California Wine: Take the Red Acid, Man

Photo courtesy of Enoteca Marcella
Photo courtesy of Enoteca Marcella

If there is one thing that California red wines are constantly accused of, it's low acidity. And as much as I enjoy our bountiful sunshine, it comes at a price, at least as far as winemaking goes.

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Too much sunlight and warmth, coupled with long hang time, can easily burn off a good amount of acid from the grapes. Why is acidity important? For one, it is an integral part of making a balanced wine. Acidity creates a balance with fruit, sugar, and tannin to fill the palate while still leaving it refreshed.


More importantly, food loves acid. Think of your average Napa Valley Cabernet. Its body can range from impressive to frankly oppressive: big, luscious, creamy fruit with velvety tannins that fill your mouth and linger like the last to leave the party. Great as a cocktail or with a cigar, but try to pair one of these wines with food and your brain will be as fatigued as your palate. Why? They lack acidity.

Acid stimulates your salivary glands, which in turn wash everything away, leaving your palate refreshed and prepared for the next sip, or bite. How does one make a wine that retains its acidity? Without changing the weather, or -- perish the thought -- adding acid to their wines, winemakers need another solution.

One winemaker that has chosen a different path is Steve Clifton. Clifton gained his fame in the wine industry when he paired up with Greg Brewer to create Brewer-Clifton wines. These are lovely wines that, in Clifton's skillful hands, maintain a good amount of acidity. Brewer-Clifton's success allowed Steve to create a second brand of his own: Palmina. At Palmina, Steve was able to combine his love of winemaking with his love of Italy -- the wines are all made from Italian varietals. These varietals tend to retain their acidity, even when planted in the sunny hills of California.

One grape particularly adept at holding onto its acidity is Barbera. Barbera is fun without being insipid, fruity without being sweet, and pairs amazingly well with food. The 2009 Palmina Barbera is bursting with sour cherry, raspberry and plum. Giving the glass a swirl, it reveals a telltale vibrant fuchsia rim reminiscent of a summer skirt caught in a warm breeze. It is a wine that is playful while maintaining a strong serious center and pairs with food accordingly. It complements simple pasta dishes with tomato sauce or pizza just as easily as wild mushroom risotto and broccoli rabe. Even without food to keep it company, this wine is delicious and can be enjoyed and savored on its own.

2009 Palmina Barbera, retails about $20.

[Vine photo courtesy of Enoteca Marcella]

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