Too little acid makes for dull wine

October 2, 2013 

Have you ever noticed that when you are around certain friends that the conversation eventually turns to the same subject at some point in the evening, that is so repetitious it makes for a very dull and boring night? In the same vein, wine that has too little acidity is also very dull and boring, and just like you want to do to those friends -- the only thing that you can do to stop the monotony is to just walk away from the wine.

One of the most important factors affecting a particular wine's taste and character is the acidity level for that particular wine and/or vintage. When a wine tastes somewhat sour, it is due to a high acidity level. On the other hand, a wine with too little acidity will taste dull. The acids are what causes a well-made wine to taste crisp and allows it to maintain its freshness.

In general terms, grapes grown in cooler regions will have higher acidity and less sugar and the opposite is true for wines from warmer climates. Two of the most common types of acid in wine are malic and lactic. In general terms, the tarter-tasting malic acid is associated with green apples, whereas the softer lactic acid is found in milk products.

The interaction or balance between acidity and the tannins in a red wine plays a major role in how enjoyable the wine tastes. If the tannin and acidity levels are both high, the wine will taste very hard and astringent. Tannins make a wine taste quite tart. A good way to experiment is to make yourself some hot tea and upon tasting it feel just how your taste buds are affected. But,

even more importantly try steeping cups of tea for different time periods such as 30 seconds, 1 minute, 3 minutes, etc. ... to see how the tannin levels of the tea changes the longer the teabag is steeped. You will find that the longer the teabag is steeped, the more evident the tannins feel in your mouth.

In wine the tannins come from the skins of the grapes. The sugar content in a grape increases as it ripens whereas the acidity level decreases, so one of the keys for a winemaker in deciding when to harvest a particular vineyard is when the sugar and acidity levels are perfectly balanced.

A major reason that Cabernet Sauvignon wines are tannic is because it is a thick-skinned grape. The longer that the grape skins remain in contact with freshly crushed grape juice, the finished wine will be more tannic and have a deeper color. It is also the reason that there are so many Cabernets from Northern California that taste so delicious -- their tannins are balanced with the acidity and alcohol due to the varietal and the weather conditions on an annual basis.

It is really amazing when you consider that the acidity and sugars contained in the grapes that are used to produce the best tasting wines are very important in the quality of the final product.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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