Where does acidity come from?

Where does acidity come from?

Apart from Sherry or a few California Viogniers, the vast majority of wines I crave have a healthy dose of acidity. Not only is it solely an additional flavor note that I personally enjoy, rather I would argue that it may be one of the most crucial components of a wine. Particularly for the composition of an age worthy bottle.

Whether it is the obvious acidity love~children: Champagne and Riesling, or even the Welch-juice Billionaires aka Bordeaux and Super Tuscans, acidity is still the backbone.

All acidity is not the same. Acidity comes from different places and for different reasons. But from where and why?


This is often the most obvious reason for increased levels of acidity. If you are farther up North, it will generally be colder (flipped for the bottom sphere). Generally less hours of sunlight and overall colder temperatures, mathematically leading to higher levels of acidity. Textbook examples are Champagne as well as most German regions and the obvious differences between Northern and Southern Italy.


To garnish a cold environment with plenty of chilly winds, you do not have to go North. Up, will often do the trick. Anyone who has done a long hike up a mountain knows that temperatures can drop quickly. With similar effects as latitude, but with combined effects of increased sun exposure, these conditions often lead to interesting results. Etna is the poster boy for this, but many other areas in Italy have this effect (skiing actually continues a long way down the peninsula). A great example of this microcosm is Greece, notably Naoussa.

Diurnal Shift

This is the term for the difference between day and nighttime temperatures. The extreme change of temperature on the vine between day and night leads to the vine getting tricked and retaining its acidity while still becoming fully ripe from daytime warmth. This leads to a “best of both worlds” phenomenon of healthy ripeness while maintaining a lovely acidic structure. Willamette Valley and Ribera del Douro are perfect examples. Though both are very different wines, they can have this silky texture created by the simultaneous drying effect of the tannin and mouthwatering effects of acidity.

Picking Time

As the ripening process proceeds in a grape, sugars rise and acidity drops. In colder regions, winemakers will often pick later into autumn, since they are struggling to get optimal ripeness. In hotter regions, the ripening cycle happens fast. The grapes  quickly shed all acidity in favor for sugar. A typical issue in warm climates is to find the right middle point to pick the grapes; ripe, but not too ripe either.

This means that a pre-determined style is created solely on picking time. Wines destined to be sparkling or crisp white styles will often get picked a bit earlier. In addition, trendy new world winemakers are picking earlier, tackling the notion that they are just fruit bombs.

One wine in particular inspired me to write this article. It was an example of wild acidity coming from somewhere else completely.

Volatile Acidity

Le Coste is a well known Lazio winery in the natural wine scene. On my last jaunt to Rome, I picked up a bottle of their fun-labeled Litterozo red blend from the Les Vigneron, a fantastic wine and craft beer shop. These two worlds coexisting in the same retail space is a rarity in Italy.

The wine is made from a blend of indigenous Lazio grapes, and considering its instagram presence, I was excited. What I did not expect was the searing acidity that stabbed my tongue. A Spartan spear toss in 300. I would not call it disjointed, it just seemed out of place. Was it my perception of Lazio wines that made me surprised by this raunchy acidity? However this is not acidity found in cold climates or steep slopes, this is the acidity that people who actually read Robert Parker complain about. In this case it was a bit over the top. Mainly because it feels fake. It is not fake acidity but it is an acidity by a different means.

Sour Patch Wine

Interestingly enough, the addition of acidity to wine is not uncommon at all. Mass-market sparkling wines from the USA like Korbel or even Chandon actually add acidity to the wines. These wines are grown in hotter areas that cannot get to ripeness without losing the acidity even when picked in the first few days of August. Supposedly, the same acidity used to make sour candies is added to wine. It is a classic giveaway tasting note. However, cheap supermarket bubbles are not the only wines this is done to. The dirty secret is that a considerable amount of expensive Napa wine that have gone down the super late picking route, add acidity back to the wine. I used to be religiously opposed to these wines, having felt that some of the best wines were being relegated to expensive prune juice. However, why should I care? Those Napa laboratory raisin wines are made by scientists to be sold to Wyoming accountants who need something expensive that also tastes like Cola. I call them raisin wines since the yearly competition in Napa is the game of chicken for who can be the last one to pick the grapes. The winner gets 100 Points.

5 out of 5 Lambic drinkers love Volatile Acidity!

Back to volatile acidity. There is debate among wine cognoscenti about Brettanomyces. A type of yeast that once it infects a winery, cannot be destroyed. This adds what some may think of as unbalancing notes. However, many have since noted that yes, like anything in extreme forms, it is bad, but it is actually present in many benchmark wines. It also may very well be part of the yeast cocktail that mother nature has provided for the lucky wineries using native yeast.

However, once you leave the winery and cross to the brewery, Brett is the word of the day. Brett is what makes the authentic Lambics and fun pineapple sour beers. It seems like you cannot be taken seriously as a brewery if you are not running around slapping Brett onto every IPA you can. There has been a race among the yeast producing companies to churn out new Brett, even to the point where they have “unintentionally” mislabeled weird Saccharomyces as Brettanomyces knowing it would sell out.

What kind of acidity do you like?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s