Measuring Brix isn’t just important for winemaking. The consistency and quality of premium canned tomatoes (such as San Marzano) relies on careful measurement of the Brix of tomatoes at harvest (to determine ripeness) and in the final product (to determine sweetness and thickness). Here we proudly present “What’s a Brix?”, written by my wife Teri, and featured on page 67 Ken Forkish’s fabulous new book, The Elements of Pizza.
The Brix scale is named after 19th-century German scientist Adolf Brix, who invented the hydrometer, an instrument that could measure the sugar content of grape juice for wine. Before this, ripeness could only be determined subjectively, by taste. The Brix scale can also be used to measure ripeness in the juice of other fruits, like tomatoes.
In winemaking, 1 degree Brix is equivalent to 1 g of soluble solids (the sum of sucrose, fructose, vitamins, proteins, and so on) per 100 g of grape juice. In winemaking, an effort is made to harvest at a particular Brix level, and this measure of ripeness and its corresponding sugar content in the fruit directly relates to the fermentation potential in the wine, its flavor, and ultimately the conversion to alcohol. In theory, alcohol is produced at a rate of approximately 51% of fermentable sugar. Variables such as exposure to oxygen and temperature, the amount of yeast and yeast diversity determine the actual conversion rate from fermentable sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Tomatoes go through the same seasonal harvest variability as grapes and other fruits of the earth do. There is a right time to harvest, and measuring Brix in tomatoes is as important to timing harvest as it is for grapes, when the desire is to produce canned tomatoes that have consistent flavor, acidity, texture and water content (think of it as thickness or thinness of tomato sauce from one can to the next, from one day to the next). Fruit ripening involves a series of related and complex enzyme-catalyzed transformations. When starches are converted into simple sugars by natural enzymes, the fruit sweetens. A tomato changes from green to red as chlorophyll breaks down to reveal underlying pigmented compounds such as anthocyanins and lycopenes. It becomes less tart as organic acids are converted into less acidic molecules; softer as pectin is broken down; and more fragrant as volatile aromatic compounds are synthesized. Brix is an extremely useful objective marker for ripeness.
Recent News & Rants
I am a bit perplexed by the popularity of a relatively new genre of wine: “Natural Wines”. In my opinion, this is a narrow and arbitrary classification meant to suit the marketing needs of whoever is using it. When I see a cloudy wine and am told “Oh this is a natural wine”, I am compelled to retort “I can’t think of anything more natural than gravity…maybe the winemaker should have waited to rack his wine for bottling!” And when one encounters a wine which is either oxidized or smells of fingernail polish remover or has been brutalized by a lactic acid bacteria infection, sure these are “natural processes” but they also emanate from poor winemaking practices.There’s More... >
2016 was an extremely dry and warm vintage. Because of water stress, the berries were smaller and crop smaller than usual. However, a beneficient rain in early September re-hydrated the fruit and the result is a cellar of very concentrated and wonderfully balanced wines. Get ready for a brilliant 2016 vintage of small production down the road!There’s More... >
Guido, our 18 year old Tuxedoed cat, quietly passed away on August 18. For 17 vintages, Guido was our constant companion in the cellar, in the vineyard, in the yurt.There’s More... >