Red Wine From Cherries: Revisiting the acid problem

Making red wine from cherries

I made cherry wine, in June 2006 and 2007, like a red wine from grapes. I crushed the fruit, adjusted the sugar and acid, and pitched the yeast. The sugar and acid profile of cherries is very different from that of grapes, so “adjusting the sugar and acid” is a much bigger step in making cherry wine than it is in making red wine from grapes.

Acid: Fixing one problem will make another worse

I just racked the 2006 cherry wine, and that “bigger step” is proving to be a real headache. The pH is too high, which puts the wine at risk of spoiling, and the titratable acidity (TA) is too high, which leaves the wine tasting tart. I first noticed this problem a few months ago in my 2007 cherry wine, and decided to wait a while before acting. Ok it’s been a while, and I think I’ve just proven the old adage that ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away! Here is an analysis of both wines:

Name Date SG pH TA (g/L)
2006 Cherry Wine 11/21/2007 1.010 3.83 9
2007 Cherry Wine 7/30/2007 1.007 3.76 11
2007 Cherry Wine 11/21/2007 1.006 3.90 7

Both wines finished off dry, and both suffer from high pH and high TA. I don’t have earlier data for the 2006, because I didn’t have a pH meter or an acid test kit when I made it, but the measured pH rose and the TA fell in the 2007 cherry wine. I’ll tackle the 2006 vintage first. The way I see it, I’ve got two options in dealing with these problems.

The simple option: Add acid and balance with sugar

Adding more acid will lower the pH. That will solve the first part of the problem and improve the wine’s stability. Neutralizing some of the existing acid will lower the TA, which will solve the second part of the problem and improve the wine’s flavor. Speaking of flavor, it isn’t very good. I don’t think I can describe it in any useful way, Marsha said it was “icky,” but it didn’t taste tart. I think that gives me some leeway to lower the pH by adding tartaric acid, even though the TA is already high.

The complicated option: Replace one kind of acid with another

The acid in my cherry wine is mostly malic. That’s different from grape wine, where the acid will be mostly tartaric. What if I could replace some of that malic acid with tartaric? That would make it more like a conventional grape wine, and might solve my twin acid problems. This would mean neutralizing some malic acid first, then adding tartaric acid. It turns out that neutralizing malic acid is tricky and it makes this option a lot more complicated than just adding tartaric acid and relying on residual sugar to balance it. My 2007 cherry wine has the same acid problem, so whichever option I choose, I’ve got a lot riding on the outcome.

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