At wine tastings I often hear people make comments about the “legs” of the wine that linger on the glass after it is swirled, with said individual acting “impressed” if the legs are long/linger. Often I feel as if this is a nervous reaction… as if the person doesn’t know what else to say about the wine, so they say what they know: that there’s wine in the glass, that it is sticking to the sides, and that that indicates something “good”. Do they know what it indicates? I doubt it. To be honest, I didn’t for quite some time, and would nod my head at the person as if to say, “Yes, I concur. I have seen said legs, and they look nice.” Truth be told, I was as clueless as they were.
These memories remind me that sometimes, the wine tasting experience is stressful and awkward. The “legs” comment? The epitome of this awkwardness and of the individual not having anything else to say… but wanting so badly to say something. I get that. And as someone who works so hard to make the wine world a non-snobby arena with a place for everyone, this “legs” statement strikes a chord. So here I am, setting the record straight on “legs”.
Legs simply indicate that a wine may have a higher alcohol content. Wine is a mixture of alcohol and water, and alcohol has a faster evaporation rate and a lower surface tension than water, thus forcing the alcohol to evaporate at a faster rate. The swirling effect allows the water’s surface tension and concentration to increase, pushing the legs up the glass until the surface tension pushes the water into beads. Gravity kicks in, forcing the liquid to streak down the glass, creating what the French call “tears” and what we call “legs”. The longer the legs, the higher the alcohol in the wine might be.
My advice? Skip the “legs” comment, unless you want to bring it up alongside this little trick: cover your next glass of wine and see if the legs decrease when covered compared to when open. They should, because with your hand covering the glass, the wine can’t evaporate. No evaporation = no legs. And you’ve officially impressed your peers. 🙂