Is Wine Acidic?
Most of our favorite beverages contain at least a little bit of acid. If someone describes a wine as acidic, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, acidity is a coveted feature in many wines.
We’re looking at what makes wine acidic and exploring the most acidic wines on the shelf.
What is Acidity in Wine?
Like tasting something sour, acidity in wine is that tart, puckering taste on your palate. Wines with higher acidity levels tend to be white wines, although there are plenty of acidic red wines.
Something is likely off if a wine’s acidity is more biting than pleasantly zesty. Sipping wine shouldn’t be like eating a lemon. Wine is at its best when the tannins, sugars, alcohol, and acidity are balanced perfectly.
On the other end of the acidity spectrum, a wine with too little acid could be considered “flabby,” as it’s referred to in the wine world. This is when the wine tastes dull with no structure.
Now that we know what acidity in wine tastes like, what gives it its acidic taste?
What Makes Wine Acidic?
Wine is naturally acidic, as all grape varieties contain malic and tartaric acid (more on that later). But did you know climate, soil, and harvest time greatly influence how much acidity a wine will have?
Grapes grown in cooler climates have high acidity levels, while grapes harvested in warmer climates make low-acid wines with higher sugar levels. Wine made from grapes harvested early will carry more potent acidity, while wine from late-ripening grapes will be sweeter.
To further understand acidity in wine, we need to think way back to high school chemistry class. We’re talking about the pH scale.
PH Levels in Wine
To refresh your memory, the pH scale ranges from 0-14, with the lower end representing high acidity. Anything above 7 is considered alkaline, meaning basic or nonacidic.
Wine typically falls between a 3 and 4 on the pH scale, comparable to citric juices like orange juice.
If you want to know precisely where a particular wine lands on the pH scale, you can purchase disposable pH test strips for just a few dollars. But did you know you can also gain an understanding of how acidic wine is based on color?
If a wine is high in acidity, its color will be lighter. For a deep purple wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, you’ll need to hold these up to the light. White wine is more straightforward, as highly acidic varietals like Sauvignon Blanc are translucent in color.
Now that we’ve got our chemistry hats on let’s look deeper into the specific acids found in wine.
Types of Acids in Wine
When examining a wine’s total acidity, color, taste, and PH level all play a role, but there is something deeper beneath the wine’s surface.
Let’s look at the different types of acid found in wine.
Tartaric acid is the most durable fixed acid in wine and makes up most of the wine’s acidity. As mentioned earlier, this acid’s concentration depends on the climate and soil in which grapes are grown.
Malic acid is the second most prominent acid in wine below tartaric. However, this acid isn’t as durable. During the winemaking process, most malic acid converts to lactic acid through a phrase known as “malolactic fermentation.”
Wines like Chardonnay are often referred to as “buttery.” This refers to the lactic acid that is formed during malolactic fermentation. This is what gives certain wines a creamy flavor and mouthfeel.
Citric acid has a lower content in wine than the other acids, but it’s this acid that stands out most when sipping an acidic white wine, for example. Most winemakers add citric acid during the winemaking process to add a refreshing kick.
We’ve covered the compounds that contribute to wine acidity, but which wines have the highest levels?
Which Red Wines are Acidic?
If you’re still unsure how to detect acid in wine, here are some red wines that create a bit more pucker on the palate.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
Which White Wines are Acidic?
Generally, most light-bodied white wines are higher on the acidity scale than structured white wines. Here are a few white wines to sip if you want that crisp freshness.
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Chenin Blanc
- Brut Champagne
Best Food Pairings for Acidic Red Wine
The best pairings for acidic wines are those that will complement and counteract the sour taste. Fatty meats, creamy sauces, rich cheese, and salty foods are all perfect companions for acid. Stay away from foods that contain acidity, like tomato sauces. You wouldn’t want to trigger your acid reflux!
Don’t Shy Away from Acidity
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