Today’s Wine Word: Brix

This is a seasonal word, for sure. And, it should be on the rise, this week, with all this lovely, warm weather! 

Brix is a measurement of sugar. 24 degrees brix translates to 24% sugar. After such a cool summer, here, the grapes are at least two weeks behind in maturity so the brix is very much on the winemakers’ minds.

One of my clients reported 19 degrees brix a few days ago in her Petit Verdot. You can figure that the sugar will increase by about a little less than 1% a week in normal weather – whatever that means ;-). So, if she’s looking for 24 degrees brix at harvest she’s still about five weeks out. Let’s hope we don’t run into rain! 

So, winemakers check the brix with increasing frequency as the grapes ripen.

Why is sugar so important? It determines the alcohol. You can figure that a little over half the sugar will convert to alcohol during the fermentation. So, starting at 24 brix you can expect to end up with 13 or 13.5% alcohol in the finished dry wine. 

The grape sugar is measured with a small instrument called a refractometer, which is kind of like a prism. When the winemaker puts a drop of grape juice on the lense of the refractometer and holds it up to the light, it measures the speed at which the light passes through the liquid. The denser the liquid (with soluable solids), the slower the light travels through it and the higher the reading. You can figure that 90% of the soluable solids is sugar so the scale on the refractometer is calibrated accordingly. Most wine grapes are picked at somewhere between 20 and 30% sugar (that’s a huge leeway – most come in between 21 and 26%). When you buy table grapes at the market they’re usually between 15 and 20% sugar, so these wine grapes taste really good! 

Of course flavor is the most important thing, but sugar is a biggie, along with acid and pH.

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