Wine Words: Acidity

published Feb 6, 2012
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Do you ever wonder what we mean when we say a wine has high or low acidity? Or when your wine geek friend describes him/herself as an acid guy or girl? What does acidity in a wine taste like?

Welcome to the first installment in a new series — wine words. We’ll look at a different word every week and explore what it really means in the context of wine. What are its nuances and unspoken meanings?

First up: Acidity.

If you have ever tasted a lemon you know what acidity tastes like. Think how often you squeeze lemon on a dish to lift the flavor. Well acidity in wines works the same way. Acidity adds brightness and liveliness. It makes the flavors of a wine pop and stand out. It makes a wine refreshing. It makes you want to take another sip.

Different Grapes Have Different Levels Of Acidity!
White grapes such as Riesling, Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc are naturally high in acids. In contrast Viognier and Gewürztraminer are naturally low in acidity, so more care is needed in terms of ‘when to harvest’ and also ‘where to plant’. And then there are other grapes such as Chardonnay, that sit somewhere in the middle where the level of acidity is more determined by whether the grapes were grown in a warmer or cooler climate.

Acidity differs among red grapes also. Many Italian varieties such as Nebbiolo or Barbera are notably high in acidity, while Grenache Noir (or Garnacha) is considerably lower.

How Acid Works In a Wine: Getting The Balance Right
Acidity is at its best in a wine when it is in balance. Too high relative to the wine’s other components and a wine can be too tart or sour. In contrast a wine that has too little acidity can be flat or flabby. It loses its refreshing taste sensation and the flavors in the wine taste dull and lifeless. Instead of enticing a second sip, the wine tastes heavy and unappealing.

How Wine Tasters Describe Acidity
Tasters use a variety of words to describe the sensation of acidity in a wine. Typical descriptors such as ‘crisp’, ‘brisk’, ‘fresh’, ‘bright’, ‘racy’ or even ‘soft’ or ‘flabby’ refer to the taster’s sensation when tasting the wine.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.

(Image: Underlying image by Sadovnikova Olga via Shutterstock)