Banner image for What Are Wine Legs?

What Are Wine Legs?

Erin O'Reilly - Certified Specialist of Wine

Chances are that you’ve seen the small streaks of wine going up your wine glass as you sip and swirl. These streaks, called wine legs, have nothing to do with the wine’s quality but are a fascinating bit of chemistry.

a glass of red wine on a white table cloth

What Are Legs in Wine?

Wine legs form on the inside of your glass when you swirl or move the wine around. These streaks of wine appear to move up the side of the glass.

The French call wine legs the ‘tears of a wine’, and with good reason. The wine looks like its crying.

Are Wine Legs Good or Bad?

The obvious question is: What do wine legs have to do with wine quality? The answer: Nothing. Contrary to popular belief, a wine with legs has nothing to do with a wine’s overall quality.

Why Does Wine Have Legs?

Wine legs on glass result from the wine’s surface tension, so legs are connected to the liquid’s chemistry. Two distinct types of wine will have noticeable wine legs:

  • High Alcohol Wines: High-alcohol wines will have noticeable wine legs. As the alcohol evaporates, it collects a higher volume of droplets forming legs.
  • Sweet Wines: The sugar in sweet wines creates a thicker, more viscous liquid. Viscous liquid slows down the droplets falling back into your glass, creating visible legs. Try swirling a Sauternes and you’ll definitely see legs!

Does White Wine Have Legs?

Yes, just like red wine, white wine has legs. White wines that have lower alcohol levels, like a cool climate Pinot Grigio (11.5% ABV) won’t have obvious legs compared to a Lodi Zinfandel (15.5% ABV). Also, you may not readily notice white wine legs if your white wine is very pale or almost water-white.

A woman with a tattoo on her wrist holding a glass of red wine

How to Assess Your Wine’s Legs

The next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, hold it up and look at the inside of the glass. Give the glass a gentle swirl to bring the wine up the side of the glass. Next, pause your swirling and watch the wine droplets fall back down to the bowl.

If the wine falls slowly into the glass, you may be drinking wine with a little sugar in it. Port’s a fun wine to use for this experiment.

If you notice many large legs after you swirl, the wine probably has high alcohol (over 15% ABV). Compare a Lodi Zinfandel or Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon to a French Bordeaux or Burgundy.

What Else Do Wine Legs Mean?

When alcohol evaporates, it actually carries up all of the delicate aromas you smell in your wine. This is why you want to swirl your wine before taking a deep sniff. You unlock the chemical bonds for the aromas allowing them to dance up to your nose.

Keep this in mind next time you open your wine of the month club shipment! Remember, wine legs embody the visual beauty of wine. They shimmer and reflect off the light in your glass. Even if wine legs have nothing to do with wine quality, they add to the multisensory experience that is wine. So, sip and enjoy!

Erin O'Reilly Author Bio Image Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly, Certified Specialist of Wine, is a wine writer and educator. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers dedicated to crafting great wines.