The Art of Swirling:  What Do Wine’s Legs Reveal?

A common question from wine lovers is “aren’t legs the sign of a good wine?” The short answer is no, but they do give you useful information about the wine in your glass. Let’s back up a little and look at what legs are really all about.

“Legs” refer to the pretty droplets, streamers, or tears that run down the inside of a glass after swirling your wine. They are related to the wine’s viscosity, which is dictated chiefly by two items: alcohol levels, primarily ethanol, but also other alcohol molecules like glycerol, and the amount of residual sugar. Wine excellence is not indicated by the legs since neither alcohol nor residual sugar levels are objective measures of quality.

That is not to say they have no value for evaluating a wine. Legs that are substantial and travel down at a luxuriously slow pace suggests the wine is full bodied due to higher alcohol or a high amount of residual sugar or both. They give you a visual clue to determine the body as well as the level of alcohol and residual sugar, which you confirm by tasting the wine. This type of visual evaluation is especially valuable when you taste blind since you need to be as objective as possible. If you want to see a superb example of truly remarkable legs, swirl a glass of Late Bottle Vintage Port, a particularly full bodied wine that is blessed with both high alcohol and high residual sugar levels.

Accordingly, enjoy the beauty of the legs as they gracefully stream down the side of your glass. It is one of the visually appealing items to take pleasure in while enjoying wine. Just keep in mind what they can, and cannot, tell you about the wine you’re sipping.

My ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by Michael Broadbent: 5 stars: Outstanding; 4 stars: Very good; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Moderately good; 1 star: Not very good, but not bad; No stars: Poor.

Cave Spring Riesling 2021 ★★★½ $16.95 (LCBO)
This reliably good and readily available Niagara Riesling comes in right on the borderline of dry and off dry. The flavours lean towards juicy lemon and lime with some florals, kerosene, and honey. Its high acidity and light to medium body makes it flexible with food, but it would be especially nice with fried chicken with a drip of honey.
Toasted Head Chardonnay 2021 ★★★½ $19.95 (LCBO)
Toasted head refers to how the barrel is prepared before its use. Usually, the barrel staves are “toasted’ over an open flame, but if you want a more distinct barrel influence you can toast the end (head) too. The grapes sourced from the cooler climate Mendocino region cuts some of the ripeness of the fruit from the warmer Dunnegan Hills leaving a full bodied wine with pear, apple, lemon, apple, pineapple, smoke, butterscotch flavours all wrapped in buttery vanilla. Perfect for pairing with your BBQ chicken or stuffed pork roast.
La Chablisienne Les Vénérables Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2021 ★★★★+ $32.95 (Vintages)
From the other end of the spectrum comes this Chardonnay vinified from 50 year old vines. It has pure Chardonnay fruit with no oak influence at all. The flavours of apple, lemon, flint, and cream predominate finishing with lime peel and mineral. Full bodied with an extremely long finish, it is quite simply excellent Chablis. Enjoy it with cheese stuffed pasta, oven roasted halibut, or tartiflette.
Lungarotti Torre di Giano Bianco di Torgiano 2022 ★★★½ $17.95 (Vintages)
A pale lemon tinted white from the Umbria region in Italy that’s a Vermentino/Grechetto/Trebbiano blend. It’s a nicely nuanced white with ripe sweet apple, peach, pear, lemon, and minerals with a dash of green herbs. Serve it with seafood, consider shrimp, with a squeeze of lemon or a rich risotto with fresh spring peas.
Castelgreve Chianti Classico Riserva 2019 ★★★★ $23.95 (Vintages)
A Chianti Classico Riserva is a nice find. The extra age prior to release makes for an interesting wine with more development than a typical Chianti. This one shows spiced strawberry, black and red cherry, tobacco, currant leaf, and vanilla. The tannins are agreeably in the medium range. It would work well with eggplant parmigiana or a medium grilled steak drizzled with olive oil.
Santa Carolina El Pacto Agreement No. 1 Limited Production Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 ★★★★ $17.95 (Vintages)
Aged in 5000 L foudres (large casks) and old oak barrels, this good value, excellent quality Chilean Cab is filled with creamy cassis, blackberry, menthol, raspberry, red currant jam, vanilla, and cigar box as well as trademark mint. The full body and high, but approachable, tannins recommend it for savoury meats like Wagyu beef and venison.
Domaine de Carobelle Vacqueyras 2021 ★★★★+ $23.25 on sale (Vintages)
Superb value here for this sale priced red from the Southern Rhone.  The vineyards are very close to the iconic Châteauneuf-du-Pape (which also shares some of it splendid characteristics we might add). It’s organic and overflowing with black and red fruits along with the garrigue and licorice that are typical Grenache blends. If you love herbed roast leg of lamb, this red will make your dinner an occasion.
Susana Balbo Signature Malbec 2021 ★★★★+ $22.95 (Vintages)
From one of the vintners who has made a mark in Argentina comes this deeply coloured, vigorous Malbec. It simply exudes blackberry, black currant, sage leaf, cedar, leather, and vanilla with high, and a little grippy, tannin. Aerate or let this cellar for 2-3 to settle it into its groove. Roast beef or lamb would make this wine excel or try it with grilled Portobello mushroom caps.
Rioja Vega Edición Limitada Crianza 2020 ★★★★+ $25.95 (Vintages)
Rioja Crianzas usually exhibit a superb fruity character, but this limited edition takes it up a notch. With a swirl, concentrated black cherry, pomegranate, black currant jam, rosemary, baking spice, forest floor, vanilla, and cedar soar from your glass. It’s an excellent Rioja that would team up well with medium beef striploin or mushroom lasagna.