Too much acid, but I don’t dare neutralize it
I pressed the cherry wine four weeks ago, and looked in on it yesterday. It’s had time to settle, and the clear wine has a lovely dark color. It tastes tart, though, and when I measured the total acidity (TA) I could see why. It was 11 grams/Liter, as tartaric, and in a dry red wine it ought to be more like 6 or 7 g/L. Usually TA and pH move in opposite directions; if your TA is high, all that acid pushes the pH low. This time, however, the pH was 3.76, which is higher than the 3.2 to 3.6 optimal range for red wine. The problem with a high pH is that it makes a wine vulnerable to microbes, and it may not age as well. You can remedy a high pH by adding acid. If the TA is too high, you can neutralize some of the acid, as I did recently with my oregano wine. But how do you deal with too much acidity and a high pH?
So I’ll bring the wine into balance by sweetening it
The high TA affects the taste, so the way out of this dilemma is to improve the taste without affecting the acidity. That way, I can fix the acidity problem without making the pH problem worse. We know that acids can make a wine taste tart, but there are other influences on a wine’s taste. Tannins provide bitterness, while sugar and alcohol provide sweetness. A wine tastes best when none of these influences overpower the others. Such a wine is said to be in balance. You can actually think of it as an old fashioned balance scale, with tannin (bitterness) and acid (sourness) on one side. Sugar and alcohol, both providing sweetness, would be on the other. My cherry wine is out of balance, with too much acidity. Since I don’t want to make a fortified wine, my best bet for bringing the wine back into balance is to add sugar. To do this, I need to wait until the yeast is dormant. Then I can stabilize the wine with sorbate, which prevents the yeast from fermenting the added sugar, and sweeten.
But I have to wait until the yeast goes dormant
To determine if the yeast is dormant, I looked at the specific gravity. It was 1.007, which indicates some residual sugar. Either the fermentation had stuck or the yeast is still (slowly) fermenting. I can’t say for certain, so I’ll rack the wine now, which will get it off the sediment, and recheck in a few months. If the SG hasn’t changed, then I’ll know the yeast is inactive. If, on the other hand, the yeast was still going, it will likely finish at a lower SG in those months. Either way, I anticipate stabilizing and sweetening then. Waiting a few months will also let me repeat the TA and pH measurements. A high pH and a high TA is out of the ordinary, so I’d like to double check. Right now, I’ve got some racking to do.
Update 2/23/2009: More options for high pH – high TA wines
I’ve run into the same problem again, and I’ve given it some more thought. Sweetening to bring the wine into balance solves half of the problem, without making the other half worse, and that’s an improvement. I may have found a way to solve both halves of the problem by using phosphoric acid. I talk about that in a new post about solving acidity problems.
Update 5/25/2009: A happy ending
It’s in the bottle and worth the effort – an enjoyable red wine and I would recommend it to anyone interested in this approach.
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