Vintage 2010 in Napa Valley: Sugar and Acidity

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Napa Valley
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Two of the important things to look for in a wine are the fruit and the acidity.  There are a few easy ways to detect these markers in a wine.  You may have heard a wine described as "New World" or "Old World".  When you hear that, it's another way to say the wine is fruit-driven or acid-driven.

Basically, hot temperatures raise sugar content, and cold temperatures raise acidity.

But what do those things taste like?  Sugar content is perceived in New World wines via fruit-driven structure, and can describe wines from regions like the U.S., Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.  Acidity drives the structure in wines grown in colder climates like France, Germany and other European regions.  Many of those soils tend to be Limestone or gravel, rather than a volcanic soil like you might find in the U.S..  The way you sense acid is on the roof of your mouth towards the back.  If you swallow the wine and you get a lingering sensation in that area, you are picking up acidity.  Fruit driven wines tend to be sweeter and jammier, showing up on the front of the tongue (or palate).

In Napa Valley, there's a nice mix of temperatures that give the wines heat during the day, and cold temperatures at night.  The fruit and acidity live in concert with each other, but overall the wines are fruit driven.  This year, however, Napa is experiencing one of the coldest summers on record.  Know how you know that?  Well, besides the weatherman telling us so, Napa is usually starting harvest at this time of year.  But this year, grapes are still hanging on the vine because the fruit isn't ripe enough yet.  Harvest may not start for another three weeks  almost a month behind schedule!  That could be perceived as a bad thing, but it's not if you have the right wine maker.  What Napa may end up with is a rarity they don't have very often, which is higher than normal acid levels in the wines along with the higher sugar levels.  A winemaker who knows what they're doing may find their fruit has the best of both worlds.

Usually, Napa Valley gets a morning fog influence from the San Pablo bay that cools the grapes at night.  That blanket of fog is consistent almost every day in the summer months as the center of California heats up.  By mid day the fog burns off providing the right amount of heat and sunshine to increase sugar levels.  This is different than say, Walla Walla, Washtington where longer days at a higher latitude provide more sunshine for ripening, and cool temperatures at night.  At that latitude you're getting closer to Alaska, where summer days seem to last until midnight.  The sun is lower on the horizon, which means the heat isn't as intense.

So when you get to try any 2010 vintage wines from Napa, look for the acidity on the roof of your mouth toward the back.  The verdict on vintage 2010 will be out until the reds get released into the marketing some time in 2013.  Cheers!

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