What is the Role of Acidity in Wine?

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A search on “acidity in wine” will return around 1.5 million articles on the subject. They include very technical discussions of chemistry to forums with groups of people talking about the juiciness or crispness acidity brings to wine. This tells me acidity in wine is discussed around the world.

What I wonder is, for all the discussion, what is really understood and has the role of acidity changed over time?

Do winemakers view the importance of acidity the same as consumers?

If consumers have different positive or negative responses to acidity in wine, how do winemakers respond?

Do they adjust their wines to meet the expectations of consumers or do they follow their own philosophy of wine making?

While the word “acidity” is technically correct, is it the best word to describe its role in making delicious wines? What would be a good alternative word?

Some time ago I read a post by California wine writer Steve Heimhoff about wines beginning to taste very similar. I commented something about understanding the importance of acidity in wine as one of the stepping stones we all go through in appreciating wine.

He commented back with the following. 

  • Ron, your comment about acidity turns me on. I’ve been thinking about acidity for the last year and appreciating its role in wine’s vitality. I just returned from a big wine festival that attracted many high level winemakers, and this topic of acidity came up repeatedly. I think you’re going to see a trend toward drier, more acidic wines — which means more distinctive and unique varieties.

To me this was a very interesting reply, especially the words distinctive and unique. Isn’t that the goal with wine?

As I have been learning the world of Twitter I have read a few Tweets from Natalie Maclean chiming in on her love of acidity in wines.

Here is a comment via Twitter from Natalie with a little humor too.

  • Okay, I’m always happy to trip about acid … it truly is in wine what salt is to food: brings forward flavors, adds piquancy

Reading these two comments highlights it is an important component of delicious wines.

As I circle back to my original question; What is the role of acidity in wine?

I wonder if the role of wine has changed over time? Wine was always part of the food experience and over time a beverage experience evolved too. This is neither good or bad – just evolution.

My sense is acidity in wine requires food and without it, the magic from the vineyard and winemaker is lost.

What do you think? Appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

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2 Responses to “What is the Role of Acidity in Wine?”

  1. Ron McFarland Says:

    Dick Pharis from Torlesse Wines in Waipara sent this comment via email.

    Ron Says: My sense is acidity in wine requires food and without it, the magic from the vineyard and winemaker is lost.

    Well, “requires” is pretty strong. Especially since the food remains undefined.

    For example, drink some water then taste a wine where you think its acid character [non-volatile acid character] truly helps shape the wine (defines the varietal). In essence, establish a memory of that wine and its acid character.

    Then, go to a salty food and again taste the wine.

    Then, go back to water, swirl, rinse, swallow and go to a sweet food (e.g. a sweet salad dressing) – now taste the wine.

    Finally, go back to water, again, etc., and go to a vinegar-based (pickled beets, etc.) food, then taste the wine.

    You could also do the same with a range of strong flavoured cheeses, including Limburger (spp?)

    And Durian fruit! — I’ve actually been there and done that [in OZ]. There, only a late harvest “sticky” matched that “food”, though I think “acidity”, or lack thereof in the wine was totally irrelevant.

    My experience is that “acid [acid balance] does indeed define most wines” (along with aroma, phenolics and other flavours –way too many to list), BUT I think that the brain requires a “memory” (memory of the wine as a “pure flavour”, unadulterated by food flavours), in order to properly evaluate and enjoy that wine in the context of a wide range of food flavours.

    Imagine, for example, tasting Dog Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, or Eileen Hardy barrel – fermented Chardonnay for the very first time, just after eating Kosher Dill Pickles!

    Cheers

  2. Ron McFarland Says:

    Thanks Dick

    In the first paragraph I mentioned the discussions of acidity ranged from technical to conversational. I guess you can always spot the scientist in the room by your attention to details.

    You are right that my simple nondescript use of the word food leaves many holes and openings in the conversation.

    I think the illustrations you create with food and wine could be considered the lessons of one’s wine life and just part of the journey of discovery.

    Far to often the pairing of wine and food becomes overly complicated. My feeling is by doing, exploring and making a few wine and food mistakes, we all find a comfort zone. The reward is what I refered to as the magic from the vineyard and winemaker.

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