What does “crisp” mean?

High summer, high time for crisp wines. But what does “crisp” mean in a wine reference?

Crisp is a white wine descriptor. It identifies the wine as dry (10 g/L of residual sugar or less) with good acidity (3.5 pH or less).

A crisp white wine presents similar to fresh-squeezed lemonade combined with an absence of sugar or excessively strong fruity flavors. Dryness and acidity are requisites for white wine to earn “crisp” description.

Crisp wines are excellent food wines. They “cleanse the palate” rather than suck moisture from your mouth like tannic reds do. Crispness is a product of the grape used and grower and winemaker decisions. You can have crisp chardonnay, but you also can have chardonnay that approaches dessert wine sweetness and lack of acidity. Sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, assyrtiko, albariño/alvarinho, torrontes are most common crisp whites.

Terroir and picking decisions heavily influence crispness. Cooler climates encourage acidity; hotter climates produce riper grapes. The riper a grape, the less crisp it can be—ripeness brings more sugar and less acidity to the sorting table.

Crisp wines are excellent and refreshing served cold on a hot summer day. They almost always have less alcohol because grapes are less ripe and have less sugar.

Crisp whites typically are affordable. They are harvested early, they don’t spend time in expensive oak, they are ready for consumption upon release—in fact they are best consumed young. Short cellar times, disdain for expensive oak barrels, quick turnaround in the market all make for less expensive wine. It does not, however, make for less desirable wine.

When you encounter a “crisp” description, expect a wonderful food wine, a superb summer sipper, a delightful wine experience.

Tasting notes:

• Nobilo Regional Collection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016: Lemon, grapefruit, good acidity, flinty minerality, crisp and clean. $9-11

• Chateau Souverain Chardonnay 2014: Lemon, pineapple; balanced, crisp, fresh. $10-13

• Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay 2015: Citrus, lemon, bright acidity, crisp. $15-18
• Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris Réserve Vin d’Alsace 2015: Lemon, peach, dry with hint of sweetness (8.0 g/L), fresh, crisp. $20-24

Pedernales Cellars Texas Dry Rosé 2016: Strawberry, raspberry, good acidity, crisp, clean. $30

Last round: Why over think wine when you can over drink wine?