruit rather than savoury, smoky characters.
Vignobles Diffonty, Cuvée du Vatican Réserve Sixtine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007
£25.00  Laithwaites 
Cork, 15.5%
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the archetypal full-bodied French wine. This one blends 50% grenache with 30% syrah and 20% mourvèdre, and exhibits a rich rumtoph spiciness with fresh red berry medley.  It has a smooth texture and the alcohol, even at 15.5%, is nicely warming without interfering. Aromatic spices, and sweet, almost overripe berry fruits combine with notes of tarry smokiness. Rich fruit, supple tannins and layered sweet and savoury flavours, express this modern wine.

Please feel free to comment on this article

Jump to the top of this page