What Are Wine Legs?

Have you ever swirled a glass of wine only to notice drops of liquid clinging to the sides? In the wine community, these are known as “wine legs,” a unique phenomenon that can occur when sipping.

Red wine legs in a glass of red wine

In this article, we’re discussing those mysterious little streaks of liquid as well as other visuals that can clue you into some of your wine’s unique characteristics.

Where Do Wine Legs Come From?

Wine legs, also known as tears of wine, church windows, cathedral arches, or the Gibbs Marangoni Effect, refer to the thin film that gathers on the sides of your glass after the wine has touched it. 

What are Wine Legs? Infographic

Named after 19th-century physicists Chris-Marangoni and Josiah Gibbs, wine legs form when liquids with different surface tensions come into contact. This means alcohol and water are pushed against the wine glass as the alcohol evaporates. As a result, the remaining heavy molecules of water, alcohol, tannins, and sugars are pushed away from the evaporating alcohol and bind together to form little droplets that fall back into the glass. 

Alcohol levels play a big role in the development of wine legs. Higher alcohol content creates more evaporation, resulting in more wine legs that are clearer to see. Temperature and humidity can also influence wine legs, as heat causes the molecules to bind more rapidly. 

Now that we know what wine legs are, what does it mean when you notice them in your glass?

What Do Wine Legs Mean?

There is a common misconception that wine legs determine a wine’s quality. This is simply not true. Wine legs result from the chemical reaction between heavier water molecules and lighter alcohol molecules, creating surface tension and repelling each other as the alcohol evaporates. 

The only three things we can determine from wine legs are alcohol levels, sugar content, and how much environmental heat impacts the wine. Higher alcohol wines will produce more wine legs, while sweeter wines create a more dense, slower viscosity (flow) along the glass.

Since wine legs aren’t an indicator of quality, how do we determine the quality of a wine?

Wine legs on a glass of white wine

How to Determine the Quality of Wine

While we can’t determine quality by what we see along the wine glass, we can still use our senses to determine what the wine we’re sipping has to offer or if it’s gone sour. 

These factors should tell you everything you need to know about a wine’s quality.


There are several major wine regions most wine enthusiasts will be familiar with. If you’re sipping wine from Napa, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Mendoza in Argentina, Tuscany, or Australia’s Yarra Valley, the likelihood of these wines being top quality is far greater. 

If you’re still unsure, the following two components will help.


The color of a wine can help determine its age and quality. Red wines tend to become lighter with age, while white wines grow darker and more pigmented. If you have a young red wine that looks a little watery or rust-colored at the edges, it could mean the wine has spoiled. To prevent this from happening, seal your wine completely when done pouring and consume it within a few days to avoid oxidation. 


If a wine smells or tastes like vinegar, this could be a sign it’s poor quality or has gone bad with time. Aromas can tell us a lot about a wine’s age and where it comes from. Younger wines tend to smell of lighter, ripe fruit or perfumey floral notes. As wines age, their aromas tend to become heavier and more robust. The light fruit scent may turn to dried fruit or tobacco over time.

Glass of wine and a bottle

Nevermind the Wine Legs

We’ve learned that wine legs are nothing to be feared as they are no indication of quality. Instead, wine legs result from a natural, scientific process fueled by alcohol evaporation.

If you see those little raindrops on the inside of your glass, hold it up to the light to get a good look. How many legs do you see? Then, sit back and continue to enjoy the sipping experience.

Looking for your next wine to taste? Shop quality wines for a great price at Macy’s Wine Shop.

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