Sparkling Wine Becomes Less Acidic With Warm Spanish Weather

May 14, 2014 11:31 am ET

(Updates with temperatures in last two paragraphs.)

May 14 (Bloomberg) -- Spain’s sparkling wine industry, which exports 160 million bottles a year, plans to lower the minimum level of acidity in the beverage known as cava, partly in response to warmer weather affecting the nature of grapes.

Hot summers mature fruit faster. That gives grapes more alcoholic potential as it reduces their level of tartaric acid. In Spain’s tightly controlled industry, wine cellars increasingly found the grapes didn’t meet minimum levels of acid content to qualify for the prized cava denomination.

“Base wines are coming in less and less acidic, though that’s only partly from warmer summers,” said Luis Marco, a technical analyst for Spain’s Cava Regulatory Board. “Many wine cellars were having to add tartaric acid.”

The Spanish government’s Food Industry General Directorate today announced that initial approvals and regulatory comments had been received for a one-year-old proposal to change rules on cava, without giving details on the plan. The major change is to lower to 5 from 5.5 the minimum grams per liter of tartaric acid required, according to Marco.

The Cava Board lists 247 producers, largely based in the Catalonia region around Barcelona where the beverage was first produced in the late 1800s in a way somewhat similar to champagne-making in France.

Some 122 nations imported Spanish cava last year, with about one-quarter of the bottles going to Germany.

The average temperature last July in Spain was 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), 1.6 degrees above the 1971-2000 average.

Temperature hastens ripening, with grapes developing more sugar at the expense of acids and tannins. The chardonnay variety produces quality wines where average temperatures in the April-October growing season are about 14 to 17 degrees Celsius, and pinot noir grapes thriving in a range of 14 to 16 degrees Celsius, according to research by Gregory Jones, a climatologist at Southern Oregon University.

--With assistance from Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris.