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The Role of Tartaric Acid in Wine and Wine-making

Tartaric Acid is unique in that it is not found in most fruit, but is the primary acid component in grapes. It is one of the strongest acids in wine and controls the acidity of a wine. The mechanism behind this is complicated, and is associated with the degree to which it is able to resist the buffering activity of other acids.
Tartaric acid deceases as grapes are allowed to hang on the vine and mature. Very ripe wines do not have a lot of tartaric acid. The reason behind this lies in the metabolic processes of the vine. In hotter climates, vines use tartaric acid for respiration, decreasing the total acidity in the grapes. However, the decrease in tartaric acid is not as profound as the decrease in malic acid through the same process. This is one of the mechanisms that winemakers use to control the acid content in their wine.
The total acidity in a wine is measured by the amount of Tartaric Acid present. Tartaric Acid plays a critical role in the taste, feel and color of a wine. But even more important, it lowers the pH enough to kill undesirable bacteria, acting as a preservative.
The influence of tartaric acid on the taste and feel of a wine is primarily through its impact on acidity. It contributes to the “tartness” of a wine, but not as much as malic and citric acid. Winemakers will adjust acidity by adding tartaric acid to the wine.
Tartaric Acid often crystallizes on the cork, yielding “wine diamonds.” They are called tartrates and are harmless. Many people mistake tartrate crystals as a sign of a bad wine. However, this is not the case, and the formation of tartates is a naturally occurring process. Many winemakers will prevent this formation through cold stabilization.