Legs or Tears in the Wine

“Legs”, “Tears” or better known as those small little drops running down the side of your wineglass after you have swirled it. Can they really tell you anything about the wine?

We all have that one friend, the pretentious self-proclaimed wine expert who did a wine tasting in Napa Valley (or equivalent region) once and now thinks himself an expert on all things wine. He will swirl the glass and look all so important when he lifts it up to the light to look at the legs running down on the sides. He might exclaim (if he knows that it is an expensive bottle):

Look at those legs! They are beautiful! This is a good quality wine!

That friend

And that my friends, is the easiest way of spotting a person that does know bulls* about wine.

The legs have absolutely no correlation to the quality of the wine.
That even bears repeating,

The legs have absolutely no correlation to the quality of the wine!

It is just what the physicists like to call the Marangoni (sometimes Gibbs-Marangoni) effect. It is just science, not a magical indication of quality.

Easily explained, the legs are the correlation between alcohol, sugar, and glycerol in relation to water, temperature, surface tension and more. From the wine that is swirled up along the sides, alcohol will evaporate quicker, which will give that liquid on the sides of the glass a higher surface tension, which causes the drops that will run down along the sides when gravity becomes too much for them.

Since it is not just one thing going into making the “legs”, looking at them will not actually tell you anything. Unless you are making an analyse in a laboratory where all other parameters are controlled. Then you would be able to draw some very basic correlation between the legs and the alcohol content of the wine. But, unlike what certain people seems to think, higher alcohol does not equate to higher quality.

Looking at the colour, the intensity, the clarity of the wine might tell you a lot, but for everyone’s sake, stop talking about the legs!