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Understanding the role acidity plays in wine

January 5, 2024
Appreciation and understanding of acidity allows wine lovers to explore the vast spectrum of flavours and styles that make each bottle a unique and sensory adventure

Embarking on a wine journey can be both exciting and overwhelming. But fear not, fellow wine lover! Today, we are going to demystify a fundamental aspect of wine – acidity.

One of the first things that one notices when tasting a wine is its acidity. Acidity provides a refreshing and lively sensation on the palate, balancing the wine’s sweetness and influencing its overall mouthfeel. Wine’s acidity is often described using terms like crisp, bright, tangy, or sharp. Think of acidity as the tangy character that adds a refreshing spark to your favourite vino. Let’s take a sip together and explore the basics of acidity.

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Acidity is a crucial component of wine and plays a pivotal role in shaping its overall profile and character. Acidity in wine refers to the presence of natural acids, primarily tartaric, malic, and citric acids, which contribute to the flavour, structure, and balance of the wine. Understanding acidity requires an exploration of its sources, the ways in which winemakers harness it to craft their wines, and its effects on the finished product.

Why do wines have different acidity levels? The first reason is grape variety. Different grape varieties have varying levels of natural acidity. Varieties such as sauvignon blanc, riesling, and chenin blanc are known for their high acidity, contributing to wines with a crisp and refreshing character. In contrast, varieties like merlot and grenache tend to have lower acidity, resulting in wines that are smoother on the palate.

Acidity in wine

Acidity in wine: Different wine styles are associated with different acidity levels.

Another reason is climate. The climate in which grapes are grown significantly influences their acidity. Cool climate regions tend to produce grapes with higher acidity, while warm climates often yield grapes with lower acidity. This is why a chardonnay from a cool climate like Ontario may have a higher acidity than one from a warmer region such as Napa.

Moreover, the degree of ripeness at which the grapes are harvested also affects acidity. Under-ripe grapes can result in wines that are overly tart and astringent, while overly ripe grapes can produce wines with lower acidity that lack vibrancy. Winemakers must strike a balance by choosing the optimum harvest time to achieve the desired acidity level.

Acidity is refreshing and cleansing to the palate, making acidic wines particularly well-suited for pairing with a variety of foods.

Once the grapes have been harvested, winemakers have a number of tools and techniques at their disposal to manage acidity during the winemaking process. Malolactic fermentation, for example, is a process by which harsher malic acid (think Granny Smith apple) is converted to softer lactic acid (think plain yogurt), reducing overall acidity. Conversely, winemakers may choose to preserve acidity by avoiding malolactic fermentation or by adding tartaric acid if necessary.

Different wine styles are associated with different acidity levels. Sparkling wines, such as Champagne, are known for their high acidity, which contributes to their effervescence and crispness. In contrast, some red wines, such as those from warmer regions or made with riper grapes, may have lower acidity, resulting in a smoother and softer profile.

Certain wine regions are renowned for the characteristic acidity of their wines. For instance, the wines of Chablis in Burgundy are celebrated for their high acidity, imparting a steely and mineral quality. Understanding the regional influences on acidity will help you appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of wines from different parts of the world.

Acidity in wine

Acidity acts as a natural preservative, slowing down the oxidation process.

Acidity can have different effects on wine. It is a key factor in balancing the sweetness of a wine. If there is sweetness in a wine, acidity can balance it, preventing it from becoming cloying. This balance is particularly crucial in dessert wines, where acidity adds a layer of complexity and prevents the wine from feeling overly syrupy.

Wines with higher acidity generally have better ageing potential. Acidity acts as a natural preservative, slowing down the oxidation process and helping the wine to develop complex flavours over time. Think of an apple that has been cut in half and left on the counter. After a while, the colour will change from white to brown. This is the apple oxidizing. If you squeezed some lemon on the apple, the acidity would protect it and it wouldn’t turn brown – at least not immediately. Higher levels of acidity are why certain wines, such as high-quality chardonnays, rieslings, and pinot noirs, can age gracefully for many years.

Acidity is refreshing and cleansing to the palate, making acidic wines particularly well-suited for pairing with a variety of foods, as they can cut through rich and fatty dishes, leaving the palate cleansed and ready for the next bite.

In the complex world of wine, acidity is a multifaceted element that contributes significantly to a wine’s personality. Its influence on flavour balance, ageing potential, and overall drinking experience makes it a fundamental consideration for both winemakers and consumers.

Whether enjoying a crisp sauvignon blanc on a warm summer’s day or savouring a well-aged chardonnay or pinot noir with complex layers of flavour, the role of acidity in wine is a fascinating journey that adds depth and nuance.


Michelle ParisMichelle Paris is a Certified Sommelier and a graduate of the WSET Diploma Program. She is also a WSET Certified Wine Educator, holds the Certified Specialist of Wine designation from the Society of Wine Educators and is a Professional Fromager. She is a Certified Sherry Educator and an Ambassador for the Wines of Portugal. Michelle is currently working towards the Masters of Wine designation.

Michelle founded Adventure in Wine in 2015 and teaches the WSET courses. Registration for the 2024 year for Levels 1-3 is currently open. New courses are on-going. Learn more at


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