Almost anytime you taste wine with other people, someone will undoubtedly attempt to analyze that wine’s “legs,” making proclamations that these legs reveal information about the wine’s alcohol content as well as its body. If you’re unfamiliar with what “wine legs” are, these are the translucent streaks left on the side of the glass after a wine is swirled as the wine drips back down to the glass’s center. These “legs” can also be referred to as a wine’s “tears” – which makes a bit more sense – and they’re caused by an interaction between the alcohol in the wine and evaporation, but we’ve yet to meet anyone who can actually read them.
Those who purport to understand a wine’s legs claim they are a great indication of a wine’s alcohol content, but these same legs occur in many other alcoholic beverages, such as whisky, rum and cognac, and no one makes the same claims for these beverages, so why is attempting to analyze the legs so prevalent among wine drinkers? A lot of it has to do with the pomp and circumstance surrounding wine tasting in the first place. Wine tasting has become so serious and intimidating that many people try to analyze everything they possibly can instead of simply sitting back and enjoying the wine in their glass. The legs are a primary example of this.
The belief among those who claim to be able to analyze the legs is that if you observe the difference in thickness of the translucent strands from one glass to another, you can tell if the bottle is lower or higher in alcohol. But determining this difference is extremely tough, and why would you need to do this when the exact alcohol percentage is printed on the bottle?
So appreciate wine legs for what they are, beautiful streaks in the glass that add beauty and nuance to the wine you’re consuming, just don’t try to read them, it’s like reading the tea leaves.