So recently I sat down and tried to write a little bit about what I’ve learned about acid. So I started writing, and I kept writing and writing, and after more writing, I decided, that no one wants to read a thesis. So I went ahead and split it into sections, so to start, we’ll initiate the un-initiated. What exactly is acid?
Acid just sounds scary, doesn’t it? Tartaric acid just sounds like something you would pour down the drain to unclog it. Well, I hate to break it to you, but it’s in your wine.
Woah Woah Woah! Hold it! Don’t throw your wine collection into the trash. Ok, that one you already threw in there you can leave in there. Nobody likes Blackstone anyway. The thing is grapes naturally have acids in them, namely, Malic acid and Tartaric acid. Tartaric acid is a natural acid that integrates as seamlessly with your body’s chemistry as does a granny smith apple. As you may already know, acid in general is a huge part of a wine’s flavor. It’s the tingling sensation that the wine has on your tongue when you drink it. It’s an important part of the balance and texture of a wine. There are many parts of wine that provide subtle sensations of sweetness, so the duty of acid is to differentiate the wine from something like syrup that is just pure sweetness.
When I arrived in Australia, I already knew this. What I also knew is that acid makes it difficult for microbes to survive. What I didn’t know was just how effective it was at said goal.
Enter Casella wines. Unfortunately, I can’t claim that Casella is a particularly clean winery. The winery moves through thousands of tons of grapes every day and there’s not always time to do a thorough cleaning between every lot. There is a lot of grime and junk that ends up in the tanks and well, let’s be honest, this isn’t exactly, err… sterile.
I can tell you this was something of a shock to me, because well, everywhere I’ve been before, they’ve been pretty adamant about sanitation. Sanitation is your first defense against microbial instability, and protecting against all sorts of spoilage flavors in your wine. However, after tasting through the lots with the wine-makers, I can tell you there was never any sign of microbial spoilage, which I thought was weird, because I definitely saw hoses that if I touched, I wouldn’t eat with my hands later.
So why is Casella wine so stable when it goes through the muck like this? Well, it’s that stuff you were about to pour down the drain- acid. The wine-makers make it a point to keep the acids very low, (pH of 3.5 and lower for the hard-core nerds in the audience) they add very large doses of Tartaric acid when the fruit comes in, so much so they have a tank full of the stuff automatically dosing our Drain-O into the transport lines and apparently, that coupled with normal SO2 levels, makes this stuff super-wine. In wine-making school they teach you that acid is a microbial deterrent, a kind of microbiological crime-fighter and they even talk about it in some consumer-oriented wine books, but not until I had seen it here did I really appreciate how strong it is. This is simply amazing: the wine here protects itself, unlike every American winery I’ve been to, where the wine-makers protect the wine.
Ok, ok, so you guys are probably wondering the same thing I did: doesn’t all that acid make the wine tart? Of course it can, but it’s more a question of balancing it with other elements of the wine, which we’ll get to another day.
So there you have it. Acidity. If you made it this far, congrats! I probably shouldn’t have chosen one of the most important topics in the wine world for an article subject, but here you are, you made it. So kudos to you! If I didn’t bore you enough just now and you want to hear more self-important diatribes, stay tuned!