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Wine Review - Acidity at its best

2013 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough

In this wine review we explore acidity, the naturally occurring taste that results from the presence of small quantities of tartaric, malic, succinic and other acids in grapes.  Additional acids can be found in wine as the result of vinification practices – malolactic fermentation for example converts malic acid to lactic acid, and occasionally a winemaker may add citrus acid to increase the total acidity of a wine, although this practice is considered unsuitable for quality wines.  Acids are valuable in the production and aging of wine, and perhaps most importantly in bringing the flavor aromas alive.  Despite the negative image conjured up by acidic foods, the right amount of acids in wine is considered a positive and desirable attribute.

Acidity in wine is measured in two ways; one is pH, the other total acidity, or TA.  TA is measured in either grams/liter or occasionally g/100ml.  The range for total acidity of a wine is from 0.4 to 1.0 g/liter. Wine at the upper reaches however, would be considered too tart to drink, and wine at the lower end lacks any liveliness and would be considered flat.  Red wines typically range from values between 5.8 – 6.5 g/liter and white wines range from 6.0 – 7.5 g/liter.

Total acidity measures the volume of acids without regard to the relative strength of the acid.  As a result a second measure, pH, is used.  pH uses a formula that effectively weights the contribution of each acid.  The pH scale runs from 1.0 (very acidic) to 14.0 (alkaline) and most wines measure between 2.9 and 3.8.  It is important to remember however that pH is a logarithmic scale, meaning that in increase of acidity from 3.9 to 2.9 actually represents a tenfold increase in acidity levels.  In general white wines have higher acidity levels than red wine, with correspondingly higher TA values and lower pH.

The taste of acidity

As a practical matter however, you will rarely, if ever, see TA or pH values listed on a wine label.  Instead, wines high in acidity are usually described as fresh, bright, crisp, clean, lively or other similar adjectives.  These are code words that should alert you to the presence of higher levels of acids.  As with so many aspects of wine tasting however, acidity is not always recognizable by itself as it is only one instrument in the orchestra.  Wines high in acid and also high in residual sugar (Riesling) will not often taste overly acidic (more on this in a later article).  Acidity adds brightness and liveliness to a wine, and is detected by the tingling sensation on the front and sides of your tongue and production of saliva.  The sensations are much like drinking a glass of orange juice or biting into a lemon.

2012 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc

We selected the 2012 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough Region of New Zealand as a good example of the presence of relatively high acid levels making it easier to identify in a tasting.   The winemaker describes the wine as “zesty and aromatic with lots of lively, penetrating fruit characters” and “always crisp, elegant and refreshing”.  Acidity levels, (assuming adequate levels in the fruit) are largely controlled by the winemaker, and based on their experience and desired outcome for the finished wine.

Open the Oyster Bay (note the screw cap required by New Zealand law), and pour yourself a small, 2-3 ounce pour.  Make sure you begin your tasting with a clean palate so as to avoid trouncing on the subtle aromas often offered up by Sauvignon Blanc.  Be sure to be on the lookout for the sensations on your first sip, or the attack as it's called.  Acidity is most prevalent at this point in the tasting process.

In our tasting we were immediately greeted with the lively acidity, albeit slightly less than we had anticipated.  The aromas detected included grapefruit, lime, and a slight herbal or grassiness.  The wine is definitely light bodied, easy drinking and would pair well with seafood and most any light white meat dish.  My personal preference for Sauvignon Blanc is on the deck on a summer day, with a bowl of fresh fruit.  But as always, remember the tastes and aromas observed are largely personal, so enjoy the wine, record your results and repeat as necessary!

With time and more tastings, the presence of acidity in wine will become easy to recognize. Remember, the right amount of acidity in a wine is essential to bring the fruit aromas alive and give the wine a certain “pop” on the palate.


Technical Information (Note: this is for the 2013 Vintage)

Grape Variety

100% Sauvignon Blanc

Total Acidity

8.0 g/liter


Stainless steel fermentation and bottled young.

Residual Sugar

4 g/liter





More detailed information can be found here.

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