Looking for the lovely legs of a good wine

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2014 Brand’s Laira Blockers Shiraz… “pleasant enough, but it had none of the complexity and grip that I had hoped for,” says Richard Calver.

“The viscosity issue is quite fun to observe and one way to talk about a wine that disappoints in not being as ‘big’ as you had hoped is to say it lacks legs,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER.  

EXPECTATION failed to meet reality in our recent tasting of the 2014 Brand’s Laira Blockers Shiraz. 

This is a wine made in the Coonawarra. Halliday says that this is a five-star winery. A good terra rossa born shiraz should last for eight  years and reach a peak just as we were drinking it at the six-year mark. 

You would expect a wine from such a quality background to be exceptional. That is the case even though the price was amazing – I bought it for just on $20 a bottle. But it lacked legs. That is, it wasn’t a “big” shiraz that we were expecting to drink with the scotch fillet that had been marinating in the same wine. 

It was pleasant enough but it had none of the complexity and grip that I had hoped for or the legs to make it a big wine of the kind that shiraz is classically known for in this country.

The issue of “legs” is mostly about alcohol content. You can look for it by holding the wine glass at an angle to let a stream flow up one side of the glass. Then bring the glass back to level and look for how the wine flows to see the viscosity and also look for the density of the legs that form. 

If you see a lot of legs, the wine has a higher alcohol content that,  in a nicely aged shiraz, you should taste as a warming sensation in the back pallet. Or perhaps not. The effect is not always a foolproof way of measuring whether the wine is of good quality: that should come through more in the depth and colour of the wine.

But the viscosity issue is quite fun to observe and one way to talk about a wine that disappoints in not being as “big” as you had hoped is to say it lacks legs. 

Maybe the expression is so engaging because it prompts a part of the brain that likes the image. According to “Science Daily”, it has been discovered that listening to metaphors involving arms or legs engages a region of the brain responsible for visual perception of those body parts. That would explain my obsession with the term! 

The truth of the phenomenon in the context of wine appreciation though is, as explained by Courtney Schiessel, that: The ethanol in wine evaporates along the tiny rim of wine along the sides of a glass. Because it has a smaller surface tension than water, the liquid runs down the sides of the glass into the bowl due to a phenomenon called the Marangoni effect. Thus, the higher level of alcohol in a wine, the slower and thicker its tears will be.”

Ms Schiessel’s admonition is to the point: “Although they are often referred to as indicators of quality, wine legs actually tell the drinker very little about what the wine will actually taste like. Take that, wine snobs!”

Ouch! Slower and thicker tears are falling all right. But with the lamentation for the big Aussie shiraz that knocks your socks off with splendid tannins and complex bold black fruit flavours with leather and spice. 

The St Hallett’s Old Block shiraz came to mind when I racked my brain for the taste I had been longing for. But when I went looking for where I might get a bottle, it seems that it sells for at least $100 a bottle. So perhaps with a $20 wine I got exactly what I should have expected. 

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” – Alexander Pope

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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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