A blast from the past originally published in the PinotFile, May 30, 2006
“She’s got legs, she knows how to use them”
Legs, ZZ Top
I was tasting wine with several others awhile back and one of them exclaimed after swirling their glass, “This
wine has great legs.” This statement is often interpreted as a compliment or a confirmation of quality, but “legs”
that are observed on the inside of a wine glass are related to the alcohol level and not in any way related to
quality. In truth, what one is really saying is, “This wine has plenty of alcohol.” The higher the alcohol, the more
noticeable are the legs.
According to Emile Peynaud, author of The Taste of Wine, when you swirl a wine glass, a clear film creeps up
the sides of the glass above the wine’s surface and forms droplets which then fall. Often called legs, they are
also referred to as tears, arches or arcs. The Germans called them Kirchenfenster or church window because
they resemble Gothic arches. The scientific basis for legs is called the “Marangoni effect.” Alcohol is more
volatile than water and the alcohol (not glycerin as many wine drinkers claim) condenses on the glass.
Wine has a number of other anatomic parts including a “nose” and “body.” The nose refers to aromas smelled
in young wines and the bouquet of smells acquired with aging. Body refers to the concentration of a wine. A
substantial wine is said to have “good body.” Be careful with the use of this phrase, for “a good body” means
something entirely different. Sugar, alcohol, glycerol and tannins contribute to the body of a wine. It should be
remembered that a full-bodied wine does not necessarily equate with quality. Wines may have a “robe” as well.
This term is frequently used to refer to the color or shade of a wine.