The Myth of ‘Legs’ and the Taste of Tannins…


One of the terms that always had me baffled was the one about wine having ‘legs’. I had no idea what was meant by that or what it indicated if I indeed found that my delightful glass of Pinot Noir had them. (Not that I even know how to check for them but I digress…) So I set out to find out what this term meant.

First of all there are several terms that mean the same thing as ‘legs’ depending on where you’re from. The French refer to it not as ‘legs’ but as ‘tears’. Some other terms are ‘curtains’, ‘fingers’, or even ‘church windows’ but they all refer to the same thing.

What all these terms refer to are the streaks of wine that you see on the side of your glass after you swirl it around a bit. It is said that the more ‘legs/fingers/tears/etc.’ you see on the side of the glass the higher the quality of  the wine you are drinking. There are groups of people that live by this ruling and buy wine according to that belief and if you’re one of those people that believe this then you might want to stop reading here because I don’t want to be the one to shatter your beliefs.

In actuality those ‘legs’ only indicate one thing and that’s the alcohol content in the wine and it has no real bearing or significance when evaluating a wine. The ‘legs’ are a result of physics really and was proven in what is now called The Marangoni Effect.

In plain English what it means is the higher the alcohol content of a wine the more legs on the side the glass because alcohol creates evaporation in the glass when hit with oxygen. As that alcohol evaporates the rest of the liquid on the side of the glass loses it’s battle with gravity and gets pulled down and back into the glass. To prove this all you have to do is the next time you witness a bunch of ‘legs’ crawling up the side of your glass put your hand over the top of the glass to seal it off and you will instantly see no more ‘legs’. No evaporation equals no legs.

What does this mean to the wine and the quality of it? Well, absolutely nothing! It’s a great word to throw around at wine tastings and parties but it really is no indication of the quality of a wine at all. So there! Enjoy your wine whether it has ‘legs’ or not. If you like the wine that’s all that counts!


Another term that had me curious is when people refer to wine as being ‘tannic’ or ‘full of tannins’ so, of course, I had to investigate.

Tannins are a group of natural organic compounds that are found in the grape skins. The are excellent antioxidants and are a natural preservative. In concentrated quantities it can cause that pucker sensation in the mouth or the back of the throat. Sometimes there is also a bitter aftertaste and that is what people are referring to when they say a wine is ‘tannic’. This might also be what a person is indicating when they say a wine is ‘dry’ particularly if they are referring to the wine’s finish.

To place this in more common perspective, tannins are that bitter taste that you get when you drink black tea (especially if it’s been over steeped) or that taste you get when you accidentally bite into a grape pip (a.k.a. seed).

White wines are fairly low in tannins but red wines tend to have higher concentrations of tannins because red grape skins naturally have more tannins in them.

I also found in my research that red wines that are low in tannins typically should be drunk at a very young age (the wine’s young age not yours 🙂 ) and red wines with lots of tannins can age and improve three or more years before being opened and enjoyed. A wine that is high in tannins will mellow out and be less noticeable after aging a bit and won’t give you such a pucker factor any more.

So that’s our education for this lovely Wednesday! I hope you learned something like I did. Stay tuned for Sunday’s wine review where I will be reviewing a Conte Priola Pinot Noir 2009.


About Buhl Creative Enterprises

Owner of Buhl Creative Enterprises

Posted on December 29, 2010, in Education, Red Grape Varieties, White Grape Varieties, Wine Terms and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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