The “Tears” or “Legs” of Wine
Most of us will have been in a situation where we are in a gathering drinking wine when one know it all holds up his wine glass, swirls the wine and says, “Look at this wine’s legs. They are terrific. This is a real high-quality wine.”
This is rubbish.
The tears or legs, whatever you call them, are a favourite term used by a certain type of self-proclaimed wine snob that wants to impress you with his “knowledge”
Although they are often referred to as indicators of quality, wine legs tell you very little about what the wine will actually taste like, or its quality.
Wine legs, or tears, are those little droplets that fall down the sides of the wine glass after the wine is sipped or swirled. Their causes are somewhat complicated, and relate to the chemical structure of wine and its alcohol content. The ethanol in wine evaporates along the tiny rim of wine along the sides of a glass. Because it has a smaller surface tension than water, the liquid runs down the sides of the glass into the bowl due to a phenomenon called the Marongoni effect.
Therefore the higher level of alcohol in a wine, the slower and thicker its tears will be.
Unfortunately, other components affect wine tears as well, so they aren’t a straightforward indicator of quality. Sugar, for example, impacts the speed of a wine’s tears, so sweeter wines tend to have slower-falling droplets. If a wine has thick, slow-falling tears or legs, the wine is likely to have a higher alcohol content (which is typical of a fuller body wine), more sugar, or both.
Perhaps in the big, booming ’80s, when lots of alcohol and powerful structure all but guaranteed a 100-point score from Robert Parker, thick tears were seen as a sign of a high-quality wine. Today, however, they mean very little.
When looking at a glass of wine, pay more attention to the colour and depth than the legs.
Then sniff, sip, and enjoy.