What is volatile acidity, or volatile acidity? | Nice Wine – Aardig Wijntje

Misconceptions in wine world #2: Volatile acidity

Earlier we wrote that common mistakes in wine are often directly associated with natural wine, which often happens, for example, buh brett & mouse. But as mentioned, there are actually few good reasons why a natural wine is more likely to be associated with faults than a conventional wine. Wine can have faults for a variety of reasons, such as using unripe or overripe fruit, working with moldy grapes or taking too few hygiene measures in the winemaking process.

However, we are aware that there are more risks lurking with natural wine production. This is partly because the vines are somewhat less protected & no manipulative additives take place during the vinification process. One of the "mistakes" (deliberately written in parentheses) that is more common is so-called "volatile acidity. In this article, we'll tell you more about this.

What is volatile acidity?

Volatile acidity, or volatile acidity or "volatile acidity," in wine refers to the presence of acidic components that occur in gaseous form and are perceived as aromas, rather than tasted in liquid form on the palate. The most common gaseous acid in wine is acetic acid, which brings with it the typical smell and taste of vinegar, while ethyl acetate, a secondary compound, smells more like nail polish remover or paint thinner.

Volatile acidity in wine is a term that wine lovers and producers alike treat with attention and care. It is an indication of volatility in wine, a warning sign that its quality has been affected. There are several winemaking methods that can increase the risk of contamination and the growth of acetic acid bacteria:

  • Applying cold maceration;
  • Using natural or indigenous yeasts during fermentation;
  • Slow or stuck fermentations;
  • Aging in wooden barrels;
  • Prolonged exposure to open air in tanks or barrels.

Aromas and taste of volatile acidity.

In our opinion, volatile acidity can be both a threat and an enhancement to wine, depending on quantity and context. Aromas associated with excessive volatile acidity include sharp, vinegary notes and memories of nail polish remover. These odors and flavors occur when too much oxygen is exposed to the wine, often due to vinegar-producing bacteria.

On the other hand, volatile acidity, when present in modest amounts, can contribute to wine's complexity and aromas. This can manifest itself in fruity notes, such as raspberry, passion fruit, or cherry, that give the wine a unique and pleasing dimension.

Volatile acidity and its legal limits

Volatile acidity is an element that is carefully guarded in wine production. The law even sets specific limits for conventional wines to ensure quality: a maximum of 0.98 g/l for red wines and 0.88 g/l for white and rosé wines. Exceeding these limits can lead to unpleasant aromas and flavors, such as the acetone-like notes mentioned earlier.

Excessive volatile acidity in natural wines is often attributed to the absence or low dosage of sulfur, highlighting how precise winemakers must be in their vinification process to find the right balance. But as described earlier, it is not just the absence of sulfur that creates the risk of volatile acidity. Prolonged exposure to open air or aging in wooden barrels can just as easily create volatile acidity.

In short, volatile acidity in wine is an intriguing aspect of wine production and tasting, with the potential to be both a blessing and a curse, depending on how violently it is present and how susceptible your taste buds are to it.