So...Legs...You’ve probably heard mention made of a wine’s “legs.” They can be seen when you swirl your wine around in the glass and watch it run down the sides. The longer it takes the wine to fully run down the sides, the longer its legs are said to be. I had been mistakenly told years ago that the legs had only to do with a wine’s sugar content. The stickier and more sugary the wine, the longer it took it to run down the glass. This isn’t 100% INaccurate, but it isn’t 100% accurate either. More than sugar, alcohol is what affect the viscosity of the wine (science!) and therefore, the way it runs down and sticks to the inside of the glass. The higher alcohol content in the wine, the longer its legs will be. It’s a fun experiment to find a high alcohol red wine and a lower alcohol red wine (the percentages are listed on the label) and to swirl them each to see how they move. And soon, you’ll be able to impress your friends by guessing a wine’s alcohol content, simply by swirling it in the glass, before you even taste or sniff. Go impress some folks!
Did you know?
Wine is taxed by alcohol content. Wines under 14% alcohol are taxed at a different rate than those over 14%. This gives winemakers an incentive to keep them just under 14%, so you'll o
Maybe you’ve had the last of a white wine bottle (or a rose) and found what looked like tiny shards of glass in it? Or maybe you’ve had a red with lot of dark crumblies in the bottom (as evidenced in the picture on the upper left, they can even form long, crusty chains that are sort of ring shaped in the bottom of the bottle.) I remember wine tasting once in college and being sure there was a fragment of stem in my glass (which, knowing what I know now, unless it was put there as a joke by the tasting room staff is pretty much impossible.) It was likely a decent sized chunk of sediment...
So, what is this sediment? Should you be worried? Should you return the bottle and demand a refund?
These little crystals are tartrate salts (usually in the form of potassium bitartrate) and are likely the byproduct of tartaric acid additions early in the winemaking process. Acid is usually added in cases where the fruit is overly ripe or imbalanced in terms of sugar vs acid.
Tartrates are usually fully settled out of the wine before bottling by chilling the wine in a large stainless steel tank. The salts precipitate out due to the cold temperature and the wine is then removed, leaving the salts in the bottom of the tank. However, the solubility of tartrates is also affected by other components such as alcohol content. So sometimes not all of them successfully settle out. Or sometimes the winemaker may not have anticipated a need to cold-settle them to begin with (especially in red wines.) Then, depending on the temperature changes they experience in your house, in the fridge, the grocery store or the semi truck in which they were transported, those salts may become crystallized again and settle out into the bottom of your bottle.
They’re a little crunchy on your teeth, so you may choose to just toss out the dregs if you find them (or, if you're feeling fancy, use a decanter and leave the salts in the bottle,) but they won’t hurt you. And hey, if you find some and are curious, feel free to fish them out of the glass and give them a good crunch! Yum! (or at least “meh!”)
Did you know?
The beautiful photo on my homepage was taken in Beaune (which is in Burgundy) on my only trip to French wine country. It was back in 2007, before I'd really delved into this journey- I'd love to go back knowing what I know now!
I’ve run into linguistic snafus with several people tasting lately, so here I decided to try to parse out some wine tasting vocab I find important and useful...
In asking someone to help you pick a bottle of wine, it’s helpful to have some solid knowledge of tasting terms- especially when it comes to flavors and mouthfeels. For instance, I meet a lot of people who tell me they like a “dry wine,” yet, in discussing a little more what it is they’re looking for, I figure out what they really want is a wine that makes their mouth FEEL dry- in other words, a wine with a lot of tannins. Were I to point them in the direction of a light Zweigelt (a fresh, light, tart red,) they might not actually like it- it’s too light, acidic, and low in bitter tannins-yet technically, it is VERY dry and exactly what they asked for. So what do they want, and what does it mean when a wine is dry, tannic, off-dry, fruity, jammy, ect?
Dryness is essentially a lack of sugar. It means the wine was allowed to ferment until the yeast had used up all the sugars from the grapes. White wines can be dry, as can roses and reds. Seldom will you find a red wine that ISN’T dry (and if it isn’t, it’ll usually explicitly say “sweet red” or “off dry” on the bottle.) Usually wines (reds in particular) are fermented until there is virtually no residual sugar left. This is not only for taste and style, but also for stability in the bottle. (As a winemaker, if you plan to leave any sugar behind, you better filter the hell out of that wine- one little microbe can go to TOWN on all that leftover sugar and you’ll wind up with something funky in the bottle- or worse, cases of exploding wine bottles.) Whites and roses are more likely to have residual sugar, as in moscato, and some rieslings or gewurztraminers. If you don’t like crisp acidity in your white wines and prefer something with a touch of sweetness, it’s important to emphasize that you don’t want something too dry.
