Nov 26 2008

Acid mouthwatering? It is in wine

Published by at 4:40 PM under Savvy Sip Tips

Acid generally doesn’t have appetizing connotations. You might think batteries. Indigestion. Corrosion. Yum.

But acid is absolutely essential to the structure of a wine. Too little and a wine will taste flat and lifeless. Too much and a wine will taste sour. A balanced wine will have the proper amount of acid to contrast with the other parts of its skeleton–primarily the sugar, alcohol and tannins. There is no uniformly “right” level of acidity. What is right for a red grown in a warm climate is very different for a white grown in a cool climate.

You’ll hear acidity referred to most often with regard to white wines, particularly those grown in cooler climates. “Racy” and “crisp” sometimes hint at a wine with higher acid. In cool climates, where grapes mature more slowly, acid has time to develop unimpeded. Acid is lost from (and sometimes added back in to wines made from) grapes as they grow in warm climates through respiration.

Acid and sugar generally are in opposition because of climate. Grapes growing in a warm climate, ripening more quickly, develop higher levels of sugar (which can be converted into alcohol during fermentation). Grapes growing in a cooler climate ripen very slowly–sometimes a wine grower finds it hard to achieve a necessary level of ripeness (and therefore sugar) before harvest. As you can see, making wine is a delicate balancing of variables; the best winemakers must find center on that tightrope.

You could look up a wine’s level of tartaric acid or its pH level to know just how acidic it is. But unless those numbers lie outside the realm of normal, they’re rather meaningless without the context of the wine’s other elements.

Just take a taste instead. You can sense acidity in a very specific way. After you have filled your mouth with wine and swallowed or spit, notice whether your mouth waters. The more your gums tingle and water for a few moments, the higher the acidity.

Acidity is especially nice to cut through fatty, creamy or sweet dishes (just like what you’ll be enjoying over the holidays). Just Grapes has some perfect examples.┬áBut really, it’s all about the balance. And the right level of acid is mouthwatering!

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