Wine Viscosity, Wine Legs (Tears), and Wine Body Explained
There is a great debate going on about how much a wine’s viscosity is indicative of its quality. There are two distinct schools of thought, each asserting the other is wrong. Before we delve into both sides, let’s 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: smell and taste.”
What is Wine Viscosity?: This refers to the consistency of the wine. If a wine is very viscous, it will appear thick and syrupy, while a wine with low viscosity will appear watery.
What Are Wine Legs (Tears)?: Wine legs refers to the droplets of wine that stick to the side of a glass when the wine is swirled. As these droplets drop back towards the surface of the wine, they leave a trail or legs. The French, however, have a much more romantic name for them – wine tears.
Wine Body: This 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.
Does Wine Viscosity Say Anything about the Quality of a Wine?
For years wine snobs have labelled wines as quality or low quality simply based on the existence of strong or weak legs.
Then along came scientific research. It was now proven that the presence of a nice set of legs on a wine has more to do with its alcohol to water ratio, surface tension, evaporation rate and a whole bunch of other physics terms. And now the two sides refuse to get along, one branding the other as pretentious farcical snobs and the other as data-crunching nerds who know nothing about 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 wine snob or aficionado what they consider the key characteristic of a good wine and they will tell you 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 used physics to discover.
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: smell and taste.