On the other hand, you may really like a crisp, acidic white, but prefer something with more fruit. Although you may not like actual sugar sweetness in a white wine you still may want something with more fruity or floral flavors. This is good to explain to whoever is helping you. Or, if you don’t like fruitier or floral aromas and flavors, that’s good to be able to distinguish as well. I have had people taste a wine and say “no, I don’t like that, it is too sweet,” when in reality, there is no residual sugar left. It is completely dry and very non-sugar sweet. But sometimes those floral aromas will trick your brain into thinking it tastes “sweet.” Try to identify these distinctions because it will make it easier to explain what you do and don’t like in wines- especially whites and roses.
Similarly when tasting reds, try to differentiate between “fruitiness” and “sweetness.” A red can be totally dry, but still have a fruity, jammy berry flavor. You may like this or not like it. But if you walk into a wine store saying you want a sweeter red, when what you really want is a fruitier dry red, you’ll probably walk out with something sugar-laden that you don’t love.
Similarly, if you don’t love the parched flavor you get in your mouth from tannins, don’t walk into a wine store and say “I want a red, but nothing too dry.” Someone will hand you something sweet and you’ll quite possibly be unhappy. You can say “I want something not too tannic, or something not too astringent. Something smoother with less spice.” And you’ll be likelier to get something closer to what you had in mind.
You definitely don’t have to be a snob about your verbage where wine is concerned. No airs necessary, just know how to ask for what you want. It’ll be easier to find all the tasty gems your local wine store has to offer!
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.
Go forth! Shop, taste, enjoy!
Did you know?
Tannins make your mouth feel parched because they actually bind to your saliva proteins. So they are drying! Oof! Or should I say “smack, smack, smack?”
For this post, I thought I'd highlight a particular type of wine that I've been digging lately, but think not everyone may be familiar with.
Muscadet is a really delicious, often affordable, fresh white wine and I’ve been enjoying it a lot this summer. The grape name is actually Melon De Bourgogne or Gamay Blanc. I meet people who are afraid to try it because its name sounds an awful like “moscato,” but trust me, it’s TOTALLY different, both in grape and in style. There is none of the cloying floral sweetness in a Muscadet that you’ll find in a moscato.
Muscadet originates from the western part of the Loire Valley in France, near the city of Nantes. Traditionally, the grapes are harvested early to preserve acid, and then, to maintain a complexity, aged sur lies (on the dead yeasty sediment.) Muscadet actually doesn’t have a super great reputation globally, and many people are willing to overlook them. However, I think there are enough decent ones out there that you should give them a try till you find one you like. I’ve had a few tasty, tasty ones that are fresh, acidic, and have a long mineral finish- an unusual complexity for a basic, inexpensive white wine. Muscadets that are aged sur lies will say so on the bottle. I recommend finding one that is. Most are under $20.
The ones I’ve tried are acidic, with a hint of lemon, but nothing too crazy. The fruit is never cloying, the acid never painful, and the limestone-tasting minerality never overpowering. Yummy and balanced.
It is almost universally acknowledged that the perfect pairing for Muscadet is oysters, but its mineral complexity -I think- makes it pretty dang tasty with lots of different foods, or even on its own. It’d be a delish companion to a cheese spread, or a chicken dish. Maybe even lightly seasoned pork chops (but I wouldn’t go crazy with ribs or anything, you’ll overpower the wine.)
Find one if you can, and give it a whirl. It’d be fun to taste a few from different price points and see what you thought.
It’s a great summer wine, but will transition well to winter. I’m stocking up!
Did you know?
The addition of sugar during the winemaking process is called Chaptalization. It is illegal in many countries (including France) and not permitted in several US states. Even where permitted, some winemakers see sugar additions as a cheat- proper grapevine management and harvesting at the right time are preferable. I personally care about the quality of the end product more than I do tradition and rules, but it is a hot topic!
This post is a little bit of a cheat, as I'm just going to link to an external article.
But remember my rave about Vinho Verde as a perfect summer wine? Well, the NYT agrees (thanks to Shanti for tipping me off on this one!) Check out their reviews and suggestions here!
However, I personally love one they don't include, the Quinta de Lixa Anjos de Portugal. Remember to find the most recent vintage you can! Mmm. Enjoy!
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I'm a wine-loving actress in the Windy City who holds certificates in Enology and Viticulture from Washington State University. I also own a hilarious cat.