How Does a Wine’s Acidity Affect Its Taste?
All wine is acidic. Acidity is the reason wine is enjoyable in the first place. Most beverages, from soda to lemonade, are refreshing because they’re tart to some extent—that's acidity. Acidic drinks are cooling and inviting; they always leave us wanting another sip.
When wine isn’t acidic enough, we say it tastes dull, and dull wines are rarely considered high quality. Acidity in wine is not only encouraged but also expected. It’s unavoidable. Let's discuss how acidity affects wine's taste and why it matters.
What Makes Wine Acidic?
Wine is made with grapes, which are naturally acidic. Grapes are made mostly of water, sugar, and acids—specifically tartaric and malic acid—with small amounts of citric acid. The acids in the grapes develop over time during the growing season, but the grapes lose some of the acid as they ripen (malic acid is used during the vine's respiration).
White wine is more acidic than red wine, with pH levels of 1-3 pH. That’s because white grapes are harvested earlier in the season. Red wine has an acidity of 3-5 pH. For reference, water has a neutral acidity of 7 pH.
Factors Affecting Wine Acidity
Grapes grown in cold climates have more acidity, as warmth promotes the fruit's sugar development while reducing its acidic content. Grapes grown in warm regions are often harvested with deficient acidity levels, but acidity in wine is so important that producers add tartaric acid to their wines to rectify it.
Warmth promotes ripeness and sweetness, so finding the right balance between warm and cold is essential to crafting high-quality wines. It's easy to see why some of the world's finest wines are made with grapes grown in places with warm days and cold nights, where grapes ripen fully while maintaining their acidity.
Altitude also plays a role in wine's acidity. To achieve acceptable acidity levels, producers try to plant their vineyards at higher altitudes, where the nights are colder, while ensuring sufficient sunlight.
Not all grapes produce the same amounts of acidity, even if the climate is the same. Some grapes are more tart than others in the same way specific varietals accumulate more sugar. Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are some of the best-known grapes with naturally high acidity levels. Grapes that struggle with acidity include Zinfandel and Gewürztraminer.
Wine Acidity and Food Pairings
Wine is compatible with food because of its acidity. Low-acid wines are easily overwhelmed by even the mildest of foods. On the other hand, acidity counters fat in various foods. That’s why rich, fatty meals taste better after cleansing the palate with a sip of wine.
Acidity also contrasts with sweetness. Desserts that would otherwise be cloying will appear balanced when paired with tart wine. We often find sweetness in savory foods, like ribs, glazed chicken, and certain sauces; these subtly sweet meals also benefit from an acidic wine pairing.
Fried food is delicious when served with tart wine, as is seafood. As a rule, food that benefits from a squirt of lime, lemon, or vinegar -- including salads -- will also benefit from acidic wines. On the other hand, creamy sauces and starchy dishes aren’t particularly compatible with acidic wine since acidity cuts through dairy.
Acidic white wines include those made with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Albarinho, to mention a few. Champagne is among the tartest of wines, making it universally compatible with most foods. Acidic red wines include those made with Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sangiovese, and Barbera, among others.
Low-acid wines include those made with Semillon, Gewürztraminer, Marsanne, Viognier, and sometimes Chardonnay from warm climates. Low-acid red wines include New World Merlot, Malbec, and Zinfandel.
Improve the Wine Tasting Experience With the Right Wine Glasses
Assessing wine's acidity is part of the wine-tasting experience. However, using the proper glassware to enjoy the wine's properties is recommended. Grassl's mouth-blown, artisan wine glasses are designed to enhance the wine's organoleptic properties, making the wine look, smell, and taste better.
The size and shape of the wine glass influence how we perceive the wine's bouquet, while smooth edges and a lightweight body make sipping wine more attractive. The thinner the crystal, the nicer the mouthfeel. And for acidity, mouthfeel is everything.