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Wine Tip #5: Don't use Acid Blend in Grape Based Wines!

Updated: Jul 4, 2020

What is acid blend? Acid blend contains a mixture of Tartaric, Malic, and Citric acid. The ratios of the acids can vary wildly between acid blend manufactures with some in the 40-40-20 Tartaric-Malic-Citric range, while others are in the 10-50-40 (LD Carlson). In a grape, around 50-60% of the acid is tartaric, 30-40% is malic, and less than 10% is citric. Rather than add acid blend, normally you would make grape wine adjustments with Tartaric acid. On a very rare occasion you can add malic acid or citric acid to achieve certain goals that we will cover in this article.

What acid to use in wine

Tartaric Acid

Tartaric acid plays nice with a fermentation and does create any off flavors or smells. Generally, this is the acid that you will want to add when making adjustments to the must. If potassium is present, some tartaric acid will become insoluble and fall out as potassium bitartrate (Cream of Tartar). This is not a bad thing, but requires you to add a bit more than you think in certain musts. I generally like to adjust my pH down to 3.6 or lower before fermentation with a red wine (3.0-3.2 with a white wine). If potassium bitartate falls out above pH 3.6, the pH will rise dramatically. If it falls out at 3.6, very little change should occur. Below 3.6, the pH will drop slightly. I can't fully wrap my head around the chemistry of this, but I have seen it in practice many times. Clark Smith mentions this in his book Postmodern Winemaking, and that guy knows his stuff...


Malic Acid

This acid is responsible for the crisp, apple like character of a white wine, and is the dominant acid in an apple. In a red wine or a chardonnay, it is most common to allow the wine to complete malolactic fermentation. In malolactic fermentation, bacteria convert the harsher malic acid to a silkier lactic acid. This process creates Diacetyl, which is responsible for the buttery smell that a wine can have. A little malic acid is a good thing in most wine musts, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Too much malic acid can make a white wine taste a little too sour. In a wine that will undergo malolactic fermentation, too much malic can lead to too much diacetyl which can put off a little bit of an old milk vibe. I generally will not add any malic acid to a red wine but will consider it in a white wine (though very rarely).


Citric Acid

This acid is strong and very effective at adjusting a pH, but also can easily ruin a wine. Citric acid can create excess diacetyl and acetic acid (vinegar) when metabolized by malolactic bacteria. Citric acid also has a distinct citrus taste which is generally not welcome in a red wine. The little bit of citric acid that is present in a grape generally will not cause issue with your wine, but if added in high doses to adjust the pH, trouble can occur. In a white wine that will not undergo malolactic fermentation, some citric acid can be used to enhance the citrus character, but use it cautiously.


All of these acids are readily available from internet retailers, or at your local wine shop. I use tartaric acid about 10 to 1 over malic acid, and always keep some on hand before the wine harvest. I very rarely use malic acid and almost never use citric acid, though I do keep some on hand for the rare instance that I want to liven up a white wine. In fruit wine making (non-grape), the dominant acid of the fruit is generally the first acid to reach for. In some instances an "Acid Blend" can be used, but I would rather add my own blend for each specific fruit. Be careful when adding too much of any one acid to a fruit wine, as it can sometimes dominate the flavor. Also, take steps to prevent malolactic fermentation in fruit wines, like a 50-75ppm SO2 addition after primary fermentation and otherwise managing SO2 like a boss.


If you have more tips on acid additions and wine, please mention in the comments below. Also, swing by our YouTube Channel if you haven't done so yet!


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3 Comments


THANK YOU for the help! Here's what I have done....


I discovered first of all that my initial acid reading was off by a good amount. Even though I'd calibrated the meter just a few days before, when I checked last night it was off by about .15 or so. So I recalibrated and re-measured the pH, which turned out to be 4.08. I put about 55 grams of tartaric acid into the wine (6 gallons) after carefully re-racking (put some argon in using the spray can you can). The resulting reading was then 3.58, just at the low end of the target range. I didn't really intend to overshoot your recommended range, but that was the result; hope it…


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@jvamos I would definitely add tartaric acid to about 3.9 or 3.8. Even at those levels it is relatively vulnerable, so you will need a healthy dose of SO2. You will want to bottle this one probably a little younger, since high pH wines are best drank young. If you can let the wine warm up to about 70 or so for at least a month, it should let everything finish up pretty good before getting to the bottle. Even with the extra acid and a little SO2. You are probably going to want at least 50ppm of SO2 before bottling though and I would add a good bit of powdered tannin to grab up some oxygen and add stru…

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I find your site and YouTube channel most helpful! I asked a similar question to one of those below in the comments of your video about acid additives - but have an additional one - so I'll ask both here....


Question 1: I have a Petit Sirah that I began in October. I began with fresh grapes crushed at my supplier. I didn't have an acid meter for pH but did a TA test before fermentation; it was .5%. I added 8 tsp of tartaric acid before fermentation. After fermentation and pressing, I re-racked and added malolactic culture; that was about 2 1/2 months ago. The malo didn't start in my cool basement, so I moved it upstairs shortly after…


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