Give wine a good swirl in a wine glass, and one of two things will happen:
1. The liquid will retreat to its original fill level, leaving little or no residue on the inner “sides” of the glass.
2. Some wine will remain on those “sides,” as illustrated in the accompanying photo.
Those droplets of wine are known as “legs.”
Unless you happen to be in France. There, they are referred to as “the tears of a wine.”
While dining in a restaurant, sitting at a bar or visiting a winery tasting room, you may have overheard people talking about the legs as an indication of wine quality. The thicker or denser the legs, the better the wine, someone may have opined.
Okay, there are a couple of things you can infer from a wine’s legs:
1. Some (but not all) sweeter wines are more viscous, and their tears tend to flow slower down the side of the glass. But is this an indication of quality? No.
2. Wines that are higher in alcohol will demonstrate a higher density of droplets on the inside of a wine glass than those that are lower in alcohol. Same question: Is this an indication of quality? Same answer: No.
The bottom line is that about the only thing a wine’s legs indicate is the wine’s level of alcohol. The accompanying photo, which happens to show the legs of a Cabernet Sauvignon, illustrates a wine that is fairly high in alcohol.
This, of course, can be good information to have. But keep in mind that, by law, wine labels must list the alcohol percentage. The “answer” to the alcohol “question” is right there on the label.
So, what good does it do to assess a wine’s legs? The truth: none.
But they sure do make pretty pictures.