Acidification of Pinot Noir

I recently tasted some just released 2018 pinot noirs from one CA producer, and whereas usually the wines are fairly lush and fruit forward (but not overtly alcoholic, and usually, as with these wines, the alcohols were general in the 13.5-13.9 range), these wines tasted quite acidic to me. Generally, being a Burgundy lover, complaining about too much acidity in domestic PN is unlike me. I look for balancing acidity in my domestic PN.

Since I thought that 2018 was a fairly warm vintage, I was surprised that I was getting such prominent acidity, particularly at the outset on the palate, and then the fruit was more muted than usual through the mid-palate and finish. They had been shipped the day before.

It made me wonder whether the wines had been acidulated, vs. simply picked early, vs disjointed from travel (which I did not think would result in prominent acids). I am under the impression that acidifying a wine had some potential drawbacks, including the acidity being somewhat disjointed and not integrating well.
Is that true?
And is there a way to tell if a wine has been acidulated, a characteristic of the acidity to look for depending on the type of acid added, etc.?

I’m sure that there will be more astute people responding, but if I get a kind of SweetTart quality, like candy, I often think it’s acidity. And if you’re a Burgundy lover, you’ve probably had a few since they both acidify and chaptalize, albeit on two different products - must and wine.

I think the most common acid would be tartaric acid, but I’ll defer to people who know more.

However, sometimes after the wine sits a while and the primary fruit starts to fade, the added acid can show more than it did initially. So it’s kind of tricky to get it right. But if the acid seems out of whack for the fruit, it’s at least a conversation starter.

I was told by a prominent California Pinot producer that people like to look to for more traditional wines that ‘everyone acidifies’. It’s not something everyone is going to want to talk about of course. In France I’m sure you’d be hard pressed to get many to ever admit it.

Like most things it’s probably about balance and knowing your fruit. Like Greg I tend to notice a sort of tart character you get in sorts of sweet-tart candies that I assume is tartaric additions that are sticking out. I got that more often years ago when people were feeling their way in terms of wine making more often.

Funny about that sweet-tart note, Greg and Chris. I’ve always thought the exact same thing.

i’ve found that added acid has a sort of “prickly” quality, and hits the sides of your tongue. When I get this in a wine that is otherwise quite ripe, I generally bet that acid has been added.

france doesn’t need to acidify cause they can pick early at high acid and add sugar (the pycm model). Can’t do that in the US.

What are the restrictions?
I thought I remembered that in France or at least Burgundy, you can not both acidify and chapitalize. Not sure if that is accurate, and what if any restrictions there are in the U.S.

If a winemaker acidified in 2018 he (she) should consider another career. 2018 was pretty much a perfect growing season. If a winemaker acidified it was likely a planned action well before harvest.


About sweet tarts- I looked it up, and the acidity in Sweet Tarts is malic. Malic acid is used to acidify wine, but not wine that undergoes malo-latic, or else it would be converted. I sometimes get a citrus impression in an otherwise ripe wine, and citric aid is sometimes used.

This has come up before in a discussion on this board, and a winemaker pointed out that only cheaper wines are commonly given this relatively cheap treatment, because it doesn’t take much to stand out. It was also pointed out that the earlier in the winemaking process the addition is made, the less it stands out in the finished product. The most common addition is tartaric acid, just as tartaric acid is the predominant acid in grapes.

Oh, right. Of course. Everyone knows that! wink wink

There are producers that do not add any acid to Pinot Noir. There are producers that add acid to all of their Pinot Noirs. There are producers that add acid to some of their Pinots in large amounts, some in moderate or low amounts, and some not at all.

As Cris said, everyone acidifies. Ok, actually not everyone acidifies, but most Californian producers do acidify at least some of their wines. It can be very hard to tell whether or not a wine has been acidified from simply tasting it. The point that John makes about the combination of very ripe flavors with high acidity can be a sign of acidification, but almost everyone who makes very ripe Pinot adds acid, so that tastes “normal” to most people.

