A man I know likes to swirl his glass and check out the "legs", which he says indicate better wine. At a local bottle shop tasting recently, the sales assistant I was chatting with said that legs don't indicate anything. There seems to be differing views about this. Thoughts?
If I were a bloke of a certain age and disposition this would present a peerless opportunity for a leering quip about how I've never been a leg man. But Benny Hill was a bit before my time; and I don't subscribe to the mythology around the "legs" that often appear inside a wine glass.
At this point some readers may – quite fairly – be wondering what business legs have in a glass. "Legs" is an expression for the rivulets of liquid we often see streaming down the sides of a glass after swirling or tipping the glass. I hasten to say we are talking about the interior of the glass, unless you are exceptionally well refreshed and have swirled or tipped too enthusiastically – in which event looking at legs will be the least of your problems.
Another name for these is "tears", which seems appropriate. The volume of rubbish spouted about them is enough to make a wine lover weep. The myth we hear most often is that they are a sign of high quality wine. They are not.
What they do indicate is higher levels of alcohol. The more alcohol a wine contains, the more apparent its legs will be in a glass. This is typically more visible upwards of about 12 per cent but if you're looking for a measure, be aware that estimating alcohol content based on a wine's legs is about as reliable as reading tea leaves. You'll learn more from looking at the label.
If your idea of a high quality wine is an exuberantly alcoholic one – and for followers of American uber-critic Robert Parker that may be the case – then the legs-quality equation might just add up. Pour yourself a glass of blockbusting shiraz from one of the warmer vintages of late and turn up the volume on your '83 ZZ Top album; you may find they go together surprisingly well.