The Role of Acidity in Wine
One of the most misunderstood tastes in wine is acidity. The role of acidity in wine is critical if you enjoy eating when drinking wine. In fact, acidity may be the single most essential principle for matching food and wine in a seamless pairing.
Acidity in wine works like a juggler. There is that one ball you are trying to keep airborne while quickly tossing the other two before one of them hits the floor.
- The first ball is your mouth. Your taste buds register that something acidic or sour is in the mouth.
- You can judge the level of acidity in wine by the mouth-watering sensation you feel after taking a sip.
- White wines tend to have more acidity than red. That’s why people often describe a white wine as having a crisp quality.
- The next ball is the food you are enjoying with your wine.
- Most people only think of the protein they will be serving with meals. However, you should shift your focus instead to the sauce or preparation method. Frying, baking or adding a sauce to the main course will greatly impact your wine selection more than concentration on whether you are serving chicken or steak. These factors are far more important.
- The last ball is the wine you have with your meal.
- Acidity and tannin, which is that drying sensation you feel when drinking a bold, red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon, join forces. This results in a more tannic wine, which strips the mouth of moisture, the opposite effect of acid.
Keeping all the balls in their proper rotation is like having your mouth, food and wine in harmony with each other.
Consider Acidity when Pairing
It doesn’t matter if you drink red or white wines. Acid is present in all wines; most of it naturally occurring. I won’t bore you with the list of acids; but grapes commonly have at least six acids inherent. Additional acids are created in wine due to degradation, which is caused by microbiological changes.
When pairing food and wine, keep these foods and their corresponding flavors in mind for improving your dining experience:
- Cream & Butter – The acidity in wines permeates the richness of these ingredients, allowing your mouth to recover from that lovely creaminess between bites.
- Lemon or Vinaigrette Sauces – Complimentary food and wine pairings are classic. The acidity in the wine and the tartness in the lemon are mirroring flavors. When done right, they are like a great marriage, effortless.
- Tomato/Tomato-based sauces – The acidity in tomatoes complements a similarly tasting wine by reinforcing the overlapping flavors in each. A seafood dish would typically be served alongside a glass of white wine. However, if you cook it in a tomato-based sauce, then a red wine would be more appropriate.
- Fried foods – The acidity in wine cuts through the greasiness that may linger on your tongue when eating those yummy oily, fatty foods. Wine acts as a palate cleanser.
If you have difficulty measuring the acidity in a wine, you can use this basic rule of thumb. There’s a caveat though. This guideline requires you know a bit of geography.
You should look at the country, specifically the latitude of the wine region where a bottle of wine was produced. For example, grapes from upstate New York, where it is cold, think Niagara Falls, would have greater acidity than grapes grown in Mexico, our southern neighbor. Grapes grown in a country with a cool/cold climate will result in wines that have greater acidity. Chardonnay grapes grown in France will have more naturally occurring acid than those grown in California. Why? Because California has a much warmer climate than Burgundy, the premier region for French Chardonnay.
Also, acidity is a key factor in a wine’s ability to age for years. Most white wines were meant to be drunk young, usually within two years. But, there are some white wines that improve with age. German Rieslings have high acidity levels, allowing for lengthy aging potential. Some Rieslings can age up to 50 years. German wines grow in a cool climate.
Sancerre wines from the cold, land-locked Loire Valley in France also have aging potential due to their elevated acidity levels. A tasting note for a Sancerre, produced using the Sauvignon Blanc grape would include descriptions such as crisp, refreshing or lively acidity. The more acidity a wine has the better it will hold up over time, generally.
Hopefully, this post helps you understand the importance of thinking through the relationship between acid in wines, the cooking preparation method and how the two interact with one another. Doing so will lead to more enjoyable food and wine pairings.
For more tips on wine and food pairings with your Thanksgiving meal, read my prior blog post.