Everything you need to know about acidity in wine

lemon photo 2.jpg

We use the word "acidity" frequently in our unique Wines With Attitude tasting notes despite the fact that consumers may be wary of the term because of the negative connotations of the word "acid". But acidity is one of the essential components of a good wine - see our previous blog on what makes a wine a good wine - though what is most important is that it should be in balance with the sweetness, alcohol and any tannins.

 Hot tip: Tannins and acidity in particular can clash so avoid wines with high levels of both.

Other terms used in tasting notes to describe wines displaying acidity include fresh, bright, zesty, refreshing, tangy and crisp.

Recognising acidity in wine
Acidity is detected by a tingling sensation on the sides of the tongue. When you taste a wine with high acidity such as a Sancerre, your mouth will water more than usual - just as it does when you bite into a sharp Granny Smith apple or drink unsweetened lemonade. It whets the appetite, making you want to take another bite or sip. 

Crisp green apple.jpg

We could get scientific and talk about measuring total acidity and pH in wine but we'll keep it short and just say that wines generally have a pH between 3.3 and 3.7 which sits in between coffee with a pH of 5.0 and orange juice with a pH of 3.0.

 What does acidity add to the wine?

-          structure and longevity; a wine low in acidity is less likely to age well

-          stability by helping to keep bacteria and microorganisms at bay

-          colour; the more acid, generally the more stable, intense and more vibrant the colour

-          flavours; just as lemon can lift flavours in fish, acidity makes wine refreshing or crisp and leaves you wanting more

-          similarly, acidity can sharpen the aromas of a wine.

Bad Acid

One type of acidity in wine that is not desirable is volatile acidity, essentially acetic acid or vinegar. A small amount is produced during fermentation but it increases in a wine exposed to air and in large quantities spoils the wine.

Hot Tip: If you smell vinegar or nail polish remover in a wine, send it back

Natural acidity & how it changes

Acidity is naturally present in grapes as it is in many foods and different varieties have different natural levels of acidity - Nebbiolo and Sauvignon Blanc for example are at the high end of the scale and Grenache and Viognier are at the low end.

Hot tip: White wines tend to have higher acidity than red wines

The level of acidity is also affected in the vineyard by soils, location and the weather or vintage. The level of acidity in grapes first increases but then declines as the grapes ripen on the vine and the level of sugar rises. In cool climate areas such as Burgundy vines can struggle to ripen fully so grapes generally have higher acidity and lower sugar. Conversely grapes grown in warmer climates tend to have low acid and high sugar.

It is therefore key to the natural balance of a wine that grapes are picked at the right time i.e. when acidity and sugars are at "optimal" levels. Why? Well, if acidity falls too much, a wine could be considered flat or "flabby" with dull flavours and a higher susceptibility to spoilage and infection. Too much acid can make a wine seem too sharp or even bitter. It is all a balancing act for the winemakers as they also need to consider fruit flavours, sugar and therefore alcohol levels.

Intervention

Winemakers might be tempted to adjust the acid (or the sugar - or both) and are generally permitted to do so within the boundaries of local regulations. Acidification, generally by the addition of tartaric acid, the most dominant acid in grapes, can be undertaken to increase acidity in warmer climate areas but can result in poorly made wine, especially where the adjustments are made post fermentation where the added acid has less chance to blend with the wine. A good taster can often recognise poor acidification as there is a very artificial acidic taste to the wine.
Test tube.jpg
Acidity is usually naturally lowered by malo-lactic fermentation or secondary fermentation, a process often encouraged by winemakers as it softens the acidity, converting malic acid into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Deacidification may also be permitted by adding a carbonate - and though acid levels are reduced this can leave calcium tartrate crystals in the wine. These crystals are harmless but can deter some consumers from buying or drinking a wine.

Matching Acidic Wines With Food
In general wines that are higher in acidity complement food better than those with low acidity. Wines that display high acidity particularly complement acidic foods such as lemon or vinegar-based sauces as  crisp refreshing wines make the food seem softer and less tart. So for seafood with freshly-squeezed lemon or asparagus served with a vinaigrette sauce, try an Albariño or a Provence rosé.

 
Hot tip: If presented with a dish that is more acidic than the wine, add a dash of salt to reduce the acidity of the food.

Generally acidic wines will not go well with creamy sauces so for meat served with a creamy sauce, a rich fish pie or Eggs Benedict, a ChardonnaySémillon or Chenin Blanc will be a better match. 

 Hot tip: If you are served a creamy dish with an acidic wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, add some lemon juice or balsamic sauce to the food so that the food and wine are a better match.

For more tips on food and wine matching re our blog on the subject.

 Plate_with_spoon_knife_and_fork.jpg

How much acidity is the right amount?
There is no right or wrong - some people prefer more acidic wines, others prefer less acidic wines. There has however been a trend towards lower acidity wines or rather a rise in "big", ripe, fruit-filled, higher alcohol wines from warm climate regions. This in turn is partly linked to today's average consumer who doesn't want to wait years for a wine to mature but wants a wine ready for drinking now - or rather the supermarkets pushing the consumer down that path. So perhaps tastes have changed towards the more "commercial" lower acidity style. Reputable winemakers are shunning the high alcohol, lower acidity style and striving for more balanced wines which has to be a good thing.


Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET, www.wineswithattitude.co.uk
© Wines With Attitude Limited

Wines With Attitude.jpg
Lindsay is passionate about good quality wine and set up her online wine business, Wines With Attitude, to share that passion with other wine lovers.

Feeling sociable? Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook or share our blog via the buttons below
Interested in more? Sign up for our newsletters here or read more blogs via the button below 

 

Read More of the Latest News

Contact Us