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Alcohol and Health

Is Wine Acidic? Know the Facts

Published:
January 31, 2024
·
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
January 31, 2024
·
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
January 31, 2024
·
19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
January 31, 2024
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19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
January 31, 2024
·
19 min read

Getting to the Bottom of It: Wine Acidity and Why It Matters

  • You may have heard that a glass of wine is good for you, but could it be the cause of your heartburn?

  • If you have certain health conditions, the acidity of wine can make a significant impact. Learn more about the science behind wine acidity and explore options for low-acid wine that may be a better choice for you.

  • Reframe can help motivate you to be more mindful of your health when choosing to drink.

With all the health information floating around the internet, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Gut health is a hot topic these days, and our social media feeds are flooded with influencers promoting low-acid diets that claim to make our gut flora happy. Ads for alkaline water and juice cleanses leave us wondering more about how alcohol (especially supposedly acidic options like wine) could impact our health.

For those who get acid reflux or heartburn, alcohol usually triggers uncomfortable symptoms. So is there a way to include alcohol in our life without triggering them? Let’s take a deep dive into the composition of wine and explore how acidic it is. We’ll learn about the effects of wine on the body and how to avoid the dreaded wine heartburn on our next night out.

Building Blocks of Alcohol 

To better understand wine acidity and the effects of wine acidity on the body, let’s first take a look at the building blocks of alcohol

Pouring red wine in a wine glass

Ethanol and water are the two main components that makeup what we know as alcohol. The pH scale specifies how acidic or basic a substance is — the lower a pH, the higher the acidity. On a scale ranging from 0-14, ethanol is considered a neutral compound at a pH of 7.33. Water, the other component of alcohol, is also neutral at a pH of 7.

So why is alcohol associated with triggering acid reflux and heartburn if it’s a neutral substance? Although the main components of alcohol are neutral, the fermentation process makes alcohol acidic. Yeast is added to initiate the process of fermentation, which lowers the pH and makes alcohol acidic. Fermentation is essentially what creates the taste and intoxicating effects of alcohol. Without it, wine would be grape juice, and beer would be grain water.

Wine is typically aged for a longer period of time in comparison to other alcoholic beverages, allowing yeast to form more acidic byproducts. But how acidic is wine, exactly? And which byproducts contribute the most to a wine’s acidity?

Is Wine Acidic?

Like any other alcoholic beverage, wine is acidic. In fact, wine is often more acidic than other alcoholic beverages. Unlike other alcoholic drinks, wine is made to be sipped, savored, and paired with other tastes. Wine acidity is something that winemakers aim for and carefully calculate with this intention in mind. 

The roots of wine acidity stem from the grape itself. Unripe grapes have a high acidity and a tart taste. Grapes picked later in the season are sweeter and have a lower acidity. Vineyards may intentionally harvest grapes at specific times and climates to control the acidity level to cultivate a specific flavor profile. Winemakers also manipulate the acid profile by introducing additives or initiating malolactic fermentation (which reduces acidity).

Common acids found in wine:

  • Malic acid. Malic acid is one of the primary acids found in grapes. It is found most commonly in younger grapes and certain grape varieties. The taste of malic acid can be best described as similar to the tartness of a green apple.
  • Tartaric acid. Tartaric acid is crucial for stabilizing the color and flavor of wine. The concentration of acid found in grapes depends heavily on the climate, variety, and soil content, which is why winemakers are so particular with every step of the harvesting process. The flavor of tartaric acid is strong and can be described as salty and bright.
  • Lactic acid. Lactic acid is found naturally in red wine and can also be added during the fermentation process. It is also found in foods like sourdough bread, yogurt, and sauerkraut. Lactic acid provides a buttery and creamy taste, which gives a distinct body and taste to certain varieties of wine. Chardonnays and merlots contain higher amounts of lactic acid and are known for their smooth and buttery characteristics.
  • Citric acid. As the name suggests, citric acid is most commonly found in citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits. They are added to wines after the fermentation process to increase the overall acidity and manipulate the taste.

Wine Acidity Chart

Let's take a look at where different types of wine fall on the wide acidity chart.

