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Wine Additives: Chaptalization and Acidification Are Misunderstood ... Comment of Wines Inform Assessors

Wine Additives: Chaptalization and Acidification Are Misunderstood


Just as a mechanic may have to make some tweaks under the hood to ensure a car performs at its best, winemakers can also be found doing a little fine-tuning in order to keep fermentation and wine production on track. Chaptalization and acidification are two such methods of tweaking the winemaking process to ensure a better final product. More specifically, these techniques involve adding something to the mix: whether that be sugar (chaptalization) or acid (acidification).
Though these two additives are barely detectable in the final product, their use does suggest that the grapes were somehow lacking or of lesser quality. Limited by law in some areas and kept hush-hush in others, these two corrective additives will reveal some of the lesser-talked about truths in winemaking.


chaptalization-acidification-additives-wine

What is Chaptalization?

Chaptalization is the addition of sugar during fermentation in order to boost the wine’s final alcohol content (percentage). For example, in France, the basic Bourgogne Blanc (Chardonnay) is required to have at least 10.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) but if the harvested grapes are overly sour (acidic), adding sugar will ensure that the wine reaches the minimum required alcohol percentage. Even though chaptalization adds sugar, it’s not meant to sweeten a wine; it’s simply meant to give yeast enough fuel to turn into alcohol.
Chaptalization is common in cooler regions where grapes may struggle to reach ripeness and may be harvested with lower sugar content and higher acidity.
  • Chaptalization is allowed (in varying degrees) in France, Germany (not Pradikatswein), Oregon, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and New York.
  • Chaptalization is not allowed in Argentina, Australia, Austria, California, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and South Africa.

What is Acidification?

Acidification is the addition of acids (usually tartaric and malic acid) in order to increase the final acidity of a wine. This technique is often used when grapes are harvested too ripe and, as a result, produce wines with low acidity and a high pH. A high pH will cause wine to be unstable and it will produce off-flavors and deteriorate quickly. Thus, acidification is needed to stabilize a flabby wine.
Acidification is commonly used in hotter regions where grapes may be harvested too ripe (too sweet).
  • Acidification is common in areas such as Argentina, Australia, California, Washington State, Italy, and South Africa.
  • Acidification is not common in areas such as Northern France, Germany, Austria, Oregon, and New Zealand.

Can you taste chaptalization or acidification in wine?

Because chaptalization only affects the alcohol percentage, it’s not really detectable. That said, some experienced tasters believe that, despite the increased alcohol content, chaptalized wines tend to lack complexity and may also taste overly acidic (given that they’re made with under-ripe grapes).
Acidification is also tricky to detect, but can be detectable with some tasting experience. Wines with added acidity will often have a somewhat unbalanced, sweet tart flavor (like the candy), which can persist in the aftertaste, similar to the tingly aftertaste of soda-pop.

How do you know if a wine was chaptalized or acidified?

Right now, there are almost no label requirements for mentioning acidification or chaptalization. We suspect that if there were, you’d see a surprising number of popular wines using these additives to make their wines taste more well-balanced. That said, natural wines with no additives (or only sulfur additives) are the only wines available that won’t have acidification or chaptalization.

Last Word: How additives affect wine quality

If you’re not spending over $20 a bottle for wines, then it’s perfectly okay to accept that processes like chaptalization and acidification are used to produce decent tasting, good-value wines. On the other hand, if you’re looking for exceptional quality wines, additives like chaptalization and acidification are clues that should cause you to question the quality of the wine or vintage.
And now that you know what these two techniques are all about, you’ll now the right questions to ask to get to the bottom of what was really going on under the hood.




