Mouth Watering Wine

This week, I had two wine experiences that were related, but on opposite sides of the spectrum. Both experiences had to do with the acidity of the wine, and the affect on my palate.

 To set the stage, I think it is important to understand what acids are present in wine, and their role in the enjoyment of the wine in your glass. All wines contain acid. When we taste wine, we experience acid on the sides of our tongues, and the mouth watering affect it creates. Acid is one of the components that a wine taster will be evaluating while sampling wine. Acid refreshes and cleanses the palate.

While still on the vine, the grapes are high in malic acid (think green apples), until veraison takes affect. As the grapes develop into more palatable fruit, the malic acid declines, and is replaced by tartaric acid. At the time of harvest, the grapes contain mostly tartaric acid, malic acid, plus small amounts of citric acid and ascetic acid (too much is a problem and leads to vinegar). During fermentation other acids are formed: Lactic acid (see my blog on MLF), succinic acid and carbonic acid. Also, after fermentation, the winemaker may make adjustments to the wine, by adding asorbic acid, sorbic acid or even sulfur dioxide (known as sulfurous acid).

It is these final adjustments that lead me to this weeks' experience....About five years ago, I had visited a very popular winery in Paso Robles (name to remain anonymous - if you want to know, contact me directly). I began tasting their white wines (no problems), then progressed to their red wines. My mouth immediately began to burn. My tongue and the roof of my mouth reacted with the sensation of an acid burn. For the last five years, I have avoided their wines...until this week. I went to a tasting of their wines in a local wine shop. First, their sparkling wine. No issues (as I found out later, their sparkling is made for them by another winery). No problems with their Rousanne, and then came the red wines. Merlot was okay, but as I moved on in the tasting, that same sensation returned. No one else was experiencing the same issues I had with the wine, so I questioned the winery rep about their winemaking additives. He was going to talk with the winemaker to help me determine what they are doing different than anyone else. I am not expecting a call or e-mail back, but if I do, I will share the findings. My first thoughts is that the ph or acid levels are not balanced in their wines. Maybe I am overly sensitive to this imbalance.

My second experience of the week was during one of my wine classes for the International Sommelier Guild. During class, we sampled a bottle of Arneis from the Piedmont region of Italy. This white grape has traditionally been added to Nebbiolo to soften the acids and tannins. Arneis is a perfumed white wine, that is very low in acid. Because of this low acidity, the wine tastes somewhat flabby. That refreshing, palate cleansing acid is absent. It didn't spring out of the bottle, and left me disappointed with the wine in the glass.

Acid can make or break a good wine. In cooler regions, acid is not an issue (sugar is). It is in the warmer regions, where acids are diminished. The warmer weather means higher sugar levels (more alcohol) and less acid. A wine low in acid may be unbalanced, so acidification might be done. The challenge is that by adding acid, the ph is lowered, and it is difficult to calculate how much acid to add to retain the desired final ph level. As mentioned above, it is perfectly legal (at least in the United States) to add acid to wine.  There are three types of acid in powder form. Tartaric acid is the primary acid in grapes. Citric acid is the main acid that comes from oranges and lemons, and Malic acid is the leading acid in apples and pears. Winemakers use an acid blend that’s a combination of these three acids, normally blended in equal portions. But if everyone (or some) are using it, then this one particular winery is doing something different, or it's not the acid at could be one of the many additives that are allowed to be used in California. The puzzle of the burning palate continues....


  1. This is such wonderful (and useful) info about wine.
    I think I will give a cross reference here whenever I write anything about wine.

  2. Just opened a bottle of Red Blend table wine...the burn, oh the burn....I am not sure which of the above reasons caused it, but it was kind of scary. I have never had that reaction before, but this was a different Red Blend than i normally buy...ouch! Back to my "normal" bottle!!

    1. I hear you! I have run into the same situation (with one winery in particular). Because it is a warmer region, they must be adding acid to their wine. The big question is what type of acid? If not one of the major three, I wonder what type they are using that burns my mouth every time I have their wines. They won't tell me.