Back to Basics: What Is Acidity?

Acidity is one of the most commonly discussed concepts in wine. All wines have it, though in varying degrees, and the ability to perceive it is affected by the wine’s other components.

 

We are familiar with the term “acidity” as it relates to food and drink, because we are familiar with the taste of things like lemons, limes, green apples or green tomatoes. All of those have a tart zap of acidity to them.

 

In wine, we often refer to wines with good acidity as fresh, bright, lively or crisp. Or we talk about the way acidity “lifts” the wine or “cuts” through its fruit or earth notes. We also talk about how acidity balances out a wine, acting as a counterpoint to things like sweetness resulting from residual sugar left in the wine. If a wine is quite sweet, it will taste overly heavy or rich without balancing acidity — just like lemonade, you want a good balance of lemon and sugar (and, just like lemonade, different people have different preferences).

 

Generally, the riper a fruit gets, the less perceptible the acidity is, so it’s typical that grapes (and consequently wines) from warmer climates will be perceived as less acidic than grapes/wines from cooler climates. To continue our example from previous weeks, Chardonnay from Chablis tends to come across as considerably higher in acidity than Chardonnay from Napa.

 

Acidity cuts richness in foods, so pairing higher acid wines with rich, fatty or greasy foods is a great idea. Acidity in wine should be equal to or greater than the acidity in a food, so that the wine doesn’t come across as flat. As a final tip, acidity can also contribute to a wine’s longevity: Higher levels of acidity tend to keep a wine “alive” and “fresh” for longer periods of time (both in your cellar and, once opened, in your refrigerator).

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