One of the most wonderful things about taking wine tours is the opportunity to increase your knowledge and understanding of the viniculture process. But as much as the expert guides and vintners try to explain the mysteries of this ancient art, there can be a lot of information to take in. |
If you are the type of person who enjoys really extending their knowledge on a tour, then it might help to get ahead with a bit of reading before you set off. Take time to research the area you’re visiting, the grapes grown there and the kind of varieties produced.
Another great idea is to become familiar with some of the terminology you might encounter on various wine tours. One item that often stumps enthusiasts when perusing a wine details sheet is the Brix measurement, so let me try to unravel the mystery here.
What is a Brix Measurement ?
On wine tours, you have probably heard vintners talking about the Brix measure of their grapes and, like many others, you probably wondered what on earth that meant. Well, simply put, Brix is a way of measuring the percentage of sugar in grapes. This is important in viniculture, of course, because the sugar converts into alcohol during the fermentation process, and so the Brix measure is a way of assessing the eventual alcohol level.
Now For the Science Bit
Degrees Brix is not exclusively a vinous term. It describes the sugar content of any aqueous solution with 1ºBx describing a liquid which has 1gram of sucrose per 100 grams. In the 19th century, Adolf Brix worked out the specific gravities of various sucrose solutions of different levels and charted them as percentages. This became known as the Brix measure.
What Can the Brix Measure Reveal
The Brix measure is not just important to viniculturists. It can also tell a connoisseur a lot about the finished wine.
It is assumed that the level of sugar in a grape will relate to the level of alcohol in the final product (the alcohol conversion should be a factor of around 0.59). If, however, the wine has a lower or higher level of alcohol than its Brix measure suggests, this tells you it has been added to or altered in some way during the viniculture process.
For example, a variety with a lower alcohol level than expected from its Brix measure has probably been watered down; that is, water has been added during the viniculture process. This is often done if the grapes are too sweet when they were harvested.
If, however, a wine has a higher alcohol level than its Brix measure seems to indicate, it might be the case that it has been chaptalised. This means that sugars or concentrated grape have been added before fermentation to increase the alcohol content. This can occur in cooler climates when grapes do not ripen to the same sweetness as in warmer climates. Now that you understand the term, the next time you read a wine’s details and see a number followed by ºBx, you won’t just know what it means, you’ll also know exactly what that number, combined with the wine’s alcohol content, reveals about what you are about to drink.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holidays. Offering holidays to France and other great destinations, itineraries include wine tours and other cultural and themed activities. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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