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Acidity works wonders in the world of wine
By John H. Isacs

IN the English language, acid or acidity is not usually term of endearment, but in the world of wine they are beloved and essential. Acidity in wine is an appealing characteristic that enhances the fresh and crisp qualities of the beverage. It also plays a major role in making wines more food friendly.

Common wine descriptors like fresh, tart, zingy, crisp, tart, sour and zesty are all related to the acidity of a wine. Some acids are naturally present in grapes while others are the byproduct of the process of fermentation. Natural acids like tartaric, malic and citric acids impart the most fresh and pure flavors while acids resulting from fermentation including lactic, succinic and acetic acids tend to give milder and more complex flavor sensations. Still with me?

In general, white wines have greater acidity than red wines and when you hear a wine person commenting about the balance in white wines, they are primarily talking about the fruit versus acidity in a wine. Beginners usually like wines with more fruit and lower acidity while experienced drinkers prefer whites with more acidity.

Many ordinary white wines have an abundance of fruit but little acidity and are derogatorily referred to as being flabby or fat. These wine also tend to be poor companions to food. The positive role of acidity in food pairing should hardly come as a surprise to gourmets as practically every great food culture in the world knows the essential role of acidity in making ingredients more fresh, distinctive and digestible. Think of hairy crab with vinegar, fresh lemon sprinkled on grilled fish and lemon grass served with Thai dishes.

Extremely food-friendly whites with an abundance of acidity include Spanish Albarinos, many Sauvingnon Blancs and Rieslings. Better examples of unoaked Chardonnays also have quite good acidity. Recommended wines of these styles include Vionta Albarino, Martin Codex Albarino and Marques de Riscal Sauvignon from Spain, Villa Maria Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and Mud House Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

Balance in red wines is primarily achieved through judicious equilibrium between fruit and tannins, though acidity plays a more important role in lighter red wines. Good examples of fresh red wines with ample acidity include the Italian Chianti, Barbara and Valpolicella wines as well as young Pinot Noir reds from Burgundy, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Recommended examples of these food-friendly red wines that you can easily find here in Shanghai include Ruffino Chianti DOCG and Castello di Querceto Chianti DOCG from Tuscany, Italy, Domaine de Montille Bourgogne Pinot Noir and Domaine Alex Gambal Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Burgundy and Highfield Marlborough Pinot Noir, Tiki Central Otago Estate Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Another nice red in this category is the Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Superiore Le Orme DOC.

Wine vinegars

Along with wine, another product with acidity that's made from grapes is wine vinegar.

Made from either white or red grape varieties, wine vinegars are some of the best in the world.

The best examples are aged in wood and share many other production and taste similarities with their wine counterparts. Let's take a look at two of the best.


Italy's most famous vinegar is Balsamic, or Balsamico, as we refer to it in English. The word derives from the Greek "balsamon" which means restorative or healing. There are various grades of Balsamic vinegar, from commercial to collector, but the best Balsamic vinegars all come from either the Modena or Reggio Emilia consortiums in Italy and are geographically protected by the Italian and EU governments.

These premium, traditionally made Balsamic vinegars are usually made from a reduction of the popular white wine grape Trebbiano and aged for a minimum of 12 years though some may be much older. On the label you should look for the term Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena, in English Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, or Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Reggio Emila, in English Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emila. Both of these prized Balsamic vinegars offer an enchanting experience of sweetness, complexity and of course good acidity. As in wine, it's the acidity that helps the balance of the vinegar and makes it a superb companion to many foods.

Sherry vinegar

If I adore Balsamic vinegar, then I'm absolutely head-over-heels in love with Sherry vinegar. High quality Sherry vinegars are extremely aromatic and much more intense and flavorful than ordinary wine vinegars. Like Sherry wines, this vinegar must be made from one of the three authorized grapes, namely, Palimino, Pedro Ximenez or Muscatel and can only be produced within the Sherry triangle bordered by the city of Jerez de la Frontera and the towns of Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria.

The minimum aging of basic Sherry vinegars in 7 months in American oak but as with the best Balsamic vinegars the best examples are aged for many years. All production is closely monitored by the Consejo Regulador of Jerez-Xeres-Sherry, the official regulatory body.

I've been fortunate to sample Sherries 50 years old and they offer an unmatched level of complexity and intensity and help make perfect sauces for rich foods like goose liver and game. Top Sherry and Balsamic vinegars have a wonderful ability to turn ordinary ingredients into something magically memorable.

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