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Nov 7, 2008 08:30 PM

Understanding acidity in wine

It took me drinking Barbera to understand what acidity brings to wine. I recently tried the 2006 San Silvestro Barbera del Piemonte and the 2006 Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera and fell in love with the Barbera.
I think because the acidity is so snappy, fresh and forward in this varietal I'm now able to discern and identify wines where the acidity adds to the juiciness and structure. There are a few Priorats, for instance, that I have and now I can understand what it is that helps pull the structure together.
I interested in your input and comments regarding my theory.
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  1. Not too sure I understand.
    What's your theory?

    2 Replies
    1. re: RicRios

      Yes...I'm not sure what theory you're positing either...

      Is it that "acidity adds to the juiciness and structure"?

      What do you mean by juiciness? The quality of being grape juice or "juice" literally,
      or are you referring to the liquid's quality of being refreshing? Two different things.

      Structure -- there is physical structure in the wine and also taste structure.

      So, please clarify, and tell us what theory you have in mind. Thanks.

      1. re: maria lorraine

        My "take" on "juicness," regarding acidity, is the mouth-watering aspect. Maybe I am off.

        As for acidity in many wines, I find that more of these are more food-friendly, than lower acid varietals. Does not make the latter less desirable, but if I'm pairing, I'm more likely to look for slightly higher acid levels.


    2. Acidity + Tannins = Structure
      When people talk about structure, they're talking about the wine having a front, middle and end. Wines without structure, i.e. low acidity and low tannins, tend to taste flat at the end, mostly because the sweetness of the fruit or the flavors of the oak carried by the alcohol are not balanced by something else, namely the acidity and the bitterness of the tannins.

      Think about wine as you would about food. Why fresh lemon juice on fish and ground pepper on just about anything?

      As an example: For the tasting menu at Morimoto in Philly, yuzu (very close to lime, with more peppery qualities) sorbets are presented between courses to cleanse your palate. A wine with good acidity should really be able to do the same thing.

      And in the case of Priorat, if you're looking for wines with the highest acidity, I'd lean towards those with high components of carignan.

      6 Replies
      1. re: mengathon

        Hi meng,

        You’ve just described what I call the experience of flavor through time -- "front, middle and end," like waves of flavor passing through our mouths — unfolding — when we taste a wine. This is a linear, horizontal description, and a good one. Not all wines, of course, have a front, middle and end. A wine can have a good front attack, and then completely fall off and drop away -- the proverbial "trap door". No middle or end.

        Structure for me, though, is slightly different and has two aspects to it: architectural or skeletal structure, like that of posture or presence; and flavor structure.

        Postural structure comes from oak and other tannins. You can have good structure from oak tannins but not good flavor structure

        Acid is an odd but integral part of flavor structure and, like quantum mechanics -- difficult to describe. It's "the great potentiator" of all flavors. Remove it -- pick grapes too late -- and you'll never have a desirable structure. no matter how much oak tannin you throw on the juice.

        1. re: maria lorraine


          Flavor structure is different from the temporal experience of flavor, like meng describes. Flavor structure refers to the existence of all flavors, not the sequence in which they are recognized -- front, middle and end -- when we taste.

          To describe the flavor structure of a wine, I often use the basic music scale and geometric shapes as metaphors. Both metaphors are based on a vertical alignment.

          Treble clef, mid-clef, and bass clef refer to, respectively, floral/fruit notes, mid-range flavors, then anchoring or bottom flavors (earth, mushoom, coffee, tobacco, etc).

          Geometric shapes: Cabernet is a varietal that is often described as having a hole in the middle of the flavor structure: there is no mid-range. Lots of treble fruit notes and copious bottom notes, but nuttin’ in the middle. The geometric shape of that flavor is like an hourglass, or an inverted triangle on top of a regular triangle.

          In contrast, some varietals have such a remarkable midrange that they bow out in the middle, like a convex lens. This is a good choice of a wine to blend with Cab -- to fill out that missing mid-range.

          Other wines are top heavy, with no anchoring. All tweeter with no woof. A short-lived flavor experience — the trap door.

          Some wines are bottom-heavy. Pear-shaped. Lots of earth, no fruit. If it were music, it
          would be a dirge. Kinda fun to think about the flavor shape of a wine, or the type of music a wine might be.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            Very insightful Maria. Never quite thought of a flavor structure. I've always thought of it more of as a spectrum. But the geometry of it makes a lot of sense.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              ML --

              VERY cool! I, too, have never used the "geometric shapes" descriptor, and yet I've often spoken and/or written about a "donut wine" -- no middle -- and so on.

              I might have to steal the "geometric shapes" idea . . .


              1. re: zin1953

                It's part of my classes now and I've published it a few times.
                Sure, you're welcome to borrow it, improve upon it...


          2. re: mengathon

            Well, some might be, but I'm not sure here. I'll wait for the OP to comment.


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