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More Than Just a Set of Legs

Working in a tasting room in wine country will expose the average cork dork to a stunning variety of opinions, commonly held beliefs, and outright misconceptions. One that consistently baffled me, mainly because I heard so many “official” answers, was the fascination with legs in wine.

“Ohh, look at the great legs on that one!” they’ll exclaim, giddy with the newfound oenological knowledge gained from the tasting-room kid working part time two wineries down the road.

Legs (also known as tears, church windows, Samuel Jackson’s ghost, or rollin’ blunder) are those vertical drippy bits you see running down the sides of your transparent Solo-cup after your swirl your Boone’s Farm™. The reason they happen is simple. Like really simple: Wine = water + alcohol + grapey stuff. When you swirl it about in your glass, you coat the sides with this mixture.

Now anybody who has had to sterilize a Ping-Pong table for impromptu surgery knows that alcohol evaporates quite a bit faster than ordinary water. What you might not know is that the surface tension of alcohol is also quite a bit lower than water. As the alcohol evaporates from the wine, the overall surface tension of the remaining liquid increases and causes the water to pull together. Because it’s being affected by gravity, the shape it takes is a vertical line as it’s all essentially falling back into the glass in slow motion, Michael Bay-style. That’s it. Anybody who tells you otherwise doesn’t really care about you as a person, and probably shouldn’t be invited to your next Thanksgiving Dinner.

What fascinates me, though, is all of the misinformation surrounding this innocuous phenomenon.

1) Legs indicate quality. You’re kidding, right? Did you READ the memo?

2) Legs indicate alcohol content. Are you telling me you can tell the difference between 12.5% ABV and 14.2% ABV by looking at the way a liquid runs down a glass? Surely you jest. A 20% Olorosso Sherry may behave differently, but this humble cork dork thinks that any difference you see between those two Zins is more likely a product of color extraction than ABV.

3) Legs indicate Glycerol. Check your textbooks again, Dexter. Glycerol has a higher boiling point than water, so it evaporates even slower. Therefore, the evaporation rate wouldn’t affect the legs. Also, it is found in microscopic amounts in vino, so regardless, it wouldn’t make any difference visible to the naked eye.

The bottom line is that legs in wine should be treated a lot like legs on a person. Sure they’re nice to look at, and might give you an indication as to whether she works out, but bring them up over dinner and you’re probably going to feel foolish.

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