There’s only one thing I love more than being told I’m awesome; it’s an honest friend giving me a suggestion on how I could be more awesome. After my last blog, my good friend Mark Rogers said I fell hook, line and sinker for a common misconception within the wine industry. Mark was referring to how, while sharing a few helpful tips to make wine tasting a little more fun and enjoyable, I very briefly discussed the “legs” of wine and its ability to aid in immediately determining quality. Out of the goodness in his heart, he decided call me out stating legs don’t mean squat. His challenge led me on a hunt for the truth to settle the debate.
What the heck are legs anyway? Legs are the streaks, or veins, that run down the side of the glass after wine is swirled. The French and Spanish call them tears; Germans know them as church windows. For way too long, seemingly knowledgeable winos have been ‘oohing’ and ‘aaahhing’ as glasses are swirled, assumptions are made, and wine is prematurely judged. The common myth is simple; nicely shaped, thick legs signify great body, flavor, balance, and higher glycerin/alcohol content. Wine knowledge is fun, but many tend to believe everything they hear and I’ll admit I never questioned the importance of legs until now.
There is no glycerin in wine. Glycerin is the trade name for glycerol syrup one can find at most local pharmacies. Glycerol, however is an alcohol compound found in wine that adds sweetness, but the amount found in any glass is so tiny that its weight has a negligible effect on the body. What do “legs” have to do with overall wine quality? There is literally nothing found in the appearance of legs that reveal the wine’s greatness – unless higher alcohol content means better wine (hey…we all have nights like that). The same goes for flavor. The phenomenon, if we choose to call it that, is known as the Gibbs-Marangoni Effect and states that alcohol has a faster evaporation rate and lower surface tension than water, effectively forcing the alcohol to evaporate at a faster rate. As the water’s surface tension and concentration increases, the liquid moves up the glass and pushed into beads. After awhile, our good pal gravity decides to drop in for visit and pull the liquid back towards the dusty earth from whence it came…thus creating legs/veins/tears/church windows or whatever your little heart desires.
“So that’s it? The thicker the legs, the more alcohol,” you say? Well yes….technically, but this still won’t help you in a tasting. In order to really see a noticeable difference in the legs, the wines would have to be as far apart (in regards to alcohol) as table reds are to fortified wines. Overall, legs are a redundant observation of anything related to the wine’s significant characteristics. Please, however, don’t take this as a plea for you to go around correcting people when they bring up this topic. Unless you’re asked, don’t correct or give advice. Just be happy that the next time you overhear some cute blonde say “did you notice these legs,” you can nod and smile knowing that’s not all you noticed. Enjoy life with friends and drink happy!
Here is a little 80’s inspiration on another kind of ‘legs’
Ben Hilzinger is a wine slinger at Nectar Tasting Room and at the Arbor Crest Winery. During the day he masquerades at Lindeman’s bistro and coffee shop on Spokane’s South Hill. In the evening Ben dons his rock star cape as a drummer for a local band. Ben hopes to share the love of wine with his generation and has aspirations to be a wine maker.