Tag Archives: acid

Wine and food matching

Matching wine and food is not an exact science, and everyone’s taste is different. It is a value judgement. But there are some basic guidelines which help to avoid unpleasant clashes.

artichokes

artichokes – a challenge to match with wine

Acidity
The more acidic a wine, the easier it is to match with foods. Think of how a dash of lemon juice enhances some dishes.

  • Acidic wines deal very well with salty foods such as oysters, or oily fish like mackerel.
  • The wine should be more acidic than the food. In fact food can temper a wine which would otherwise be too acidic for most.

Alcohol
Alcohol in wine affects the texture in the mouth, and if it is too high causes a bitterness and burning at the back of the throat.

  • Match the weight of the wine with that of the dish. Most foods are fairly light-weight, so it is easier to match lower alcohol, more elegant wines.
  • Avoid drinking high alcohol wines with chilli or very salty dishes – it just reinforces the burning.

Tannin
Tannins come mainly from the skin and pips in grapes, so are most often found in red wines. They react with the saliva in your mouth to cause a puckering sensation. Tannin levels decrease as a wine ages, so young wines are more tannic than older ones.

  • Tannic wines clash badly with many fish dishes, leaving a metallic taste in the mouth.
  • Tannic wines go very well with fat and protein – grilled steak for example.

Oaked wines
Both red and white wines can be oaked, but it is much more common in reds. Oak treatment is expensive, so it is done with better wines. The resulting wine has more body and tannin than lighter-styled wines.

  • Avoid delicate dishes, as the wine will overwhelm it.
  • Pick dishes with rich sauces, or where the food has been grilled rather than poached.

Sweet wines
Are those with residual sugar. Note that they should also have a balancing acidity, or else they are just cloying and will hardly match any food at all.

  • The sweet wine should be sweeter than the pudding you are eating.
  • Semi-sweet wines go well with spicy hot food.

Conclusion
There is no point drinking a wine which you don’t like, just because someone on TV has declared it a perfect match with the food you are eating. In the end, you should drink what you enjoy, but perhaps use the above guidelines to avoid the worst clashes. If a wine really does clash, you can always finish it off after you’ve finished the food.

Climate change and wine

There are plenty of climate change sceptics, but it is a fact that alcohol levels in wine are increasing, and some grape varieties ripen, where they wouldn’t have 20 years ago.

Why is alcohol level an indication of higher temperatures?
Higher temperatures produce riper grapes, which have more sugar. During fermentation, the sugar turns to alcohol, so more sugar leads to more alcohol. There is an associated decrease in acidity.

Some grapes need more heat to ripen

Some grapes need more heat to ripen

Different grape varieties prefer different temperatures
The diagram shows that some grape varieties need longer heat exposure to ripen than others.

  • If the temperature is higher than ideal, the grapes will ripen, but the wine will lack freshness and acidity.
  • If the temperature is lower than ideal, then the grapes won’t ripen properly, and the wine will be tart and acidic.
  • If the temperature is much higher than ideal, then the vine simply shuts down, and nothing happens.

Which countries are most affected?
Those at the current extremes of temperature for growing vines:-

  • Much of Australia and Spain, for example, have vineyards in regions with high temperatures. They will have to adapt to survive.
  • Countries further from the Equator with more marginal climates, such as England, will now be able to grow a much wider range of grape varieties.

What can the adversely affected regions do about it?

  • Plant different grape varieties, which are more tolerant of the hot weather.
  • Train the vine branches so that leaves physically shade the grapes.
  • Allow plants to grow between the vines, as this lowers the soil temperature, and there is less reflected heat from any stones.
  • Plant new vineyards at higher altitude.

Why does a wine need acidity?

A wine which doesn’t have enough acidity is flabby and boring.

What is acid?
It is one of the five primary tastes – sweet, sour (acid), bitter, salt and umami (savoury). An example of an acid is citric acid in lemons. These tastes are detected by tastebuds, which are located mainly on the tongue, but also in other parts of the mouth.

acid and sugar in grape berries

How acid and sugar levels vary as a grape grows

How acid levels change as a grape berry grows
The diagram above shows that acid levels increase as a grape berry grows, but only to a point. Véraison is the moment when a grape berry changes, and starts to ripen; it softens, changes colour, sugar levels rise, and acid levels fall. Unripe grapes are hard and acidic, with little sugar. Over-ripe grapes are sweet and bland.

Which acids are present in wine?
Tartaric is the main acid, and its level stays fairly steady during ripening. Malic acid is the other significant acid, and this decreases after véraison.

Examples of two contrasting types of wine:-

  • Champagne – the grapes are picked with high acidity, and quite low sugar levels. In most wine regions the grapes would be considered under-ripe. At the end of production, sugar is usually added to take the edge off the acidity.
  • High alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon – these come from hot climates, where the grapes are picked very ripe, with high sugar levels and relatively low acidity. This sugar produces a wine with plenty of alcohol, and acid may be added to make the wine more palatable.

How can you tell how much acid is in a wine?
Unfortunately, very few wine labels provide this information, but the winemaker’s website often does. Acidity is usually stated as pH. I won’t bore you with a chemist’s definition, but pH is a scale in which water is neutral at level 7. The lower the number, the more acidic a liquid is, and wine is usually 3 to 3.5.

A balancing act
Acidity is particularly important in sweet wines, to ensure they are not bland. Sugar masks the acidity, so it may not be obvious, but all good sweet wines have it.