I flew into Davis last week to chat up some of the Profs at The Oldest Wine School in the World.
Thanks to Doug Adams, who teaches the winemakerwannabees how to ripen up those grapes, I know a nifty piece of trivia--how to convert bottle alcohol into the brix the grapes were picked at. Simply divide a wineís final alcohol (on the label) by .55 to get the brix at harvest.
Grape sugar is measured in brix. Back in the days I could drink California wine, 23-24 brix was considered great ripeness. Now many New World grapes come in at near to 30-brix.
Over ripeness causes all sorts of tzuris in the winery. Thanks to machines like reverse osmosis and technology like sturdy industrial yeasts, winemakers squirrel around it. Anyway, almost everyone lies. If they don't lie, they often reduce the alcohol by the appropriate machine, or diluting with water.
Le me do a little Old World vs. New World. First instance, syrah. My 2004 Dard & Ribo St. Joseph says 13% alcohol --23.6 brix. My 2001 Faurie St. Joseph came in at 12.7 --23 brix. Many American winemakers would be horrified at these levels, seeing all sorts of bad, bad, scores in their future. Rhetorical question; why are they gorgeous wines to me?
I donít have a lot of domestic bottles in my apartment, but Havens 2002 Napa Syrah is 14.5, harvested--26.5 brix. From Walla Walla, there's Cayuse at 14.8, bringing it in off the vines at 26.9. I like what Cayuse does but for me, the wine would sing a lot more if they came down to under 14%.
Pinot? Of course a different story as it should be more delicate. The 2002 Bart Marsannay which I adore? 12.5 (brix, 22.75). In the ludicrously hot year 2003 they came in at 13% (23.6). Domestic stuff? A Google search showed a Santa Rita Hills Sea Smoke estate pinot (canít stand it) at 14.5. Their calculation says it was brought in at 25.4 brix, but by Dougís calculation (which given how the UC Davis folk are all about science is the one I will take as truth) would bring it to 26.36.
Iím trying to find the alcohol on another popular pinot from Brewer-Clifton, and all I can find is 15.5 which I donít know as reliable, but if it had brix of 28.1.
One manís chicken coop is anotherís crystal palace.
Doug told me that to make a run-of-the-mill pinot noir, 23-24 brix are magic numbers. Iíll take run-of-the-mill.