Wine Viscosity, does it have legs?

March 8, 2011 | By Paul Hegeman | Photography by: |

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There is great debate about a wine’s viscosity being indicative of its quality. There are two distinct schools of thought surrounding this issue, each believing the other is wrong. Before we delve into both sides lets clear up some definitions.

Swirl your wine, hold it up, see if a nice set of legs develop and judge accordingly, just don’t forget the other 2/3rds of wine judging, smelling and tasting.

Viscosity: Refers to a wines consistency. If a wine is very viscous it will appear thick and syrupy, a wine with low viscosity will appear watery.

Legs: Refers to the droplets of wine that sticks to the side of a glass after the wine has been swirled. As these droplets drip back towards the surface of the wine they leave a trail or ‘legs’, the French have a much more romantic name for them and refer to them as ‘Tears’.

Body: Refers to the feel of the wine, a full bodied wine will be very viscous or ‘thick’. A medium or light bodied wine will feel lighter or ‘thin’. High levels of sugar (glycerols) and alcohol (ethanol) contribute to a fuller body.

For years wine snobs have labelled wines as quality or low quality simply based on the existence of strong ‘legs’ or ‘weak legs’. Then along comes scientific research that proves that the presence of a nice set of legs on a wine has more to do with it’s alcohol to water ratio, surface tension, evaporation rate and a whole bunch of other physics terms. Now the two sides refuse to get along, one branding the other as pretentious farcical snobs and the other as number crunching nerds who know nothing of wine.

The truth of the matter is that the nerds and the snobs are both right. The science guys are right when they say that a wine with a high alcohol to water content and a decent amount of glycerol will develop better legs on the side of a glass due to all the surface tension and evaporation rate stuff. Now ask any of the wine snobs and aficionados what they consider the characteristics of a good wine and most of them will say that body is incredibly important. That’s right body, remember body (feel and thickness); the result of a good level of alcohol and glycerol, the same things that the nerds say causes all that physics stuff.

So don’t be afraid to be a snob, especially now that you can back it up scientifically. Swirl your wine, hold it up, see if a nice set of legs develop and judge accordingly, just don’t forget the other 2/3rds of wine judging, smelling and tasting.

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