Why is it in your wine, and is it a bad thing?
What is volatile acidity? Ask Decanter
Volatile acidity is made from compounds in types of acid found in wine, showing an aroma, rather than found on the palate.
‘In simple terms, it refers to the acidic elements of a wine that are gaseous, rather than liquid, and therefore can be sensed as a smell,’ said Julia Sewell, Assistant Head Sommelier at Hide in Mayfair and a judge for the Decanter World Wine Awards.
‘The major compound responsible for this aroma is acetic acid, which is more commonly known as vinegar. A secondary compound that is formed at the same time is ethyl acetate, which smells more like nail polish remover or paint thinner.’
Why is it in my wine?
‘It is generally wines made in older barrels or more oxidative environments that show VA,’ said Sewell.
That is because it is easier for the bacteria to thrive in less sterile conditions.
‘Sweet wines made using botrytis cinerea (noble rot) are often quite high in volatile acidity levels, as the grapes tend to have high levels of acetic acid bacteria naturally present. The same can be said of wines made from dried grapes.,’ said Sewell.
‘Wines that commonly show higher levels of volatile acidity include Sauternes, Amarone della Valpolicella and Port.’
Is volatile acidity a bad thing?
‘Although the presence of high amounts of VA is considered undesirable, in some cases a touch of volatility is no bad thing,’ said Natasha Hughes MW in her guide to wine ‘flaws’.
‘It’s an important characteristic in many wines that adds complexity and interest; often, in a positive manner, it can be described as adding ‘a lifted character’ to the aromas of the wine,’ said Sewell.
‘However, where it is not intentionally included in the wine, it is most definitely a fault, and can be an indicator of unclean winemaking.’
‘At extreme levels, VA can be quite affronting, in much the same way as vinegar or nail-polish remover can be if smelled too strongly, and ultimately the aromas can overtake a wine if it is not robust enough to balance.’