JWL Issue #002: What is Acid in Wine?

May 15, 2018

This week is London Wine Week. All of the best wine bars in London are offering pass-holders £5 wine flights. Wine flights, if you’ve not done them before, are great ways to taste wines. 

You get three small glasses of wine that are usually a bit more interesting than most day-to-day plonk. All three glasses volume-wise usually tot up to about 150ml of wine. This makes a tour of two or three partaking wine bars a possibility in a sitting. 

My beer friends always love the Bermondsey Beer Mile. I feel this week might be a perfect week to instigate the Farringdon Wine Mile. 

Happy drinking!

Taste

A few summers ago, I was introduced to Beaujolais. This region just to the south of Burgundy is dominated by the gamay grape. Beaujolais doesn’t age well, which means that price-wise the very best that’s drinkable is way more affordable than the very best of many other grapes.

Les Pivoines, 2016 (£10.50 from my local Wild & Lees) is a great £10 display of Beaujolais: strawberry and savoury aromas, which is soft and supple on the mouth. For the price point, it’s hard to beat.

If you want to compare it to one with slightly more in the mouth, then the Domaine Rochette, 2016 might provide just that. This one is £13.25 from L&S so is a bit pricier. On the nose, there’s similar strawberry aromas, but the palate is where this steps apart, with more notable tannins and a more complex mouthfeel.

Both - as with all Beaujolais - can be enjoyed chilled (but not cold).

Learn

I want to talk about acid. First: how do we detect it? As a point of reference, imagine biting into a lemon, or having a mouthful of proper lemonade. Picture how your mouth would fill with saliva. Now have a big slurp of wine and having swallowed, tilt your head forward with your mouth open. Looks disgusting - maybe best to try this one on your own first. But once you’ve got past the weirdness you’ll notice your mouth filling with saliva - just like it would with the lemon.

As a general rule of thumb, white wine is more acidic than red wine. But sweet wine is even more acidic than white wine. I say ‘but’ in bold because it highlights an issue with perception. Sweet wines often don’t seem that acidic, because the high levels of sugar are balancing the taste in your mouth.

Lots of the other wine components can make acidic wines feel less acidic than they actually are. Grapes all start off with high levels of acidity, but as they ripen, the acidity reduces. This is where climate comes in: cooler climates (like Britain or northern France) will ripen less and thus be more acidic, while hot climates like the south of Spain will be less acidic.

Jargon

Varietal

Varietal wines have to made from over 85% of one type of grape, and so are not blended. Unlike with say whisky, varietal wines aren’t inherently better than blended wines. In France, grape variety is not see as important as their beloved terroir - but that’s jargon for another time.

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