Comparing Acidity of Wine and Other Alcoholic Beverages

Least Acidic Wine: Red Wine

Red grapes are sweeter than other varieties. Brighter and redder wines like pinot noirs are higher in acidity because the grapes themselves are less sweet. Full-bodied, darker reds like merlot and cabernet are the least acidic wine options. Red wines are the best low-acid wine to avoid reflux symptoms.

Moderately Acidic Wine: White Wine

White wines are made from green or yellow grapes that have a higher acidity and more tartness than red varieties. White wines do not always go through malolactic fermentation (like most red wines do), which keeps their acidity high. When choosing between white wines, keep in mind that chardonnays are on the lower part of the wine acidity chart and varieties like pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc are higher up.

Most Acidic Wine: Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wines such as champagne and prosecco have the highest wine acidity. These bubbly bottles are made from lighter-colored varieties of grapes and often contain added sugar to adjust the taste. The additives and carbonation add to the wine’s acidity, making it the worst wine for acid reflux.

Now we know where different wines stand on the acidity scale, but how do they stack up against other alcoholic beverages?

Wine Acidity vs. Other Alcohol

Wine is typically the most acidic of all alcoholic beverages. The aging process is responsible for the distinct taste of a wine, during which acids play a significant role in preservation and preventing unwanted bacterial growth. From lowest to highest acidity, let’s take a look at how wine compares to other alcoholic drinks.

  • Spirits. Although spirits have the highest alcohol content, they are generally the least acidic types of alcohol. Spirits undergo a distillation process that filters out some of the byproducts of fermentation — they are designed to produce the highest alcohol content instead of the most flavor. Spirits on the higher end of the acidity scale include darker beverages like brandies and rum. Low-grain vodkas, tequila, and gin have a lower acidity. The pH of spirits ranges from 3.5 to 6.5.
  • Beers. Beer is fermented grain with acid frequently added. They are slightly less acidic than wines, as wine ages for much longer. However, it’s important to note that beer’s carbonation adds to its acidity. Beers range in acidity, from pale ales on the low end to darker stouts and sours on the high end. Like wine, acidity affects a beer’s taste, color, and stability. Beer has an average pH level of 4 — just slightly higher than common sodas.
  • Seltzers. Alcoholic seltzers are similar in acidity to soda and beer. Seltzers are made of spirits diluted with carbonated water. Carbonation and other additives (including flavorings) increase the acidity level in seltzers. The pH of seltzers ranges from 2.5 to 4, depending on the mixers used in the beverage.
  • Mixed drinks. Mixed beverages have a wider pH range due to the varying mixers used. Mixed drinks can contain higher acidity levels because the taste of spirits is often masked with fruits or added sugars — the stronger the flavor, the stronger the mixer. That generous glug of simple syrup and a lime squeeze in our margarita taste great, but they all add to its acidity.

Acidity certainly has its place in any beverage (or food). Acid gives food and beverages their characteristic taste (can you imagine tomato sauce with a flat, stale flavor?), but why is acid so important?

Why Wine Acidity Matters

Now that we know wine is acidic, we may be wondering why acidity matters — and what impacts it can have on our health.

Taste

The main reason that winemakers manipulate the acidity of wine is for taste. The level and types of acid present give each wine its distinct taste, texture, and appearance. Since wine is commonly paired with different foods, each style choice has a different intended purpose.

High-acidity wines are described as crisp and tart. They pair best with mild seafood and salty foods that contrast their sharp taste. Low-acidity wines tend to taste rounder and more flavorful. They pair well with foods that complement the flavors such as cheeses and meats.

Wine and Acid Reflux

Alcohol increases stomach acid production, which is why it commonly aggravates gastrointestinal issues. Wine, being the most acidic of the alcoholic beverages, can cause even higher levels of gastric acid secretion. This poses a greater chance for acid reflux and regurgitation.

Wine and Heartburn

Alcohol impacts many of the systems in our bodies, especially the central nervous system, which controls our muscles. Similar to how we may stumble or lose our balance after having a couple of drinks, the muscles in our stomach can also be impaired. Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle separating our stomach from our esophagus), allowing excess acid to flow up the valve. This is why after drinking wine, heartburn often follows. 

