30 Second Wine Advisor: The acid test
Taking a day or two off
We're off for a short family trip to Florida, so there'll be no Wednesday edition or Thursday FoodLetter this week; we'll return to regular publication on Friday.

Today's Sponsor:
 California Wine Club
Santa's Summer Sale: Final Days, Call Now!
 De Long's Wine Info:
Wear your grape!

In This Issue
 The acid test Crisp, fresh and tangy, "acid" is by no means a negative term when it comes to wine.
 Edmunds St. John 2003 "Rocks and Gravel" California Red Wine ($20.99) One of this month's benchmark wines for Wine Tasting 101 pays homage to the French tradition - and to its own "terroir."
 California Wine Club Santa's Summer Sale: Final Days, Call Now!
 De Long's Wine Info: Wear your grape!
 This week on WineLoversPage.com Judging wines from the Eastern U.S., and examining a world of Chenin Blancs.
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index The Wine Advisor archives.
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The acid test

What's so good about acid? Check the dictionary, and it doesn't look like something that you'd really want to put in your mouth.

Chemically, it's a sour-tasting water-soluble compound that can react with a base (alkali) to form a salt.

Metaphorically, that sour characteristic produces a torrent of acrid analogies that suggest sarcasm, bitterness or scorn: "She spoke in an acid tone."

But show me a wine without acid, and I'll show you a wine that's dull, "flabby" and not much of a match with food.

While too much acidity can make any drink unpleasantly sour, a touch of acid gives wine (and most other beverages) an appetizing, mouth-watering lift that's more appropriately characterized as "crisp," "fresh" or "zippy" than just-plain "sour." Of course balance is important, and that fresh tang must be matched by fruit; but the fact remains that "acid" is by no means a negative term when it comes to wine.

Wine chemists enumerate all sorts of different acids in wine - volatile acidity (acetic acid, i.e., vinegar), and fixed acidity (a variety of acids, primarily tartaric and malic, plus citric, succinic, and lactic acids). The sum of all these is total acidity, ("TA") which wine makers generally express in grams of acid per 100 milliliters of wine, while chemists usually measure it by a logarithmic scale called pH. You don't really need to know chemistry to get the point of today's brief lecture, though: Within reason, high acidity is good.

How much is good is to some extent a matter of individual taste, but as a general rule, natural acidity in grapes is inversely proportional to ripeness, so if you like crisp, tart wines from northerly climates like Germany, the Loire Valley or Chablis, you may be an acid-head; while if you - like many of the big-name critics - prefer softer, fatter wines from warmer New World climates or hotter vintages, your tolerance for acidity may be more limited.

There's no question that too much acidity (above 1.0 g/ml TA, say, or approaching a pH of 3, remembering that the lower the number, the higher the acid) makes a wine unacceptably tart, while too little acidity (below about 0.5 g/ml TA or pH approaching 4) results in a wine that most people would consider too soft and unstructured to enjoy. For this reason, many modern wine makers will artificially acidulate low-acid wines to bring them into balance. Some wine tasters claim to be able to tell the difference between natural acidity and an acidulated wine, but the distinction eludes me.

If you're still in doubt about the benefits of acidity, though, here's a simple test that most people who enjoy iced tea already know: The next time you have a glass of tea, or tomato juice, or a Coke, try squirting a shot of lemon in. If your taste buds are at all like mine, I think you'll find it makes a world of difference in your enjoyment. Good wine already has the acidity built in, and - one hopes - it needs no added lemon to make it right.

Here's a simply formatted copy of today's Wine Advisor, designed to be printed out for your scrapbook or file or downloaded to your PDA or other wireless device.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on today's topic (or any other wine-related subject), you'll find a round-table online discussion in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you're always welcome to join in the conversations about wine.

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at wine@wineloverspage.com. I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

Now, here's a wine that passes my acid test: Crisp and bright, its lemon-squirt acidity sings tenor in perfect harmonay against a bass line presented by fruit and good California earth. It's also one of the benchmark wines in this month's Wine Tasting 101 Forum topic, "Rhone Varieties in the USofA."

Rocks and Gravel Edmunds St. John 2003 "Rocks and Gravel" California Red Wine ($20.99)

Very dark garnet, with a blackish-purple center and clear reddish-violet edge. Spicy red-berry aromas, raspberries and strawberries, carry over in the flavor with ripe and juicy fruit framed with tart, almost tangy acidity followed by perceptible but palatably smooth tannins. Tart berry and lemon-squirt flavors linger in a very long finish. Oak is present but not overdone, and there's a subtle whisper of the soil that's more evocative than earthy. The blend varies somewhat from year to year; the 2003 is 35 percent Grenache, 35 percent Syrah and 30 percent Mourvèdre. (Aug. 12, 2005)

FOOD MATCH: Grilled red meat makes the ideal companion for Rhone and Rhone-style reds, but in an experimental mood, I brought free-range chicken up to meet this hearty wine by braising it with frseh tomatoes, onions and garlic and lots of fresh tarragon, a sweet-tangy-herbal blend that came up nicely to meet the red wine.

