High pH and Low TA in a Chardonnay
I have a batch of 2006 Chardonnay that has completed primary and secondary fermentation. It tasted flabby so I had it tested for pH and TA. The TA was low at 0.444 g/100mL and the pH was high at 3.66. I bench tested two 100 mL samples. The first sample I tested with 1 gram of tartaric acid and the second with 2 grams thinking that I needed to reduce the pH to 3.4 to be safe. Both of the samples were too tart for my taste and others that sampled. For wine stability should I add the 2g/100mL and then wait (how long?) to see if the tartness will dissipate, and if it doesn’t, reduce the acid with potassium carbonate?
Gary M. Smith
Santa Rosa, California
Bravo for you for doing bench trials! If you’ve read my columns over the years you know that doing bench trials, that is, testing a wine treatment on a small scale (“on the lab bench”) before performing it on your entire lot, is one of my most oft-repeated mantras. You also followed another of my key winemaking axioms — always let your taste buds be your guide.
Yet another nugget of winemaking wisdom I often pass on to readers is to go slowly, do things in stages, and be conservative when making additions to wines that will dramatically change them. Adding acid, as it seems like you’ve found, is one of those things that will change many aspects of a wine, including the taste balance, perceived tartness, color, pH and microbial stability.
Speaking of which, I’m glad that you’re aware that a high pH wine is more susceptible to microbial spoilage and that, especially for white wines, a good amount of acid can help a wine age gracefully. Just a little bit can go a long way, however. I would counsel you to try a much smaller dose, like a reduction on the order of ten, and try adding 0.2 g/100 mL to your bench trial and see if you like the taste. I would wager that just that little bit, which would raise your TA to 0.644 g/100 mL, might lower your pH down somewhere in the realm of 3.50–3.55, which is fine for long term aging of a rounded-style, ML-complete Chardonnay as long as you keep your free SO2 levels around 30 ppm. If you like a little bit more of a zingy style, try 0.3 g/100 mL or 0.4 g/100 mL, but always taste afterwards.
I wouldn’t worry about the acid dissipating much. Since your malolactic fermentation is complete, the acid levels will be pretty stable. The only way you’re going to lose acid now is if you have some solid tartrate crystals fall out of solution, which will probably just move the TA by 0.02-0.05 g/100 mL, if that. That would happen under colder temperatures, such as during cold stablization. I’ve never seen huge TA or pH shifts due to tartrate fall-out during aging. That’s the beauty and the risk of adding tartaric after MLF is complete — once you add it, it’ll stick around — which is why you’ve got to be careful not to add too much and be stuck with a terribly tart wine forever.
I have a few batches of wine under my belt. I have been plagued with either cheap, flat bottom bottles or stuck collecting and cleaning out empties. Where do wineries buy high quality bottles from and is it possible to get my hands on a few cases?
Gleneden Beach, Oregon
I can understand your frustration with your current bottle supply. It’s tough for small-scale producers to get the same quality, variety and colors of glass that the professionals do. Some home winemaking supply stores around the country only carry one (or maybe two) types of bottles and unfortunately, the flat-bottomed version is most often what we get.
There is help out there, however! I would encourage you to do a little searching online and in your area first as many homebrewing and winemaking stores (especially many Web-based retailers) are becoming more sensitive for the search for the perfect bottle. Many suppliers offer a wide variety of bottles in different shapes, sizes and colors with the appropriate closures to match and can ship them anywhere around the country.
Do be prepared to pay a little extra for a special color or shape, though, and don’t expect to get the volume discounts the pros can get from their suppliers. Many bottles (cork finish, with a medium punt) from small-scale online sources, as well as home winemaking supply stores, will run at least $1.00 each with specialty glass reaching upwards of $2.50 a piece, even if you buy by the case.
For most micro-producers, sourcing glass from a glass company that serves the commercial wine industry is a bit problematic. Most of the suppliers I talked to try not to deal in amounts less than 1⁄2 a pallet of glass (about 30 cases). Since small orders might, understandably, be seen as a source of annoyance (small profit return for the time invested on their part), why not go to a supplier sized just for the home winemaker?
Your favorite home winemaking supply retailer is a great place to start your hunt for a variety of bottles.
UC-Davis graduate and professional winemaker Alison Crowe has been answering hundreds of your winemaking questions as the “Wine Wizard” since 1998. Her Wizard columns have been collected in “The Winemaker’s Answer Book” which is available at winemakermagstore.com. Do you have a question for her? Send your inquiries to: email@example.com. Unfortunately, Alison cannot respond personally.