Other Health Impacts

Wine acidity is damaging to dental hygiene. Wine’s high acidity can erode tooth enamel, and this effect gets more dramatic with repeated exposure.

Tips for Mindful Wine Consumption

The only way to completely avoid wine acid reflux and wine heartburn is to cut it out entirely or choose zero-alcohol options. However, we can still enjoy a glass here and there by implementing these tips and tricks:

  • Cut back. Reducing the amount of wine we drink provides fewer opportunities for alcohol to aggravate symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. Excessive and routine drinking also causes long-term effects on our health. Set limits and consult with a doctor if you experience any negative symptoms. 
  • Sip, don't gulp. Wine’s taste, social nature, and culture make it easy to pour glass after glass. Slowing down and putting the glass down after each sip can help reduce the amount of wine that you drink in one sitting. 
  • Stay hydrated. Water not only helps prevent hangovers and dehydration, but also helps neutralize wine’s acidity. While you won’t be able to cancel out the effects of wine acidity completely, staying hydrated can reduce the severity of the symptoms.
  • Practice mindful drinking. The type of wine you choose matters. Wines range in acidity and significantly impact how you feel. Stay away from sparkling wine, as it is the worst wine for acid reflux. There are plenty of low-acid red wine options and zero-alcohol options to choose from.

Wrapping It Up

Acids and bases are a lesson that we all most likely skimmed over in chemistry class. Now that the topic is resurfacing in the newest health trends, it may leave us wishing we paid more attention. Whether you’re aiming to learn more about the health impacts of wine or trying to avoid wine acidity symptoms, knowing more about the acidity of wine and practicing mindful drinking can help you on your journey to improve your health. Cheers to sour tastes without the bitter effects!

With all the health information floating around the internet, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Gut health is a hot topic these days, and our social media feeds are flooded with influencers promoting low-acid diets that claim to make our gut flora happy. Ads for alkaline water and juice cleanses leave us wondering more about how alcohol (especially supposedly acidic options like wine) could impact our health.

For those who get acid reflux or heartburn, alcohol usually triggers uncomfortable symptoms. So is there a way to include alcohol in our life without triggering them? Let’s take a deep dive into the composition of wine and explore how acidic it is. We’ll learn about the effects of wine on the body and how to avoid the dreaded wine heartburn on our next night out.

Building Blocks of Alcohol 

To better understand wine acidity and the effects of wine acidity on the body, let’s first take a look at the building blocks of alcohol

Pouring red wine in a wine glass

Ethanol and water are the two main components that makeup what we know as alcohol. The pH scale specifies how acidic or basic a substance is — the lower a pH, the higher the acidity. On a scale ranging from 0-14, ethanol is considered a neutral compound at a pH of 7.33. Water, the other component of alcohol, is also neutral at a pH of 7.

So why is alcohol associated with triggering acid reflux and heartburn if it’s a neutral substance? Although the main components of alcohol are neutral, the fermentation process makes alcohol acidic. Yeast is added to initiate the process of fermentation, which lowers the pH and makes alcohol acidic. Fermentation is essentially what creates the taste and intoxicating effects of alcohol. Without it, wine would be grape juice, and beer would be grain water.

Wine is typically aged for a longer period of time in comparison to other alcoholic beverages, allowing yeast to form more acidic byproducts. But how acidic is wine, exactly? And which byproducts contribute the most to a wine’s acidity?

Is Wine Acidic?

Like any other alcoholic beverage, wine is acidic. In fact, wine is often more acidic than other alcoholic beverages. Unlike other alcoholic drinks, wine is made to be sipped, savored, and paired with other tastes. Wine acidity is something that winemakers aim for and carefully calculate with this intention in mind. 

The roots of wine acidity stem from the grape itself. Unripe grapes have a high acidity and a tart taste. Grapes picked later in the season are sweeter and have a lower acidity. Vineyards may intentionally harvest grapes at specific times and climates to control the acidity level to cultivate a specific flavor profile. Winemakers also manipulate the acid profile by introducing additives or initiating malolactic fermentation (which reduces acidity).

