What does acidity taste like in wine?
Acidity is essentially sourness. Think the mouthwatering of a squeeze of fresh lemons, tart raspberries, etc… Wines with very high acidity also can taste “drying” as in the corresponding low pH environment salivatory proteins may precipitate, causing a rough impression on the palate.
Why is acidity important in wine?
Think acidity as a natural preserver of freshness in your wine.
As grapes ripen in the vineyard, they accumulate sugar and simultaneously lose acids. Ideally, at the time of harvest the ripe grapes still hold enough acidity to make fresh and balanced wines with cellaring potential.
The naturally occurring acids in wine are citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic. Tartaric acid is the most stable, hence it’s used to monitor the level of acidity in wine (gram/Litre).
How can I find out about the acidity of a wine?
The level of acidity also depends on the grape variety, and the growing conditions. E.g.; Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Dolcetto have low to medium acidity, whereas Riesling, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese are on the higher end of the spectrum. Wines from warm climates tend to be lower in acidity, whereas wines from cool, rainy conditions tend to be higher in acidity.
OK, so is high acidity always good?
Too much acidity can mask flavours and compress texture, hence make the wine unbalanced.
What are you drinking tonight? A light, medium, or maybe full-bodied wine?
Think of the body spectrum as water (light), milk (medium), and oil (full).
Body is the perceived fullness of a wine as it crosses the palate. Fullness relates to flavour intensity, alcohol level, dry extract (everything in wine except water and alcohol),
and to a lesser extent, glycerine level.
Consequently, full-bodied wines tend to have a lot of alcohol, concentration, and glycerine. Light-bodied wines are, well, lighter. Some of the most balanced wines are considered medium-bodied.
Is it about the serving temperature?
Yes and no. Hot denotes wines high in alcohol that consequently leaves a burning sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed. Wines with alcohol levels over 14.5% often taste hot if the required “fruit concentration” is absent. Serving temperatures over 18°C can enhance the alcohol perception and bitter taste and suppress the nuanced flavours of the wine. As a result, you may find it less pleasant to drink. For the very same reason, warm foods pair better with low to medium alcohol level beverages.
Sweetness vs Fruit sweetness
What’s the difference?
Sweetness refers to the actual sugar sweetness, caused by unfermented or residual sugar and expressed as g/L. The sensory detection threshold of sweetness is 4g/L, but often much higher residual sugar can go unnoticed if paired with high levels of acidity or tannins. Think German Rieslings.
Fruit sweetness, on the other hand, is just a perceived sweetness due to aroma-taste interactions. For instance, based on previous experiences, our brain associates the smell of strawberry or vanilla with sweet taste. That’s why wines with pronounced candied/confected fruit aromas tend to pair well with slightly sweet foods. Think Zinfandel with BBQ short ribs.
Got it, but how can I taste the difference?
Hold your nose to avoid the retronasal aromas while swirling the wine in your mouth. If the wine tastes sweet, it is likely to have some residual sugar.
If the wine is dry on the palate, release your nose and enjoy the fruity hit of aromas.
Marcell Kustos, PhD