When we taste a wine, it is important to distinguish flavour from sweetness. Flavour corresponds with certain perceptions. Flavour is linked to the presence of minerals. All too often winetasters assume that freshness in wine derives from acidity, but this is not the true for all wine. Comes in sapidity. When Italian tasters refer to sapidità or sapidity they talk about savoury notes of salinity as a source of freshness.
Lately, sapidity has been creeping into wine-tasting words. Some years ago, I heard about sapidity but hardly used it to describe wines. Until last year, at Vinitaly it was mentioned several times describing white wines that give a fresh taste sensation. “No, it is not acidity, it is sapidity,” the winemaker said when asked about the Sicilian wine made with Carricante grapes. “I would describe this wine as a wine with a high and pleasant sapidity”.
But what exactly does the term sapidity in wine mean?
The question of sapidity in wine has always been much discussed. When Italian sommeliers and winemakers describe minerality as “sapidità” (sapidity), they commonly describe more the taste on the palate than smell. Sapidity produces a vibrant sensation in the mouth compared to the way acidity does. Sapidity gives a tingling, mouth-watering feeling that produces saliva. When tasting wine, one can feel it on both sides of the cheeks and/or on the tip of the tongue. Sapidity describes wines with a savoury, mineral or saline sensation. This sense of taste, this sensation of having a more or less intense savoury flavour that is pleasing, is often confused with perceived acidity.
The perception of sapidity derives from the content of dissolved mineral substances. In other words, sapidity refers to the presence of mineral salts in wine. Yes, we can taste salt in wine. Generally speaking, a person perceives salt in a concentration of about 0.5 grams per litre. We can find 1.5 – 3 grams per litre of mineral salts of potassium, magnesium and calcium in an average wine. The mineral substances responsible for the salinity in wine can have different origins. They can emanate from the winemaking practices and ageing processes, although the mineral composition of the soil, the climate or a vineyard location close to the sea determines the sapid-tasting sensation even more. Soils rich in mineral salts, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, will likely give more flavour to the wine. For example, vines growing on coastal or volcanic soils tend to absorb a significant quantity of mineral salts from the soil. They usually develop a minerality distinctiveness that is reflected in the final wine.
Sapidity can be perceived in white, rosé & red wines, but not in the same savoury way
Sapidity is more noticeable in white and sometimes in rosé wines. White and rosé wines are less prone to the influence of tannins or dominance of tannin that give your mouth a ‘dry’ feeling, and can taste bitter and astringent. let’s not forget that when winemakers “taste” for tannin or tannin ripeness, they focus on texture, because tannins have no flavour. Although wine acidity may seem similar to tannin, it is sour rather than bitter. Phenolic content or solids such as dissolved mineral substances play a similar role in white wines, and especially in wines with a distinctive savoury, mineral salinity, to tannins in red wines. They give the white wines in general structure and sometimes even a touch of bitterness in the finish. When a wine has a particularly significant content of saline substances, the wine imparts a pleasant savoury sensation of flavorous freshness.
Sapidity as a distinct flavour descriptor
I have never resisted change, even when it is called a better wine descriptor. But the question persists: is the Vinitaly wine made from the Carricante variety best noted as sapid? The winemaker seems to think so. The white wine had an agreeable flavour and mouth-watering feeling of great freshness and fully expressed the characteristics of the northern slopes of Etna in the glass. In other words, the savoury wine’s exuberant mineral body outlined its complex character and accentuated its acidity and freshness. And yet, if sapidity best describes a wine rich in mineral substances, I am willing to go with the flow and enjoy the pleasure of the tasting experience. We just have to add a scale: a wine can be lacking sapidity, is scarcely sapid, can be quite sapid, is sapid, very sapid or just salty.