Acidity in wine is usually recognised by tastes, by undertones and by the quality of its production. Yet, have you ever visibly spotted a bottle with high acidity levels?
It’s likely that you have, yet brushed over the shard-like crystals, believing they are ice or signs of oxidization. In some cases, they’re even thought to be glass. When in fact, they are tartaric acid crystals, harmless for consumption.
While new to even seasoned wine drinkers, acidity is a multidimensional talking point, ultimately dictating how well a wine will drink; from its taste, to its smell, to its appearance.
As it’s complex, as we hope to familiarise our customers, readers and followers with all things wine, here’s the ins and outs of acidity in wine, from its effects to its original cause.
What is acidity in wine?
Have you ever thrown out a bottle of wine, down to spotting crystal like shards either around the cork or floating at the bottom of the bottle? If so, we’re sorry to say, but you’ve potentially disposed of a consumable, fit for purpose bottle.
Those shard-like crystals are in fact tartaric acid crystals, a sign of a highly acidic bottle. While they may be a shock to the eye, the wine is safe to enjoy and is more than likely in its prime if stored correctly. They will in fact disappear once your wine has warmed up and has reached its optimal serving temperature.
While acidity is an in-depth topic, it is important to gauge its presence as acidity levels can impact your drinking experience. Wines with higher levels of acidity will usually reach sweet undertones, where lemon like sharpness is present. On the other end of the acidity scale fall red, deeper wines, lacking bold and sour flavours.
Knowing the lowdown when it comes to acidity in wine will be helpful when purchasing a new, unfamiliar bottle or brand, as production plays a big part in the cause of acidity.
The two types of acid which are commonly found in the production of wine are tartaric and malic acids. Both fall under the titratable acidic scale, which focuses on how the mouth works when consuming wine. Acidic bottles will usually produce greater saliva in the mouth, down to sweeter, sour or bitter undertones.
As the biology of wine drinking can be a little complex, here’s a brief breakdown on how titratable and pH levels relate with acidity in wine.
Titratable acids, mentioned above as a combination of tartaric and malic acids, are linked to how our mouths react to different levels of acidity. A high acidic bottle will naturally require higher levels of saliva to enjoy the combination of ingredients.
pH acids are related to titratable measures, yet instead of acidity levels, they focus on the strength of acidity present in wine. Easier to gauge, envision a scale of 0 to 14. Bottles with limited acid levels will fall at 14, while a high acidity bottle will rank at the end of the scale at 0.
By looking at both forms of acidity, it’s very common that a highly acidic bottle will have low pH levels, making it easier to drink. Not only this, you’ll benefit from a well-kept wine through an organic stable environment.
Yet, remember, you must maintain an optimal environment if you are aiming for stability, possible through some easy to follow storage tips shared lower down.
The effects of acidity and pH levels on wine
Acidity can impact anything from the colour of your wine, its risk of oxidization and even its ability to age naturally. It can in fact have a great effect on your drinking experience and your ability to preserve a bottle.
Naturally, high acidic wines will usually boast vibrant, sought-after colours. This is also the case when considering the taste of high acidic wine.
Through the mix of high acidic, low pH levels, optimal environments are present, reducing the effect of oxidization risks. Here is where the ageing process can thrive, without the disruption of unstable environments.
On the other end of the scale, low acidic wines usually carry dull, hazy colours, displaying rounder undertones. Unfortunately, down to higher pH levels, oxidization risks are higher, making low acidic wines harder to store.
Understandably, this is a lot to think about when you buy your next bottle. Yet, the most important factor is that you consume a bottle that you enjoy when considering taste and acidity levels, while understanding its perishability and aesthetics.
The cause of acidity
Acidity in wine starts way before the main production phase. It begins in vineyards, where environments, grape maintenance and ageing can influence the cause of a high or low acidic bottle.
Firstly, cooler environments will likely produce grapes which measure as high in acid, down to a lack of sunshine and its pH effects. Secondly, certain soils will have higher levels of potassium in them.
Ones which boast alkaline will raise pH levels, balancing out on the acidic scale. Lastly, unripe grapes have higher levels of acid. If they are used for production, prior to reaching their optimal age range, acidity levels can naturally rank as high.
Down to this, there are a number of causes which can balance out either a high or low acidic bottle of wine, offering your favoured tastes and bodies. Thankfully, acidity can be controlled by adding either tartaric or malic acids prior to fermentation. Yet, this will have to be left to the expert winemakers.
Storing your wine, no matter its acidity levels
No matter whether you prefer a high or low acidic wine, it’s important that you store your next bottle correctly. Otherwise, those unpleasant risks of oxidization may be the case, leaving you with the only option of disposal.
When storing a bottle of wine, there are five key areas to think about, all surrounding your environment.
Below are some top tips to follow, making sure that you can benefit from wine preservation and a high chance of reducing oxidization risks.
- Tip 1 - Store all wines, no matter how acidic they are at 12°C. It may feel natural to store red and whites, for example, at different temperatures. Yet this is a myth which you should avoid when storing your wine. Anything lower than this will increase oxidization risks and anything higher will increase an uncontrolled maturity process.
- Tip 2 - Store your wine between 55-80% humidity levels. Again, you can avoid the undesirable downfalls of oxidization and the risk of a non-perishable wine by opting for an optimal storage solution.
- Tip 3 - UV light is something you should most definitely avoid, especially when considering low acidic wines. Excessive UV light can penetrate the bottle, causing harm to the flavour, colour, taste and viability of the wine.
- Tip 4 - Select a quiet area in your home to store your wine, helping to reduce vibrations and unnecessary disruptions. Treat your wine as though it is homed in a cellar.
- Tip 5 - Avoiding unpleasant smells is also a key tip when storing your wine. This goes hand in hand with humidity, as a shrivelled cork can be susceptible to allowing unpleasant smells into the wine, damaging its original taste and smell, no matter its acidity levels.
While acidity can reduce the enjoyment of a drinking experience, incorrect storage can bring your consumption to a sharp halt. By manhandling your wine, by changing its temperature, by placing it in a heavy footfall area, you can reduce its ability to age, to preserve and to be consumed.
Remember, those shard-like crystals will disappear once your wine is warmed up. Yet, through incorrect storage, those damages are more than likely to stand as irreversible.
At Elite Wine Refrigeration, we encourage you to firstly pick a bottle that you love for its taste, for its acidity levels and for its drinking experience.
Yet, secondly, to harness that experience, you must store your wine correctly to maintain a stable environment. By doing so, you can enjoy the most acidic or the most neutral bottle out there.