By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified wine geek with a passion for meeting people, travel, and delicious food. You often find me crawling around dank cellars or frolicking through vineyards. Find me at
@WineFolly


Alfred Martinez ·
In Spain the lack of chaptalization is one of the differential values with Champagne that Cava and sparkling producers show

Wines Inform Assessors
Dean Wilson ·
3 things to look into the grapes balance before fermentation is
1-Brix= Natursl sugar levels
2-PH =Water
3-TA= Tartaric Acids

With Acidulation comes bringing those TA numbers between 5-6!
Good PH is 3.4-3.7
Brix depends on how late or early you pick!
The earlier picks tend to get brighter acidity lower surgars and good ph!
Later Harvest get high Brix higher alcohol
Higher Ph
Lower TA

So my sweet spot for Syrah was 23.1 Brix
TA 5.1 & Ph was 3.43
This translates into a wine that is going to be about 12.9-13.1 alcohol and will be more reminiscent of the Rhone Valley rather than a Cslifornian fruit bomb! Depending on your style of wine you can gauge by alcohol! We don't use surface in our wines! We did however add acid to a Zin from Lake county and it helped tremendously!
Cheers The Scribbler
LikeReply119 hrs
Dean Wilson ·
Surgars we don't use surgars is the correction from surface
LikeReply19 hrs
Filip Zacharias Kullervo Sundström ·
I thought that acidification was used in sunny climates where the grapes ripen too quickly in order to develop them naturally, like in cooler climates. And then of course chapitalization being the way to compensate for low naturally incurring sugar levels in cool climates. But you learn something new every day
Bill Harris
The addition of sugar and acid are not two sides to the same coin: while acid adjustment is indeed cosmetic, the addition of sugar is supposed to be used only to make the ferment work, period.

In rough numbers, sugar ripeness must reach 20% within the must for the yeast's enzymes to convert the sugars to ethyl.Following the basic 2 to 1 rule, this will give a ballpark 10% alc at 'dry' -ie all available sugar is converted.

Now while ripeness is not a typical west-coast problem ( where my understanding indicates that the addition of sugar is illegal), in parts of Europe it definately is. So in years when the requisite 20% sugars is not reached, farmers over there must petition the relevant wine agency for permission to add 'just enough' to cause ferment.

This, at least, was the original intent--a bending of the rules of nature, as it were, to protect the farmers in cold years. Yet what one sees in reality is not only outright cheating, but also permissions to add sugar for reasons extrinsic to the original intent-- or necessary requisite set by the biochemistry..

the rationale for 'necessity-only' regulations resides within the dynamics of growth within any fruit: flavor-causing pectin is formed in direct proportion to the level of sugars created by the fruit itself--up to aprox 28%. Therefore, the measurement of potential ethyl will also give you an indication of the available fruit-flavor.

That's why, in theory, chaptalized wines are declassified: while adding sugar will create ethyl, it will not create pectin, for flavor. yet here, the present Euro-alternative seems to be to 'permit' chaptalization of classified wines, then pass off the lack of 'fruit-forwardness'as an indicator of a 'rustic style'...particularly to amerikan whine-kritiks who are gullible enough to believe such nonsense.

Now for a quick note on acidification: The presence of tartaric acid hides the burning sensation of the excessive ethyl that was created by the same over-ripeness that caused the acid level to drop too low in the first place! In other words, adding lemon juice really does hide the burn from vodka. Like the euurotrashspeak that gave us 'rustic' wines as a style, westcoast winespeak conjures up the metaphysics of structure-- ie acidification 'improves' the flavor of wine.

What this utterly fails to explain is that the pinot grigio craze is justifiably built upon a consumer preference for dry wites withou an acidic, bitter 'bite' on the finish. So here we have a causal chain from over-ripe grapes producing dry, over-alcoholic wines that need to be tempered with acid to hide said excessive ethyl.

Then the marketeers kick in with a story as to how consumers must come to love thatbitter acidic bite as 'real' konno-sewers. A case so hopeless as to be believed only by those who claim status as MW or master sommllier.
Wayne Turner
Adding sugar to wine? That really chaps my astringency! At yeast it's only to raise C2H6O.
LikeReply11 hr
Exotic Wine Travel
Another great article about a topic that most people do not know about
LikeReply120 hrs
Cheri Ramirez ·
Thanks for explaining this! �
LikeReply123 hrs

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