Getting to Know a Wine-Part 1: look at its acid

Getting to Know a Wine-Part 1: look at its acid

When on a journey to learn more, drink more and gracefully age more (wine that is), there are a few concepts that are helpful to understand. Considering the enormity of the subject I want to touch first on the make-up of a wine or the elements within wine that give it its character and age-ability. To look at wine simply, from the bottom up, one should break the elements of wine down into categories. For the next few posts I’m going to write about acid, alcohol, sugar and tannin. By taking a closer look at each of these elements I am hoping that we can get a better understanding on what makes wine so delicious.

Let’s take a look at acid first. Acid helps make up the structure of a wine. I like to think of it like the backbone, it holds everything else together. There are three primary acids in wine: tartaric, malic and citric. Acidity is the fresh; tart and pucker-like felling you get while drinking. Without it we would have wine with little or no dimension… no soul. The professionals call a wine with low acidity flabby. As well as keeping the balance, acid is also a natural preservative. Just like vinegar preserves pickles, the acids in the wine extend its life. Wines with low acid typically don’t age well and are better to drink young. Certain grapes naturally have high acid while others have low acid. Sauvignon Blanc is an example of a grape with high acidity no matter where it is grown, while Viognier is naturally low in acid.

Aside from certain grape varieties’ natural acidity, the growing climate plays a major role in the acidity of wine. Warm climates tend to produce wines with high sugar content and low acidity. The sun ripens the grapes to such a point that the natural acids are low. This means that cooler climates tend to produce grapes with higher acidy and lower sugars. Some grapes grow better and more expressive in cooler climates while others do better in warmer climates. So which is better to produce a star wine, warm climates or cool climates? That comes down to balance and taste.

Next time you drink a wine see if you can point out the acidity in it. Is it high in acid or low? Where in your mouth do you feel the acid? Do you like it?

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