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Pinot Legs

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.

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