There was this wonderful smell. Exotic, floating enticing, but what was it? It had been a while sense I’d experienced it and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it came to me it, that clean tang of Balsamic vinegar. This wine had VA and I loved it.
The wine was 1998 Alion, Ribera del Duero, from Spain’s revered Vega Sicilia. I found it to be wonderful, complex, layered with both power and balance. The kind of wine that grabs your attention and holds it every single sip and sniff, always growing, changing and expanding. This is a wine that plants itself in your memory. Yet, it clearly displayed volatile acidity. Something considered to be a fault in modern winemaking, that often was an integral part of the great wines of the past.
Volatile acidity refers to acetic acid, which we more commonly know as vinegar. There is no doubt that acetic acid is a threat to wine, but there is also no doubt that tiny traces of it can add a new dimension, a highlight, to a wine’s character. While some VA is always present in wine, a very little bit goes a long way, but certain wines seem to dial-in just the right extra touch of VA, like the 1998 Alion does. Today’s drive for squeaky clean wines often takes some of the most interesting edges of the wine away leaving only simple fruitiness for a wine to hang its hat on – charming, but not the most interesting of characteristics.
While no one can deny the vast improvements in winemaking, our goal in winemaking should not be to make wines so sterile they’re no longer alive.