Wine Components: Acid

An A Million Cooks listener started a conversation that’s led us to the most important wine components and why they’re important.

Acid always sounds so unpleasant – you think of battery acid or something awful like that! But, it’s an essential part of your enjoyment. As long as it’s balanced with the other components, it’s refreshing and a real palate cleanser. 

It occurs naturally in wine, but is commonly added in warm climates and there are techniques for reducing it for cool climates. If you’ve ever grown tomatoes, you know that when they first appear on the vines they’re hard, green and tart (low sugar, high acid). Later on, as they begin to soften and change color, you notice that the sugar increases as the acid decreases. It’s just the same with wine grapes. The winemaker watches the progress in his vineyard very carefully because picking the grapes at the right time is as important to him as buying impeccable produce is to a chef.

How to detect acid in wine? Many times, you can taste it – it has a tart flavor, of course! But some wines have so much flavor that it’s hard to isolate the acid. In that case, as you try a sip, notice how much your mouth is watering. You’ll notice this along the sides and under your tongue. The higher the acid, the more your mouth waters. 

Why do you care? Balanced acidity is fresh and lively on the palate, has a cleansing effect and it’s a great natural preservative – it helps the wine to age gracefully. Plus – it’s very food friendly!  High acid wines are the easiest to pair with food!  When in doubt, go for the acid (Sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir…) I’ve always wondered if the Champagne brunch was invented because eggs are such a difficult food – crisp, lively bubbly is the perfect solution to the pairing problem. 

When it’s too low, the wine is flat and has a dull finish. If it’s too high, it’s sharp. Our preferences vary. I’m an acid fiend – it’s hard to find a wine that’s too tart for me! You may feel differently. 

Next: alcohol

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