Marnie: Body is a term we use in the drinks business to describe texture or thickness. A typical wine is around 13.5 percent alcohol and could be described as "medium-bodied." The lower the alcohol content, the lighter the wine is likely to be. If it's very low, below 12 percent, chances are the wine will also feature noticeable sweetness.
Buzz: My friend told me that's what all those funny German names on the bottle — spatlese, auslese — are about: sweetness. But I don't get the link between that and alcohol.
Marnie: It's a pretty straightforward connection. The sugar in grapes is consumed by living yeast cultures, which break it down into alcohol and carbon dioxide. When we make dry wines, every bit of sugar is used, resulting in alcoholic strengths in the 12 to 15 percent range. However, it is possible for winemakers to interrupt fermentation before it's complete, retaining some natural sweetness in the wine. In these cases, the lower the wine's alcohol content, the sweeter the wine is likely to be.
Buzz: My alcohol content is high and I'm not very sweet.
Marnie: Not everyone is a sourpuss like you, Buzz. Although sweetness can be used to mask poor wine quality, it can be a delight when it's balanced with acidity in well-made wines. Besides, wines with a touch of sweetness make great partners for foods in which a touch of sweetness is present as well — like summer tomatoes or honey-glazed ham.
Buzz: I love ham, so maybe I'll give the riesling another try — this time with a bourbon chaser. n
Marnie Old is Philadelphia's highest-profile sommelier. She has designed wine lists for restaurants like Parc and Bar Ferdinand. Her latest book, "Wine Secrets," is a collection of wine advice shared by top wine professionals. Marnie consults for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and is an adviser to the beverage trade. Check out her blog at sauceblog.marnieold.com. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News City Editor Gar Joseph.