“Climb the Vine” with Frankly Wines Weekly Wine Knowledge
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. Thanks to Janice Dunne @MrsBeerSnob and a sometime red wine drinker for inspiring this piece!
This Weeks Topic – Why does my wine smell like vinegar?
Here are Five 5 Facts about vinegar and wine, from language to chemistry to vinification.
1. It’s literally in the name!
– Even the least linguistically-inclined among you will be familiar with the French word for wine: Vin.
– There’s a reasonable chance you might even guess the French word for vinegar, seeing as though it’s the origin of the English word: Vinaigre.
– Splitting up vinaigre gives you the two French words vin and aigre (meaning sour).
– So vinegar in French is literally sour wine!
2. Ask a Latin chemist
– The main active ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid (chemically CH3COOH, apparently)
– The name acetic acid derives from acetum, the Latin word for vinegar, and is related to the word acid itself.
– Acetic acid is one of the chemicals sometimes referred to as Volatile Acidity (VA).
– The Volatile bit just means that you can smell it, but VA is a recognised wine fault.
– If you get a whiff of nail polish remover (Ethyl acetate) then that’s another wine fault.
3. A very small culprit
– A type of bacteria called Acetobacter turns alcohol into acetic acid.
– This litter critter is naturally everywhere: on the skin of the grape; floating in the air; in wineries…it’s pretty hard to eradicate
4. Sometimes yeast is the beast
– We all know that yeast turns sugar into alcohol, just like Griff Rhys-Jones used to say in the Holsten Pils advert.
– As well as this AMAZING process, yeast also converts a small proportion of sugar into acetic acid.
5. It’s not all bad
– Volatile acids in a wine are considered undetectable at levels of .05% or less by volume.
– Sometimes a tiny bit is actually desirable as it gives character and complexity to a wine.
– In California up to 0.10% for whites and 0.12% for reds is acceptable, 0.15% in Australia.
– Some people are just more sensitive to these aromas – it’s not a bad thing in itself, it just means they are probably a “super-taster”.
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.