Welcome to the wine structure series! Through this series we’ll explore the four different structural components that contribute to wine’s body: acidity, tannin, sugar, and alcohol. Each week we’ll discuss a new component and how it impacts the body. Ready to get started with acidity? Let’s go!
Acid + Grapes
We’ve all heard of acid in food and drinks- oranges, lemon, coke, and more all have varying levels of acidity. Wine is the same way. All wines contain acid, so the job of winemakers is to determine the right amount for their wine, based on what they’re creating and how they want the wine to taste.
When grapes first form, they have extremely high levels of acidity that decrease as the grapes ripen and sugar develops. The winemaker is looking for the right balance of acid and sugar in their grapes. Since grapes ripen quickly in warmer regions, winemakers may harvest earlier or add acid to the juice once the grapes are picked. Grapes ripen much more slowly in cool climates, which is great for acid levels, but it can also mean sugar doesn’t develop fast enough or the grape doesn’t ripen fully. It’s a very careful balancing act that is different for every grape and every harvest.
One key thing to remember is that potential acidity is not equal in all grapes. Sweet white wines typically have the highest levels of acidity, while red wines like Grenache are lower on the acidity scale.
Acid + Wine
Once the grapes are fermented and the wine is made, the winemaker’s job is done and it’s your turn. What does acidity mean for the wine you drink?
Acidity is very important to wine. Low levels of acidity can make a wine seem flabby or dull, and it can even let the wine taste syrupy if it’s sweet. Wines with just the right amount of acidity are lively and refreshing. The fruit is noticeable but not overly sweet, and the wine seems brighter overall. It gives the wine a sense of direction, a purpose. Too much acidity can make the wine seem tart or sour. Higher acidity can also help a wine age well and prevents it from spoiling.
So how do you know the acidity level of a wine you’re drinking? Acidity causes a tingling sensation on your tongue and makes your mouth water. The more your mouth waters, the higher acidity your wine is.
Other structural components like alcohol and sweetness can affect the taste of the acidity. Sweetness makes the wine seem less tart and alcohol can mimic the tingling sensation, but no matter what your mouth will water from the acidity.
So that’s it for acidity. Not nearly as complicated as you thought, huh? Stay tuned for next week when we will conquer tannins!