If you have ever observed a wine tasting, you may have noticed people taking their glass of wine, swirling it and then making observations. The act of swirling introduces oxygen which opens unlocks the aromas and flavours, allowing the drinker to more fully appreciate its depth and fullness. The taster may then comment on the colour and clarity of the wine. You may also hear something like this “This wine has fascinating legs”
What are Wine Legs and what do they mean? Also known as tears, they are the small rivets that form above the wine.
Alcohol evaporates faster than water, so the alcohol in the wine creeps up the glass. As wine is comprised of both alcohol and water, a thin film of water remains over the alcohol as it climbs. Gravity wins out and the water falls back into the glass, forming ‘legs’ or ‘tears’
So, what is the significance? It has been previously believed that these indicate quality. This has been proven untrue. There is no connection between the formation of these rivets and quality.
In essence, they indicate alcohol content. The greater the level of alcohol, the longer, thicker, and more interesting the formations will be. The correlation between alcohol content and legs is also seen in the fact that they are only formed in wines with an alcohol level higher than 12%.
Another interesting factor, which can impede the development of tears, is the way the glasses are washed. When washed with soap and water, the soap leaves a thin film on the glass. This soapy film not only impedes the formation of legs, but also can affect the taste of the wine. It is preferable to wash your glasses in very hot water, using salt water if necessary.
Some sommeliers believe that the legs are an indicator not only of alcohol but of the body. They would say that if the tears are thin, it indicates a light body. ‘Cathedral windows’ indicate a medium body, and ‘sheets’ indicate a full-bodied wine.
Personally, I am of the opinion that further experimentation is required. Shiraz anyone?