by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
I was having a somewhat heated conversation with another winemaker recently on a subject where, I have to admit, I am a member of a small minority. Maybe a minority of one. The subject: TA.
TA is titratable acidity. It is one of the things we test in wine. I, like pretty much every winemaker, learned that there were two tests of acidity, pH and TA. Supposedly, pH was a test that told you a lot about the stability of wine (true), and TA told you about the acidic the wine tasted.
I dutifully conducted both tests on wines I was making. After some fairly lengthy period of time (years), it dawned on me that I made my decisions about how to adjust acidity pretty much 100% on pH. pH is critical—it tells you a lot about how resistant the wine is to microbial infection, and how effective so2 will be in helping to prevent those infections. TA, by contrast, was pretty much useless to me. I know this ranks as heresy, but I just never found that TA made any real difference to what I did.
I can’t subscribe to the idea that TA is important to assess how the wine will taste. Wine is a really complex beverage, and how acidic it tastes to a human being is going to be the result of a whole bunch of factors. Because the perception of acidity can be affected by other things going on in the wine, knowing the TA of a wine really isn’t that helpful to me. Two wines with the same TA can have very different perceptions of acidity.
Besides, I have what I think is a much better test of how acidic the wine is going to taste—taste it.
I have to admit that tasting the newly crushed juice and trying to assess its acidity is pretty tough since the sweetness of the juice hides the acidity. So if TA has use, it’s probably at that point. But after that, forget it.
So the conversation I alluded to earlier when something like this:
Me: The pH is higher than I’d like (3.75). Let’s add .5 gram per liter of tartaric acid.
Other winemaker: What’s the TA?
Me: I don’t know and don’t care.
Other winemaker: You have to know the TA.
So he ran a tast of the TA. I forget what it came in at, but he was ok with adding .5 gram per liter at that point, so that’s what I did.
But I find this is always what happens.
I will also add that, if you knew how much tartaric to add, it’s better to add it as early in the process as possible. At the crusher is best.
But if the wine’s pH is ok, then I can’t tell at the crusher how much acid the wine should get, if any. I’d much rather wait till after alcoholic fermentation is complete and make the call at that time. I think waiting and getting it right is better than adding it earlier when you’re not sure how acidic the wine is going to end up tasting.
But I know for sure I don’t want an unstable wine, and I prefer a lower pH (more stable) than maybe most other winemakers. So if the pH is too high (acidity too low), I will add acid at that point, no questions asked.
But TA? What is it good for? In the words of some rock group or another, absolutely nothing.