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Making Acidity Adjustments Post-Fermentation


Patricia Bohannon — Blue Ridge, Virginia asks,

I have harvested Petit Verdot grapes and crushed/destemed them. Before pitching the yeast the pH was between 3.6 and 3.7. The titratable acidity (TA) was not tested then. Once the fermentation is done, can I test the TA and if low, can I adjust it with tartaric acid? I do know that by adding tartaric acid it can decrease the pH or run the risk of making it increase. I have a feeling that it is going to be low, like 0.40. I don’t know the best range for the pH and TA for Petit Verdot. The fermentation has been active and no issues with a temperature of about 72 °F (22 °C). Do you have any suggestions? This is my first time making this variety. I used Red star Pasteur red yeast. The Brix was 20 and I added sugar to bring it up to 22.5.


You certainly can adjust acidity after fermentation is complete, but many winemakers feel that the acid is better-integrated, as well as less-detectable, the earlier it is added. That being said, by all means measure the total acidity after fermentation (and after malolactic fermentation) and feel free to adjust as you’d like. Indeed, adding tartaric acid will shift the pH down (more acidic). Looking at your wine’s numbers above, I’m guessing that post-malolactic fermentation you ended up with a pH in the range of 3.75–3.85, depending on the amount of malic acid in the grapes. Your grapes don’t strike me as being particularly ripe, so be sure you do bench trials on your finished wine in order to check that you’re not over-adding. The great thing about home winemaking is that sometimes the best thing to do (adjust based on taste) is the easiest as well. Too much added tartaric acid can make your wine taste harsh, sharp, and tart. Acid also has the tendency to emphasize tannins; if your wine was green or unripe tasting in any way be careful not to add too much.

If you have access to a pH meter you can do step-wise bench trials to see how a specific measured tartaric acid addition affects your wine. My gut feel is that you may like a 0.25-0.30 g/L addition of tartaric acid but be sure to add in increments to make sure you like the results. Just be sure you use tartaric acid. Malic acid, of course, will just get consumed by malolactic bacteria and will disappear, whereas citric acid can actually be used as a food source by some wine organisms so its use as an acidifier is always risky.

Response by Alison Crowe.