“This wine has GREAT legs!”
Umm… huh? Wine? Legs? People have legs. Dogs and cats have legs. Wine has legs?
Well, no. Wine doesn’t have actual legs. Wine has something that people call legs. And as for what they mean, or why they’re there… it’s kind of an interesting subject. Now would be a good time to pour yourself a glass. It’ll come in handy during our geeky explanation of what legs (in wine lingo) actually means.
Now that you have your wine, give it a nice swirl. Now check out the inside of the glass. As you swirled, a bit of wine clung to the inside of the glass, correct? As it drips down the inside of the glass, it forms legs. What you’re watching is basically the wine’s attempt to get back down to the bottom of the glass. Why? Because of gravity.
Here comes the sciencey part. Wine is mostly made up of alcohol and water. When you swirl, the wine hits the side of the glass and begins to evaporate. The thing is, our friend alcohol evaporates more quickly than our friend water. As the alcohol evaporates and water is left on the side of the glass, it has created high surface tension. The alcohol molecules that are chillin’ in the wine respond by leaping up the side of the glass to try to reduce the surface tension. Then gravity pulls ‘em all back down and you get to drink them. Mmmm… molecules.
The interesting part is that some wines have legs that are more clearly defined and take longer to drip down than other wines. Why is that? Do stronger legs mean better wine? In a word: nope! This is a common misconception. There are a few factors that contribute to why some wine has stronger legs than others, but the main one is… can you guess? Alcohol content!
Since it’s the alcohol that is the main contributor to legs in general, it makes sense that more booze = more legs. And as we also know, more booze = a fuller bodied wine. That big ‘ole Zinfandel will definitely have sturdier legs than that Pinot Noir. But that doesn’t mean the Zinfandel is of higher quality.
There are tons of little factors that contribute to legs… things you might not ever think of: whether it’s humid or hot outside, or the shape of the glass. Crazy! What have we learned? When Uncle Leo gives that wine he bought a satisfactory swirl and informs you of its high quality by showing you the legs — just smile to yourself, and keep drinking.