Whether it’s sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken or duck a l’orange, our tongues love to be teased by a sweet and sour balance.
Although bursting with taste buds, our hapless tongues can detect only four taste sensations: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and a recent discovery, umami. Don’t be too sympathetic. The little devil delights in playing ping pong with these key tastes.
Acidity, also called tartness, is vital to good wine. All fruits, including grapes, have acid balances. It’s the balance of acidity and sweetness that determines whether a drink is refreshing or cloying. Even sweet dessert wines, such as ice wine, require a high degree of acidity. A wine’s acid balance is so important that it, along with sugar content, is one of the criteria evaluated in determining when to harvest the year’s grapes.
While each infinitesimal taste bud is capable of responding to sweet, salty, sour or bitter foods, specific areas of our tongue specialise in detecting these characters. Knowing where your tongue best detects tartness or acidity will help you evaluate wine quality.
To recognise your tongue’s sensitivity to acidity, dip a cotton swap into lemon juice and then touch different parts of your tongue with the swab. Generally people are most sensitive to acidity on the sides of their tongues, near the molars.
The acidity balance of a wine can be described in many ways. One might simply say, “Chateau Citroen is very acidic” or “Chateau Cloying has low acidity.” More fanciful terms used to describe acidic wine might be tart, crisp, lively or nervy. A wine with low acidity could referred to as flat, fat, flabby or oily – adjectives none of us wants to hear.
Usually wines from cool climates are more acidic and refreshing, which makes them terrific to serve with light dishes and seafood. Germany’s Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett is a light, acidic wine with gentle bubbles to tickle the tongue. Drink this wine with grilled Dover sole.
A hallmark of Italian wines is their crisp, acidic nature. In Italy, grapes are deliberately harvested early to ensure wines are brisk and invigorating. Try Chiaro Pinot Grigio, which is a simple white wine perfect for an outing to Lamma Island.
Marlborough, New Zealand is known for its highly aromatic, yet tart Sauvignon Blanc. Chablis is a cool-climate grape growing outpost in northern Burgundy, France. Grapes have a tough time ripening in Chablis, so the wines are always acidic. Louis Latour produces a good example of a crisp, steely Chablis.
Wines from California’s warmest districts have low acidity levels, resulting in heavier wines. Wente’s Central Coast Chardonnay is from California’s cool coastal vineyards, so it has a fine acid balance, yet is creamy and round in the mouth. Perfect for ping pong.