This “Climb the Vine” series will junk the jargon, pooh-pooh pomposity and snub its nose at snobbery. If you have a question you would like answering or an area you would like explaining, just ask me on twitter @frankstero and I will endeavour to include it in future.
This week I want to talk about Acid
Aciiiiied! No, not that kind of acid – and if you’re under 35 that reference might not mean anything to you anyway – I mean acid as in the chemical found in wine. Here’s what you need to know:
1. What is it and where does it come from?
– Acid is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in all grapes.
– Three primary acids are found in wine grapes: tartaric, malic and citric acids
– For wine it is usually measured as pH and grams per litre.
– Different grapes have differing levels of acidity – e.g. Riesling tends to be high and Gewurztraminer tends to be low.
2. What does it do to the taste of wine?
– If you remember Acid House then you probably remember that Starburst
Used to be called Opal Fruits “made to make your mouth water”.
– This is essentially what acidity does; it makes wine taste fresh, tart and / or sour depending on the levels.
– The perception of acidity also depends on the levels of fruit, sweetness and tannin in a wine – balance is the key.
3. Does vineyard location matter?
– Grapes grown in a cooler climate usually have more acidity, e.g. Vinho Verde in Portugal, the Mosel in Germany, Marlborough in New Zealand.
– Chalk and limestone soil types give more acidity (Champagne, Sancerre, Sussex, Chablis).
4. What do winemakers do to influence acidity?
– Pick the grapes early – acidity decreases as grapes ripen.
– Allow, encourage or block MLF; Malolactic Fermentation is a natural process where bacteria turn Malic acid (think fresh Granny Smith’s apples) into Lactic acid (soft and milky) and carbon dioxide.
– Add tartaric acid they’ve bought in; sounds a bit like cheating but is allowed in many places, especially warmer climates such as Australia where sufficient acidity can be difficult to attain naturally.
5. How do best I assess acidity when tasting wine?
– If a wine sears the inside of your mouth and you unconsciously grip the table, then it’s pretty high in acidity.
– Alternatively, try the dribble test: take a mouthful of the wine and swallow, then open your mouth; the sooner you have to close your mouth to prevent saliva from dribbling out of your mouth, the higher the acidity!
Frankie caught the wine bug living in France in the 90s and has been sharing his love of wine ever since. He also writes for his own blog Frankly Wines and Glass Of Bubbly magazine and runs private wine tasting events.