Acidity & Sweetness
Do you like a refreshing white wine with zing, or a sweeter, fruitier white wine? Somewhere in between? It has to do with the acid and sweetness in the wine. Acid is present in all wine because grapes contain natural acids: malic, citric, and tartaric. Higher acidity is common in wines from grapes grown in cooler regions, which deliver crisp and vibrant white varietals. Lower acidity is common in wine from grapes grown in warmer regions, which deliver softer, smoother varietals. Acidity lessens as the fruit ripens. During fermentation, however, the winemaker decides how much of the grape’s natural sugars will be converted to alcohol. A dry white wine has little to no sweetness remaining, allowing the acidity to shine through, while a semi-sweet or sweet wine has maintained more of the sugar and results in a smoother wine.
In her book, “Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing, and Sharing Wine” (HarperCollins), Leslie Sbrocco says, “Sweetness is a taste that most everyone appreciates. Most people start to perceive a wine as having sweetness at anywhere from one to two percent sugar. This doesn’t refer to sugar added to the wine as many people think, but to the amount of residual sugar left in the finished wine at the end of alcoholic fermentation.” Her code? Dry = tastes dry. Medium dry = a touch of pleasing sweetness. Sweet = very sweet.
What makes a Chardonnay buttery?
Once the grape juice is transformed into wine through alcoholic fermentation, some wines go through a secondary malolactic fermentation. This changes the tangy magic acid in the wine—think green apples—to softer lactic acid; think dairy products. Buttery in a Chardonnay refers to this effect.