Wine Acidity Guide: Is Wine Acidic?

We all know them. Those people who think they’re being funny by saying horrible things, when in fact they’re just being mean. Or the colleague who is nasty behind your back, but lovely to your face. Or the friend who constantly undermines you, no matter how many times you ask them to stop. But thankfully, you probably know people who are the yings to their yangs. Those who are full of love, nothing phases them (do they do yoga? How is it possible?). The people who have so much maturity and distance it puts you (well, me) to shame. The people basically balance out the former’s acidity with their alkaline. 

While we can walk away from people with acidic personalities, how does this translate in other areas of our lives? Are there any times when we actually need acidity? I’m thinking of why do we add lemon juice to smoked salmon. So, what do we do when the wine has too much (or not enough) acid?

What Is Wine Acidity?

Wine, like the people I mentioned above, has very certain characteristics. Even though we are individuals, we all belong to a certain type. Like wine, we’re made up of layers that make us unique and lovely. But we’re not here to discuss psychology, so let’s concentrate on wine ph and what to do about it.

Wine can be seen by what looks like little glass shards stuck in the bottom of the bottle. Don’t be alarmed if you see these – they’re actually just harmless tartaric acid crystals. These acidic components can be complex, but they’re fundamental in determining how a wine looks and tastes. Understanding the characteristics of high acidity wine will help you understand what you like to drink, which after all, is really the point of wine. Or… what you like to invest in – since wine investment is now easier than ever through a wine investment app.

All wine is made up of five specific layers. These are:

  1. Sweetness

This is probably the first taste that you get, as it tingles on the tip of the tongue. Whites tend to be sweeter than reds. 

  1. Acidity

Acidity is felt by that “itchy” feeling on the roof of your mouth. It’s the initial tartness that some people enjoy.

  1. Tannin

Tannins makes your mouth feel like it is drying out. It is found mostly in big, bold, Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds, and is fundamental in the ageing process.

  1. Alcohol

Wine is usually between 11-13% ABV (alcohol by volume), although some vintages can go up to 15%. The higher the alcohol level, the stronger and “oilier” the taste. Lighter bodied wines, such as Pinot Noir, tend to have a lower ABV.

  1. Body

This is the overall product. The above points contribute to the body, but then you need to add in vintage, how long it was aged in barrel, were they oak, new, old … Big-bodied wines are bolder, while lighter-bodied wines are more cautious. Both are fantastic. It’s just a matter of personal taste. 

Wine acidity is one of the many wine tasting terms experts use to describe wine flavors.

The Role of Acidity

So what does the acid in wine really do? Is it necessary? It might not sound nice, but yes, not only is it necessary, but lots of our other drinks are acidic too. Think of that bitter taste in coffee and you’re there. Coca Cola (and most other fizzy drinks) are highly acidic, although this is masked with masses of added sugar. My mother used to use Coke to descale her kettle, so that should more or less give you an idea of the pH level in soda.

Acidity in wine is non-negotiable. Fine wine pH levels are delicately balanced so that they age well, thus a low pH (ergo high levels of acid) is essential. During the ageing process, the malic acid is converted to lactic acid (known as Malolactic Fermentation). This leaves the wine tasting smoother and less tart. Low pH will most probably be noted on a wine tech sheet. 

How Wines Get Their Acidity

The acidity of wine depends on the grape it comes from. All grapes are acidic and generally speaking, those grown in cooler climates (think Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc) have a lower pH than those that come from warmer places (yes Californian Zinfandel, we are looking at you). The sugar content of the fruit on the vine rises when the skin starts to turn colour (in a process known as veraison). Thus the harvest for sweet wines such as Sauternes is much later than highly acidic wines such as Champagne and prosecco.  

Balancing Acidity in Food and Wine Pairings

When it comes to pairing your food and wine, the keyword here is pair. You need to balance your food profile with your wines, and of course vice versa. Acidity in wine can be complemented with fatty foods, the same way that lemon juice cuts through the fattiness of smoked salmon. So foods that use lemon juice or vinegar as seasoning, think anything from oysters to fish’n’chips, will only become more delicious when paired with an acidic wine. Chips and Champagne, anyone?

A highly acidic wine will cleanse the palate when eating greasy food. This is the same reason why big, bold, reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon which have a low pH, will be served with (generally fatty) meat. Italian cuisine, particularly that which is doused in olive oil and tomato sauce, will taste far better with a Chianti, a Valpolicella or a Barbera than a Shiraz. 

Which Wines Are the Most Acidic?

A general rule of thumb is that white wines are higher in acidity than reds. The pH of red wine is between 3.5 and 3.8, while that of white is lower, between 3.1 and 3.4 (water is a neutral 7 for reference). White wines benefit greatly from the added crispness that a low pH brings, and the cooler temperatures that white is served at brings this out admirably. Lighter red wines (interestingly, those which are sometimes served chilled such as Beaujolais Nouveau) are lower in pH than mature reds. 

With over 250,000 new wines being introduced to the market every year, there is bound to be a big variety of choice. Some are simply more acidic than others (see our full article on wine flavours here). 

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal choice. Like those acidic people who are never going to be your true friend, what you decide to choose depends entirely on you. 

Want to learn more about the different types of wine? Head to our article on types of wine.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *