A recent comment regarding the acidity in Grenache got me thinking - how do red wine grapes stack up comparatively with regards to acidity? I know there are a ton of variables…growing conditions, vineyard practices, vintage etc etc, but all things equal how would the major grapes look in a ranking of high acid to low acid? I know many will discount this exercise as ultimately individual wines don’t necessarily follow the exact profile of the grape…but humor me. Could lead to some good discussion.
Daniel - as you know, it’s not that easy at all. Part of what you’re ranking is the relative acidity vis a vis other things in the grape itself, as much as you’re ranking one grape to another. Grenache tends to have low levels of malic acid but that doesn’t mean it’s always low in “acidity”. Tempranillo grown in lower, warmer regions can be lower in relative acidity to something else, so producers might add some Graciano, which isn’t on your list, but in regions like you might have in Ribera del Duero, it’s not the same story.
When you’re talking about Malbec, do you mean grown in Mendoza, Patagonia, Cahors? It’s generally considered to have pretty high natural acidity, so how do you place it against Syrah, which can have similar levels? The grapes are vastly different when grown in a dry sunny climate at 2400 feet and when grown in a cloudy and cooler climate at 200 feet.
The pH of Merlot at harvest can be the same as Syrah, depending on your preferences as a winemaker, but the malic acid levels are different so the juice feels different in your mouth.
Grapes like Carignan were planted all over the Mediterranean and California years ago because of their yield and those are the grapes that the French are grubbing up. Why? Because they’re known for low-acid flabby wines.
But that’s only when really ripe. When picked too early, the wines are lean and hard. So do you rank the typical Carignan wine on your list or do you rank Carignan based on Priorat, which is completely different because there the grapes can get ripe while retaining the acidity? That Carignan is a miniscule amount compared to what’s produced in the world. From Ridge over the years, at Buchignani, it’s been roughly pH 3.4-5, Cline has put out some with pH of3.68 and from elsewhere in the world it’s higher or lower.