Common acids found in wine:

  • Malic acid. Malic acid is one of the primary acids found in grapes. It is found most commonly in younger grapes and certain grape varieties. The taste of malic acid can be best described as similar to the tartness of a green apple.
  • Tartaric acid. Tartaric acid is crucial for stabilizing the color and flavor of wine. The concentration of acid found in grapes depends heavily on the climate, variety, and soil content, which is why winemakers are so particular with every step of the harvesting process. The flavor of tartaric acid is strong and can be described as salty and bright.
  • Lactic acid. Lactic acid is found naturally in red wine and can also be added during the fermentation process. It is also found in foods like sourdough bread, yogurt, and sauerkraut. Lactic acid provides a buttery and creamy taste, which gives a distinct body and taste to certain varieties of wine. Chardonnays and merlots contain higher amounts of lactic acid and are known for their smooth and buttery characteristics.
  • Citric acid. As the name suggests, citric acid is most commonly found in citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits. They are added to wines after the fermentation process to increase the overall acidity and manipulate the taste.

Wine Acidity Chart

Let's take a look at where different types of wine fall on the wide acidity chart.

Comparing Acidity of Wine and Other Alcoholic Beverages

Least Acidic Wine: Red Wine

Red grapes are sweeter than other varieties. Brighter and redder wines like pinot noirs are higher in acidity because the grapes themselves are less sweet. Full-bodied, darker reds like merlot and cabernet are the least acidic wine options. Red wines are the best low-acid wine to avoid reflux symptoms.

Moderately Acidic Wine: White Wine

White wines are made from green or yellow grapes that have a higher acidity and more tartness than red varieties. White wines do not always go through malolactic fermentation (like most red wines do), which keeps their acidity high. When choosing between white wines, keep in mind that chardonnays are on the lower part of the wine acidity chart and varieties like pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc are higher up.

Most Acidic Wine: Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wines such as champagne and prosecco have the highest wine acidity. These bubbly bottles are made from lighter-colored varieties of grapes and often contain added sugar to adjust the taste. The additives and carbonation add to the wine’s acidity, making it the worst wine for acid reflux.

Now we know where different wines stand on the acidity scale, but how do they stack up against other alcoholic beverages?

Wine Acidity vs. Other Alcohol

Wine is typically the most acidic of all alcoholic beverages. The aging process is responsible for the distinct taste of a wine, during which acids play a significant role in preservation and preventing unwanted bacterial growth. From lowest to highest acidity, let’s take a look at how wine compares to other alcoholic drinks.

  • Spirits. Although spirits have the highest alcohol content, they are generally the least acidic types of alcohol. Spirits undergo a distillation process that filters out some of the byproducts of fermentation — they are designed to produce the highest alcohol content instead of the most flavor. Spirits on the higher end of the acidity scale include darker beverages like brandies and rum. Low-grain vodkas, tequila, and gin have a lower acidity. The pH of spirits ranges from 3.5 to 6.5.
  • Beers. Beer is fermented grain with acid frequently added. They are slightly less acidic than wines, as wine ages for much longer. However, it’s important to note that beer’s carbonation adds to its acidity. Beers range in acidity, from pale ales on the low end to darker stouts and sours on the high end. Like wine, acidity affects a beer’s taste, color, and stability. Beer has an average pH level of 4 — just slightly higher than common sodas.
  • Seltzers. Alcoholic seltzers are similar in acidity to soda and beer. Seltzers are made of spirits diluted with carbonated water. Carbonation and other additives (including flavorings) increase the acidity level in seltzers. The pH of seltzers ranges from 2.5 to 4, depending on the mixers used in the beverage.
  • Mixed drinks. Mixed beverages have a wider pH range due to the varying mixers used. Mixed drinks can contain higher acidity levels because the taste of spirits is often masked with fruits or added sugars — the stronger the flavor, the stronger the mixer. That generous glug of simple syrup and a lime squeeze in our margarita taste great, but they all add to its acidity.

