As part of the current series of posts on acidity in Barbera and why Acidity Isn’t a Four-Letter Word, I feel compelled to share the following anecdote.
I recently attended a guided tasting of Italian red wines.
The wine expert who led the tasting told the crowd of tasters, who were mostly laypeople, that the wines have become more popular today because winemakers in the appellation(s) have begun provoking malolactic fermentation during vinification. As a result, the expert said, the wines are less acidic and thus more appealing to people who don’t like acidity-driven wines.
The only problem: The expert didn’t realize that unlike white wines, all red wines undergo malolactic fermentation. In fact, without malolactic fermentation, red wine would be undrinkable. Malolactic fermentation transforms tart malic acid is converted into softer-tasting lactic acid. Without it, red wine would be undrinkable (or least, not pleasant to drink).
The episode reflects the dearth of knowledge and information swirling around acidity’s role in wine. Yes, it’s true that acidity gives the wine its “freshness” and often its “tartness” (another alleged four-letter word in uninformed wine circles). But acidity is also a key component in the great — and the greatest — wines in the world, white and red.
In case you don’t have a subscription to JancisRobinson.com where you can read, search, and scroll the entire Oxford Companion to Wine online the excellent entry for “Acidity”, I highly recommend that you check out the free Wikipedia entry for Acids in Wine.
In it, the author writes: “[Acids] are present in both grapes and wine, having direct influences on the color, balance and taste of the wine as well as the growth and vitality of yeast during fermentation and protecting the wine from bacteria.”
You’ll find find sub-entries on malic acid, lactic acid, etc. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
And it’s a good place to start for wrapping your mind around acidity and its sine qua non role in winemaking and in great wine.
Next week, we’ll delve even further into this topic. But it’s a great place to get started.