Wine acidity is something to be treasured, not feared. Acidity gives wine stability and wine’s ability to age.
Wine acidity, measured in pH, ranges from 3-to-4. By comparison, lemon acidity is around 2.6, Greek yogurt around 4.5. Water is 7—the middle of the pH scale. Less than 7, acidic. More than 7, alkaline.
Wine acidity is described as refreshing, crisp, bright, fresh, racy. Acidity is what makes wine pair so well with food. It “cleanses your palate” and sets you up for another bite, followed by another sip.
White wines typically are more acidic than red wines, but acidity works for reds, too. Cabernet sauvignon is thought of as rich, full, with depth and complexity. Acidity helps pull those flavors and sensations together, allowing you to enjoy the various layers.
Wines with higher acidity (which means a lower pH number) taste lighter bodied and less sweet. Wines with lower acidity taste more full-bodied and sweeter.
Wines without adequate acidity are dull and boring. “Flabby” is a common descriptor. When wines have too much acidity, they come across as too tart, puckering, sour. When acidity plays well with other components in the wine—the fruit and oak flavors, the mouthfeel, the tannins, the alcohol level—the wine is said to be “balanced.” Balance is the key to all good wine.
Tannins and acidity work together to give wine ageability and the ability to evolve and improve. Tannins come from the grape skins, seeds, stems, and from wood barrels. High temperatures and sunlight develop tannins during the day when vines develop fruit. Acidity develops in the cool of night when the vines rest.
Great wine regions have a balance. Hot in the day, cool at night—diurnal shift. Napa and Sonoma are great regions because after a hot day, cool Pacific fogs roll in during the night and early morning. The Texas High Plains and Argentina and Chile are great regions because their elevations above sea level—more than 3,000 feet—engender cool nights after hot days.
Generally, cool climates produce more acidic wines. Warm climates produce riper fruit, juicier wines with less acidity. In broad terms, cool climates produce the best white wines. Warmer, sunnier climates produce the best reds. In both cases, acidity is a vital component.
Note: wine acidity is much more complex than this introduction; this gives you a broad view.
Last round: What did the triangle say to the circle? “Your life is pointless.” Wine time.
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