Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris on February 11, 2017 1 Comment There are countless ways you can get some idea of the character of a wine, before you’ve actually tasted it. In some ways, this is all part of the fun of wine drinking — observing it, considering the liquid, eyeballing it in the glass as you gently swirl it around…and it also enhances your enjoyment of the wine when it does finally hit your palate. Looking at your wine in the glass should always be the first thing you do, before you inhale the aromas or take a sip. For me personally, one of my favorite things about wine is the way it looks. The colors; the myriad shades which range from the palest green to the deepest, darkest, inkiest purple are a real joy to behold, and they do give you some indication of what it is you’re about to taste. When outside, on a picnic or sitting at a street cafe, I love to watch the sunlight catch the ruby-reds of a good glass of Cabernet, or sitting in a restaurant or at home, I always take a moment to see how the candlelight plays with the wine through the glass. Myths and Mistruths In these blogs, I’ve found myself discussing at length some of the myths and mistruths which are bandied about throughout the wine world. Again, why this drink is surrounded by quite so much mythology is something of a mystery to me; maybe it’s got something to do with the amount of time wine has been around for (up to 10,000 years if some historians are to be believed), perhaps it has something to do with the religious connotations of wine, or the elitism which has sprung up around wine over the past century. I don’t know the reasons, but it is a source of annoyance for me. There are plenty of myths connected to the appearance of wine in the bottle — for example, the depth of the dimple in the base of a bottle has nothing to do with the quality of the content inside the bottle — and a seemingly equal number of mistruths connected to how wine appears in the glass, too. With training, and a careful eye, you can come to many conclusions about a wine by looking at in in the glass. For example, you can probably identify (without too much difficulty) whether a wine has spoiled by looking at the color. Oxidised and corked wines tend to look muddy and opaque, white wines which have turned bad go a sort of amber color. You can also have a good guess at the grape varietal used in the wine — vivid reds for Sangiovese, ruby for Pinot Noir, etc, etc. What you can almost never do, however, is judge the quality or flavors of a wine by merely looking at it in the glass. The Tears of The Wine This brings us to the subject of wine legs. Also known rather romantically as “the tears of wine” in French, these are the streaks of wine and droplets which gather to the sides of your glass when you swirl your wine around. There is an enduring myth out there which claims that the amount of droplets present on your glass relates to the overall quality of the wine (more legs equals better wine, apparently). Put simply, it doesn’t tell us anything of the sort. In all my years working as a wine journalist and taster, I’ve never met anybody who could read wine legs with any accuracy, and have only ever really heard them referred to in really poor jokes about the wine having better legs than the waitresses. You get the idea, I’m sure. Wine legs do tell us something: the alcohol content of wine. I suppose this could be a useful thing to think about and look out for if you’re tasting many wines by the glass, but to be honest, if I’m curious about the alcohol content of my wine, I tend to just look at the figure printed on the label of the bottle. There is some debate about whether or not the legs of a wine can tell us about the sweetness — I suppose most sweet wines are a little more viscous, and dessert wines are really quite viscous indeed due to the higher sugar content in them. The more viscous or sticky a wine is, the more it will cling to the side of a glass, but I genuinely can’t imagine this being really obvious in wines which have very subtle levels of sweetness, only in glasses of syrupy botrytised wines, ice wines and similar. The Science Bit Wine legs mainly occur due to what is known as The Gibbs Marangoni Effect, a phenomenon caused by the evaporation of alcohol affecting the surface tension of a liquid. A wine with a higher alcohol content will have more legs, due to the fact that more alcohol will evaporate as the wine is swirled in the glass. The alcohol evaporates from the thin film of liquid which coats the side of the glass, releasing the wine aromas into the air, and the remaining mixture of water and wine then runs back down the inside of the glass, giving you the “tears” effect. If you swirl your wine in a closed bottle, you’ll notice that no legs occur – this is due to the fact that the bottle is airtight, and no evaporation can take place. So, to conclude: enjoy the appearance of your wine! Take in the beautiful colors, the silky textures and the way it catches the light. Enjoy the legs, if you must…just don’t pretend to come to any grand conclusions about them. The world of wine is full enough with myths, half-truths and all manner of hocus pocus. All of this verbose speculation and mythologizing around what counts as quality, and how to tell if a wine is worth drinking or not merely distracts us from trusting our tongue and nose, and takes us further away from real enjoyment. Wine is a wonderful thing, so take a good, long sip, and don’t let anybody cloud your judgement!