Reading between the wines: Wine 101 series: Acid
I love good jargon. I love weird words with delightful meanings that fit ‘just so’ into a sentence, like an oddly shaped little puzzle piece; and I love the irrational thrill I get if ever I have the opportunity to use one.
However, the jargon of wine tasting and enjoying sometimes seems intended to deceive and bewilder! Often, it can feel like reading a real estate listing…is it cozy, or cramped? Does rustic mean charming…or sloppy?
Understanding one of the most important facets of wine, acidity, can help us read between the lines of wine tasting jargon and pick the perfect wine for any occasion.
When we hear the word ‘acidity’ in a wine tasting note, it might conjure up scary images of biting into a lemon. Yet there are some other less obvious references to a wine’s acidity that are more pleasantly evocative, such as ‘mouth-watering’, ‘lip-smacking’, ‘juicy’, ‘crisp’, and ‘refreshing’.
Doesn’t that sound tastier? Imagine how refreshing a glass of lemonade is on a hot day, or how palate-cleansing a fresh squeeze of lemon is with crispy fish and chips. A classic pairing is creamy cheese paired with a sweet-sour slice of pear or a few grapes. Playing around with bright, tongue-tingling wines and rich foods is a delightful experiment in contrast and refreshment.
So too does ‘like go with like’: dishes high in acidic elements like citrus and other tart fruits, tomato, and vinegar can be successfully paired with higher acid wines; situations where a bigger, deeper wine might fail.
The natural fruit acids present in grapes follow through into the finished wine. The maturity of the fruit at harvest time determines how much, and how balanced, those acids will be in the wine.
Grapes picked before optimal maturity may be overly ‘tart’, while those picked past their prime may have very little natural acid left, and thus may lose some precious ‘freshness’.
Winemaking is a constant quest for balance. A wine lacking in acidity could taste ‘flabby’, ‘flat’ or even ‘tired’; acidity keeps flavours fresh and bright. Conversely, too much acid can throw off a wine’s balance, resulting in wines that are unpleasantly ‘sour’, ‘tart’, or ‘sharp’.
I will leave you with these delicious sample pairings for bright crisp wines (like the CC Jentsch Viognier):
Salty foods: charcuterie, olives, potato chips!
Tart and tangy foods: homemade pickles and citrus relishes on white fish.
Rich foods: medium-sharp cheeses, like aged white cheddar, parmesan and feta.
Fried foods: tempura, fish & chips.