What Do Legs on Wine Mean?

There are many specific and technical terms and concepts when it comes to wine, as it is a huge world of its own with much to know about in order to become a true wine expert.

If you just enjoy wine without getting into the technicalities, or you’re a beginner in the world of wine expertise, you might have heard people referring to the legs of a wine, without quite knowing what they mean. 

What do legs on a wine mean? Well, the French call these wine legs the tears of the wine, and they are essentially just the droplets and streaks that form inside the wine glass when you move the wine about.

These droplets and streaks are translucent, and many people believe that they can be an indicator of the quality of the wine itself, but this is completely untrue. 

Truth is, many people and wine experts try to read the wine legs, thinking it will allow them to know more about the wine, in order to judge it.

But in reality, these wine legs tell you nothing of the actual quality of the wine, and trying to read them is pretty much useless. These droplets and streaks indicate that the wine is wet, and you kind of already knew that anyway, it’s a drink! 

But what are these droplets and streaks known as legs, and how do they come about? 

Well, these wine legs are caused by the evaporation of the alcohol, after you have swirled the wine around in the glass. The swirling affects the surface tension of the wine that is clinging to the glass, and that is what allows some evaporation to occur. 

The theory is that the higher the alcohol in a wine, the more wine legs will appear. The viscosity of a wine can also affect the number of wine legs that appear, and for example, sweet wines, have slower streaks. 

In this way, wine legs can sort of tell you something about the wine, as you could compare two glasses and more or less determine which one has more alcohol and which one has less, or the viscosity levels, based on the wine legs alone. 

However, they can in no way indicate the level of quality, because the quality of wine does not affect the way in which wine legs appear. So if you ever hear someone comment on the quality of a wine due to the streaks and droplets, feel free to call them out! 

What do wine legs tell you?

Wine legs do not indicate the level of quality of the wine, that’s for starters. However, they can help indicate a few things, although never in an exact way.

They can give you an idea for comparison so that you can form an assessment of the wine with more ease, but nothing more. 

Here are the main things that wine legs can tell you about the wine: 

  • More droplets and streaks can indicate higher levels of alcohol in the wine. This is because more alcohol will be evaporating from the wine as you swirl it around, causing a higher density of the wine legs. 
  • The wine legs will flow a lot slower down the side of the glass if the levels of viscosity and sweetness in the wine are higher. The slower the streaks and droplets move down the side of the glass, the sweeter the wine is. 
  • The way in which the wine legs act can be an indicator of the temperature of the room and environment. The same wine will not have the same wine legs in different seasons and days, so this is something to take into account. 

How do you examine wine legs?

Examining the wine legs of your wine glass can tell you a little about the wine, but not in a very exact way. It will also say nothing about the actual quality of the wine, so there isn’t usually much point in trying to figure out what the wine legs are indicating. 

Nevertheless, if you want to examine and make some sense of the wine legs, here is how to do it:

  1. Start by holding your wine glass up, at a slight angle.
  2. Move the glass so that the wine flows to one side, and then lower it back down so that the wine is leveled once more. (You are essentially swooshing the wine to one side so that it covers one side of the glass for a few seconds, to leave behind the wine legs)
  3. Observe as the wine legs appear, and analyze how they flow, the density, and the viscosity. 

Why do you swirl the wine in a glass?

When wine experts taste wine, one of the golden rules they have is to first give the wine a swirl in the glass. But what is the point of swirling the wine in the glass? What does this do? 

There are actually a few reasons for swirling the wine in the glass: 

  • Wine is tasted in more ways than just with the mouth. A big part of the enjoyment of wine is the smell, which adds to the overall taste and experience you get from drinking it. 

When you swirl the wine in the glass, the aroma of the wine attaches onto oxygen particles in the air, thanks to the movement, so that it is easier to smell the wine.

This also means that the true smell of the wine will not be as masked by the smell of alcohol. 

So basically, swirling the wine allows you to smell it, and therefore taste it, a lot better. 

  • Swirling wine will cause it to swoosh around the glass, and will cause wine legs to appear so that you can “read” the wine through its viscosity and density. 
  • Swirling the wine helps get rid of any bad-smelling compounds that might be present in the wine, thanks to the oxygenation that occurs during the movement. 
  • It looks cool. As simple as that! It makes you look like a professional, and it’s a flick of dramatism that adds to the experience of it all. 
Christina Day
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