Acid in Wine is a Dancer

Posted on 07-03-2017

Author: Lamar Engel

Date: 4/23/2015

Acid in Wine is a Dancer   

If wine is a choreographed musical, then the acids are the dancers.  Acidity in wine is the very life element that creates unity in and through the composition of a well-balanced wine. There are multiple kinds of acids that when arranged in style and complexity bolster a wine to become more expressive in its very being.How Winemakers Shape Wine
When a winemaker is working with the elements of wine, one of the most desirable goals in developing flavor is to layer acid content depending on the style of the desired wine and how much residual sugar is left in the wine. Essentially, the goal is balance, however, because the raw product of wine are grapes farmed in various locations, different acids play different roles. 

Grapes grown in cool climates often contain much more acid then fruit grown in warm climates that generally contain minimal acid. One of the most important winemaking tasks consist of adjusting the beginning acid content of the grapes before fermentation, thus developing flavors in the vineyard is key.

The acidic thumbprint that begins in the fermentation process will also appear in the finished wine, these are called ‘fixed acids’. Even though fixed acids barely contain odor and are considered nonvolatile, the opposite is true when some bacteria creep their way into the fermentation process creating ‘acetic’ acid which is much different than other wine acids. Acetic acid is a volatile acid because it evaporates easily, carries a distinctive odor, and it leaves a wine with traces of an unpleasant aftertaste.

A Little Science behind Acid
Acids found in wine are considered low activity level acids, or noncorrosive at so many parts-per-million. However, some of these acids are stronger than others and will wrestle it out when in wine to take dominance over the flavor composition in the end.  Some of these acids ‘ionize’ (or change in their behavior) when multiplied and increase in their numbers, while others will just lay low still offering support but are not spinning around doing pirouettes to gain attention.

For instance, Tartaric acid takes about one out of every 900 tartaric acid molecules to ionize and change the outcome of the liquid it is in and is considered a low activity acid. Malic acid is even weaker than tartaric acid and requires about one out of every 2500 malic acid molecules to ionize. Tartaric acid in this example is considered the principal wine acid and is also the strongest of the wine acids. Matter of fact, tartaric acid is the most common acid found in a finished wine. Let’s look at the other various types of acids in wine.