VALUE: It's just a bit above everyday status for most people at this $20 point, but it's more than just an everyday wine. Balanced, structured and ageworthy, it competes with American and French reds at half-again its price. Shopping may pay off, too, as the price I paid is a bit above the winery's $18 suggested retail.

WHEN TO DRINK: Rocks and Gravel has a reputation for aging gracefully for five years or more under good cellar conditions, and it should even survive a few years on a room-temperature wine rack.

The 2003 Rocks and Gravel fact sheet is here:
While you're on the Edmunds St. John site, take time to explore. It's rich with content, which includes good information about the winery and its wines. Take the extra time to browse the archives of Steve Edmunds' exceptionally literate newsletter, "Organolepticians;" and don't forget to peek at the "Lonesome on the Ground" section, where he breaks from wine to talk about his love of music.

Compare prices and find vendors for Edmunds St. John wines at Wine-Searcher.com:

California Wine Club
California Wine Club:
Santa's Summer Sale: Final Days, Call Now!

Our friends at The California Wine Club want to remind you that there are just a couple of weeks left in their Santa's Summer Sale.

Santa works hard during the holidays ... You shouldn't have to! The California Wine Club has the way for you to take the hassle out of the holidays and save money doing it during Santa's Summer Sale. Send everyone on your list a monthly armchair tour of California's finest boutique wineries, and when you order by Aug. 31, the Club will roll back prices to 2003! Save up to $84. Also, they will defer billing and shipping until December. As a bonus gift, both you and your recipient will receive a copy of California Wine Club's hilarious 15th Anniversary wine calendar for 2006 (a $19.95 value)

Call 1-800-777-4443 in the U.S. or visit online at
Then take a deep breath, relax and enjoy summer, knowing your Holiday shopping is done!

De Long's Wine Info: Wear your grape!

Mourvedre T-shirt These classy new wine-geek T-shirts let you put some of your favorite grapes on your chest.

Whether you spend your summer lunching along the banks of the Seine or in the dankest cellar, these T shirts are the perfect accompaniment. Available in Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Noir and Mourvèdre flavours.

All designs are adapted from the Wine Grape Varietal Table and are beautifully silkscreened on 100 percent cotton T-shirts. For more information and to place your order, visit De Long's Wine Info,
http://www.delongwine.com/tshirts.php?PARTNER=WLP And while you're there, don't forget to check out the innovative Wine Grape Varietal Table.

This week on WineLoversPage.com

Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Time for screw caps?
With more and more wines showing up under sturdy metal caps these days, we thought this would be a good time to host a simple, straightforward, up-and-down Wine Lovers' Voting Booth on the subject. The ballot samples your opinion, and, very roughly, your level of enthusiasm, with five simple choices ranging from "Hell yes!" through "I don't know" to "Hell no!" as we ask, "Are you ready for screw caps on fine wine?" To cast your vote, if you haven't done so already, click:

To see how others have voted, you can view the returns at http://www.wineloverspage.com/votebooth/ans20050810.shtml

Oxford Town Wines: Hotel wines - A rant
If he has to pay $7 to $10 for a glass of wine at a hotel bar, columnist John Juergens says, at least he should be able to expect the wine to be as fresh as if he bought it at a store and opened it at home. Our frequent-traveler correspondent from Mississippi unleashes a well-reasoned rant about one of his all-time pet peeves: hotel bar and restaurant wine.

QPRwines: West Coast Syrah
Overall the early reviews of the 2003 West Coast Syrah vintage are promising, with more than 56 percent of the wines scoring 90 points or above. Full details are in Neil Monnens' QPRwines, which groups wines by the major critics' average scores, then lists them by price and ranks them by value.

Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:

 Wear your grape (Aug. 12, 2005)

 Voting Booth: Time for screw caps? (Aug. 10, 2005)

 What's new in Niagara (Aug. 8, 2005)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Buffalo wings (Aug. 11, 2004)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:

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 30 Second Wine Advisor, daily or weekly (free)
 Wine Advisor FoodLetter, Thursdays (free)
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For all past editions, click here

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Monday, Aug. 15, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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