Brix, alcohol, T.A., pH … this is wine “by the numbers” — but what do these numbers mean? What can they tell us about the wine in the bottle?
Brix: This indicates the amount of concentrated grape sugars. It’s an indicator of the ripeness of the grapes and is one tool winemakers use to determine when to pick (the other is taste, and some only go by that). Most wine grapes are picked between 21˚ and 25˚ Brix. Winemakers use a refractometer to measure brix.
Each degree of brix equals one gram of sugar per 100 grams of grape juice.
Brix measurements are also used in the fruit juice, carbonated beverage, starch and sugar industries. What do they use for beer? A system called Plato.
Why the name brix? Because in the 1800s, a German inventor named A.F.W. Brix invented the technique.
What does brix mean to wine? The higher the brix, the riper the fruit so typically the wine will be more fruit forward.
Alcohol: This number can also indicate how ripe the grapes were–the higher the alcohol, the riper the grapes. The higher alcohol of many wines in recent years may reflect warmer weather.
There’s been a lot of controversy swirling in the glass about the industry trend toward higher alcohol levels. Some people say any wine over 15% alcohol is unpleasant to drink and doesn’t’ age well. Others scoff at these ideas. Consumers don’t seem to have a problem with big alcohol wines, since they keep buying them.
What does it mean in the glass? In a blind tasting, most people cannot tell if a wine is high alcohol.
T.A. or Total Acidity: This is a measurement of acidity by volume. Actually, there are several kinds of acid and T.A. only measures one, tartaric. T.A. ranges from 0.6 to 0.7 in most table wines.
T.A. is tied to the tartness of the wine. The higher the T.A., the more “zip” to the mouthfeel. If the acid is too low, the wine tastes flat. Acidity is important if you’re looking for a wine to go well with food.
Did you know winemakers can legally add tartaric acid to a wine to increase its acidity?’
T.A. is very much related to climate. Warmer climate wines tend toward too little acidity; cooler climate wines tend toward too much.
pH: This number is another indicator of acidity. Specifically, it measure ripeness in relation to acidity. The lower the pH, the crisper the wine. The higher the pH, the more chance the wine has of growing bacteria.
3.0 to 3.4 is typical for whites; 3.3 to 3.6 for reds.
pH and T.A. relate to each other this way: the higher the pH, the lower the acidity; the lower the pH, the higher the acidity. So, if you’re looking for a wine to enjoy with a meal, you’d want a lower pH bottling.
It all adds up to great wine — we hope!