Acidity certainly has its place in any beverage (or food). Acid gives food and beverages their characteristic taste (can you imagine tomato sauce with a flat, stale flavor?), but why is acid so important?

Why Wine Acidity Matters

Now that we know wine is acidic, we may be wondering why acidity matters — and what impacts it can have on our health.

Taste

The main reason that winemakers manipulate the acidity of wine is for taste. The level and types of acid present give each wine its distinct taste, texture, and appearance. Since wine is commonly paired with different foods, each style choice has a different intended purpose.

High-acidity wines are described as crisp and tart. They pair best with mild seafood and salty foods that contrast their sharp taste. Low-acidity wines tend to taste rounder and more flavorful. They pair well with foods that complement the flavors such as cheeses and meats.

Wine and Acid Reflux

Alcohol increases stomach acid production, which is why it commonly aggravates gastrointestinal issues. Wine, being the most acidic of the alcoholic beverages, can cause even higher levels of gastric acid secretion. This poses a greater chance for acid reflux and regurgitation.

Wine and Heartburn

Alcohol impacts many of the systems in our bodies, especially the central nervous system, which controls our muscles. Similar to how we may stumble or lose our balance after having a couple of drinks, the muscles in our stomach can also be impaired. Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle separating our stomach from our esophagus), allowing excess acid to flow up the valve. This is why after drinking wine, heartburn often follows. 

Other Health Impacts

Wine acidity is damaging to dental hygiene. Wine’s high acidity can erode tooth enamel, and this effect gets more dramatic with repeated exposure.

Tips for Mindful Wine Consumption

The only way to completely avoid wine acid reflux and wine heartburn is to cut it out entirely or choose zero-alcohol options. However, we can still enjoy a glass here and there by implementing these tips and tricks:

  • Cut back. Reducing the amount of wine we drink provides fewer opportunities for alcohol to aggravate symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. Excessive and routine drinking also causes long-term effects on our health. Set limits and consult with a doctor if you experience any negative symptoms. 
  • Sip, don't gulp. Wine’s taste, social nature, and culture make it easy to pour glass after glass. Slowing down and putting the glass down after each sip can help reduce the amount of wine that you drink in one sitting. 
  • Stay hydrated. Water not only helps prevent hangovers and dehydration, but also helps neutralize wine’s acidity. While you won’t be able to cancel out the effects of wine acidity completely, staying hydrated can reduce the severity of the symptoms.
  • Practice mindful drinking. The type of wine you choose matters. Wines range in acidity and significantly impact how you feel. Stay away from sparkling wine, as it is the worst wine for acid reflux. There are plenty of low-acid red wine options and zero-alcohol options to choose from.

Wrapping It Up

Acids and bases are a lesson that we all most likely skimmed over in chemistry class. Now that the topic is resurfacing in the newest health trends, it may leave us wishing we paid more attention. Whether you’re aiming to learn more about the health impacts of wine or trying to avoid wine acidity symptoms, knowing more about the acidity of wine and practicing mindful drinking can help you on your journey to improve your health. Cheers to sour tastes without the bitter effects!

Summary FAQs

1. Is wine acidic?

Yes. On the pH scale ranging from 0-14 (with zero being the most acidic), the average pH of wine is around 3.5. Neutral substances, like water, have a pH of 7.

2. How does wine acidity compare to other alcohol?

Wine is the most acidic in comparison to other alcoholic beverages.

3. Does the acidity of wine impact its taste?

Yes, wines with a higher acidity are more tart and crisp. Low-acid wine options are typically sweeter with a rounder mouthfeel. 

4. Can I drink wine with acid reflux?

Wine, like any other alcohol, can aggravate symptoms of acid reflux. It’s best to consult with your physician about your personal health needs.

5. Is red wine acidic?

All wines are acidic, but red wines are the least acidic choice.

6. What are the best wines for acid reflux?

The best wines for acid reflux are low-acid wines. These include darker red wines and those specially crafted to be low-acid. There are also plenty of alcohol-free drink options that allow you to enjoy sipping — without the pain or negative effects of alcohol. 

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