Hey, guys! Today I wanted to spend a little time talking about acidity in wine. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot but when I was first starting out drinking wine I really didn’t know what it meant. I always just took people’s word for it that wine was high or low in acidity but didn’t understand how that affected its taste or how it paired with food. So if you feel this way but haven’t wanted to admit it to anyone, we’re going to clear things up today.
It’s important to note that all wines are technically acidic, but some have a higher acid content than others. Acid is defined in The Wine Bible as “a natural component of wine; responsible for the zesty, refreshing qualities of some…” If you’ve ever had a glass of wine and your mouth has puckered a little (kind of like when you eat a lemon), the acid caused that reaction. While you often won’t notice this sensation, if you pay close attention you will.
There are three primary types of acid found in grapes, tartaric, malic, and citric, all of which contribute to the total acid level in grapes. The acid levels in grapes decrease the longer they’re on the vine, so wines with higher acid levels are usually made with grapes grown in cooler climates, which makes them ripen slower and preserves the acid, or in locations with shorter growing seasons. As the acid level decreases sugar levels increase, so growers attempt to harvest when the acid and sugar levels are perfectly balanced for the wine they’re making. Too much acid can make a wine seem sharp while too little can make a wine seem flat. Sweet wines with too little acid can also seem sickly sweet. A good example of a wine with well-balanced sugar and acid levels is a sweet Riesling. The grapes have fairly high sugar levels but it doesn’t taste sickly sweet because of the high acid levels.
Acid also helps preserve wine as it ages. That’s why many lower acid wines just don’t age well and should be consumed relatively quickly. Chardonnay from California and Australia is typically lower acid because of the warmer climates. To make these wines ageable, wine makers will add tartaric acid during fermentation.
As a general rule, white wine is more acidic than red wine and sweet white wines are more acidic than other white wines. Some of the wines with higher acid levels are:
- Gruner Veltliner
- Pinot Gris
When pairing wine and dessert, acid actually plays an important role because acid and sugar temper each other. A high acid wine with a high sugar food will taste less acidic and make the food seem less sweet. Awhile back I made cookie butter cookies which were far sweeter than I had expected, almost too sweet to eat. But I tried them with a dry Riesling and they suddenly tasted much better. This is because Riesling’s high acid level tempered the sweetness of the cookies. If you’re trying to find a good wine for your dessert a high acid wine is a good place to start.