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Dear Dr. Vinny,

How do you acidify a wine? What is the process?

—John S., United States

Dear John,

Adjusting the acidity level in wine is a little controversial in some circles, and it’s even illegal in some regions. It’s often thought of as correcting grapes that were picked when really ripe—those higher sugars will lead to higher alcohols and lower acidities. Acidifying is a way for a winemaker to make wines that will be more balanced.

Adding acid won’t necessarily change the flavor of a wine, but it might affect the texture, and will probably amplify the fruit flavors of a wine. Some think of it as cheating—other winemakers like that they have the freedom to harvest when they want and worry about adjusting acidities later.

Before acidifying, a winemaker can run a test to identify the level of pH and acidity. Tartaric or malic acid can be added either before primary fermentation or afterwards. Both of these acids occur naturally in winemaking, but when they’re added, they’re in powder form, which makes them easier to measure and control. And winemakers don’t only adjust acidity by adding it—sometimes winemakers will lower the acidity through cold stabilization, or by adding potassium bicarbonate or potassium bitartrate.

—Dr. Vinny

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