Some producers list ingredients on their label. Take Ridge, for example. Not Pinot, of course, but they do acidify some of their zins and don’t acidify others. I would be impressed if anyone could reliably tell those wines that had acid adds from those that don’t in a blind tasting.

Part of this is that the acid used to acidify wine is the primary acid that contributes to perceived acidity: tartaric acid. Since basically all Pinots go through malolactic fermentation, tartaric acid is really pulling most of the weight when it comes to the acid profile. I know that citric acid is technically a legal acidifier, but I’ve never come across an example of anything other than tartaric acid being used to up a wine’s acidity.

I’ve had Californian Pinots that have tasted quite ripe and soft and have clearly not been acidified. Foursight from Anderson Valley, I’m pretty sure, is an example of this.

As I recall you cannot chaptalize and add acid to the same wine in France. But a court decision said you could acidify the must, since the liquid was just grape juice at that point.

You beat me to it.

This citrus cut is a telltale characteristic I can find quite easily in some very commercial Australian wines. There seems to be a lack of connect between the ripe, plush fruit and zippy acidity in some Aussie Shiraz and Cab wines and the acidity tends to have a slightly citrussy quality to it. Definitely acidified wine. These kinds of wines you’ll never see coming from Europe, since the use of citric acid is banned in the EU.

And like mentioned above, a wine that doesn’t go through MLF can be acidified with malic acid. Probably one can also acidify must with malic acid and let it go through MLF, but that isn’t as effective. Adding malic acid to a red wine that has gone through MLF doesn’t really work, since malic acid has such an incisive, steely quality to it that it’d most likely feel rather unintegrated. And unless the wine is sterile filtered or heavily sulfited, there would be a risk of MLF starting in bottle. In such instances it would make more sense to add lactic acid.

Probably the most reliable acid that can be added is tartaric acid, since you have that stuff in the grapes already and also in the finished wine. However, it really depends on the wine how much one can add it - in a solution where the saturation of tartaric acid is high, the added tartaric acid will only drop out of solution as tartrates when the wine cools down.

Everybody adds acid… even in a “perfect year”. Every year you will need to.adjust your acidity for some lots. Even in 2011 we were adding acid… not as much, but we still added. In fact, a perfect harvest is one where I know I’m going to be needing a bit of acid. No heat spikes, long & slow maturation… yeah your acids are going to be low by the time you pick… unless you have a handlebar mustache.

The trick in acidulation is to not make the wine taste “baggy”, which is where it becomes obvious there was an add done. In reds you see that with TA’s pushing 7 g/L. They just taste a little awkward and well… sweet tart-ish.

Uh… you add acid every year, even in a perfect vintage… means that everybody adds acid? Are you entirely sure about this?

We have not added acid in 10 years. Added acid does not integrate and leaves the wine leaner and meaner with an artificial sharp (sweet tart) quality. Different strokes but we don’t like it, its better to try to balance the wine in the vineyard if possible.
FWIW, many in Burgundy (including DRC in some vintages) have added acid.

Beware the term “everybody.”
I worked in a Pinot/chard custom crush with 27 other wine makers - some did, some didn’t.
Best, jim

Beware the term “everybody.”
I worked in a Pinot/chard custom crush with 27 other wine makers - some did, some didn’t.
Best, jim

[rofl.gif] [rofl.gif]

I talked to a number of people in 2011 that brought in pinot with good TAs (acidity) only to find that malic was a large portion of the TA, and tartaric was a small portion…so ML made the acid mostly disappear. Apparently, acidifying the must (preferred) or the wine prior to ML, was a challenge due to concerns about ML never completing (and, to a lesser extent, problems with fermentation). This was an issue with coastal vineyards mostly.

Poor weather, unusually hot or unusually cool and/or sunless, during the period when acids are being produced can cause the grapes to go on strike and not produce acids, esp tartaric, on those days…and grapes keep a strict schedule, so overtime/make up days aren’t an option. With climate change and increasingly variable weather, we’re likely to see more of this unfortunately.