Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

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mseeber
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Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#1 Post by mseeber »

As I become better acquainted with wine, I see that some winemakers choose to identify various factors affecting the wine, such as pH, TA, brix, etc.

While I certainly understand that which is legally mandated (i.e. alcohol content) and in reality that number isn't even exact, what I don't understand is the other stats/factors as they affect purchasing decisions. To use a specific situation, a friend of a friend is starting a new winery and aside from shelling out the money without the ability to taste, I am left solely with comparing their wine stats/factors with other wineries in the same area and seeing if I can deduce from said factors the quality of the wine and whether or not it is worth trying it out.

In principle, I understand that tartaric acid is something that can be controlled to varying degree during winemaking, whereas other factors are largely dependent on when the grapes are harvested. Not to mention other factors in that can be alter the wine post harvest (e.g. leaving on the lees, manual vs. machine punchdown, etc.).

My basic question is, given the amount of potential information a winemaker publishes, can one make an informed decision on the quality, taste, and longevity of the wine (based solely on stats)? If so, is there a resource that would help me to better understand this? If not, what is the point of publishing TA, brix, pH levels, etc. other than for esoteric purposes?

To further illustrate, if Winery X in Walla Walla has a Cabernet Sauvignon with TA of 6.5g/l, pH of 3.87 and 14% alc., and the average Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon from that year has TA of 5.8g/l, ph of 3.82 and 14.4% alc.; would I be able to assume Winery X is better/worse than average without tasting it ahead of time?
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Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#2 Post by Drew Goin »

I don't have any magic, or even "educated" answers to your questions, mseeber, but that has never stopped me from commenting on topics before! :p

I don't rely on numbers in making blind purchases, yet I still like to know what the alcohol level and pH level are. A Zinfandel with high alcohol yet a pH of 3.4 would be something I'd be interested in trying. I understand that both numbers are within the winemaker's influence -watering back, spinning cones, RO for lowering abv and stem inclusion to reduce acidity (acidification to reduce pH). I also like to know what oak program is used (something I have been reading about more lately).

In a perfect world, I like the details of the harvest to be included: pick dates, basic information about the weather that year, potential alc/brix, pH, farming methods, soil types in the source vineyards, etc.

If all I have to go on is the "final numbers", it's best to know WHO is making the wine. A great vintage or prized vineyard site can be destroyed by the hands that make the juice. I keep flashing back to scenes in the " Mondovino" flick: micro-oxygenate this, micro-oxygenate that - regardless of vineyard, grapes, or continent!

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Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#3 Post by Drew Goin »

I learned a great deal from these two articles. The first is a discussion on additives in winemaking. The second one is about Flash Détente.


http://www.winesandvines.com/buyersguid ... eId=154830

http://www.winesandvines.com/blog/?p=1& ... 19&r=0&n=0

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Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#4 Post by Brian Tuite »

Short answer, no. You can get an idea of a stye to expect but stats don't consider winemaking. Example: I could pick at 34 brix and water back to achieve a certain ABV and achieve dryness. The resulting wine will not be sweet.
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Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#5 Post by Michael Martin »

Great question. I have always wondered about this as well.

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Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#6 Post by mseeber »

Thanks for the feedback so far. The two articles are very insightful. ..it looks like I need to read a lot more to really obtain insight on the various winemaking affects that impact the wine tasting (as well as realizing buying blind is a risky bet as taste is the only real indicator of preference). The research might make for an interesting research article on unique wines (such as the suggested big alcohol zinfandel with a pH of 3.4) to look for, or for winemakers to experiment with.

Philosophically, is it still a zinfandel if it doesn't exist within some standard deviation of the mean?
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Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#7 Post by Brian Gilp »

As already mentioned the numbers only tell half the story. To really understand the numbers one would also need to know when they were taken and what additions may have taken place before or after that number was taken. That being said, if I could get brix at harvest and pH at bottling that would be great and while not perfect would help weed out wines that don't fit my preferred profile.

For those looking for bigger body, high acid zin, Ravenswood made a number of them in the mid-late 1990s. Sorry, but I don't really know of any current examples. Maybe the 2012 Hobo Rockpile but that's just a guess.

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Re: Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#8 Post by Juliec »

if you are purchasing wine and know your palate and preferences as it relates to these characteristics, then yes you can make a more informed decision based on the stats. It probably also requires some titration based on varietal and your wine preferences.
If you are pretty easy going with what wine you like to try and taste then it’s probably overkill. For me, when I am thinking about purchasing multiple bottles and haven’t tasted the wine, I usually will lean on the stats or winemaking details that the winery shares. There are a bunch of wine available at all price points. Once it gets above my set price, I try to apply my best guess as to whether I will really like the wine. ABV and acidity and clones for certain varietals are helpful as are how long it is aged, in what style or container.

For some varietals, I’m pretty specific as wines can be polarizing for me. It also may be helpful to narrow down the AVA or region if you that affects your wine preferences. Don’t forget there is a vintage affect as well.
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Re: Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#9 Post by David Patte »

As producers, we provide “tech sheets” to our distributors with all the lab results and some retailers will ask. Generally this would be confusing to most consumers so I tend to share technical stats. when I can put them in context, or if get a sense that a person has advanced wine knowledge and is seeking the information.

Tartaric acid is only one measure of acidity (there is also malic acid, lactic acid, acetic acid, sulfuric acid, citric acid, etc....) so pH is a better overall measure of perceived acidity. (Wine makers and enologists in the US and Europe, etc, test and report on different acids as proxies; tartaric in the US, sulfuric acid in Europe).

Why focus on acidity? It’s a shorthand for various factors, the 2 most important probably being 1) balance (acidity adds verve, brightness; in red wine, red fruit flavors instead of black fruit or jammy cooked fruit, etc for example) and also ageability (pH 3.4 is a magic number because many spoilage organisms cannot thrive or even survive in a low pH wine matrix).

Hope this helps!
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Re: Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#10 Post by Mattstolz »

not really, no. especially because most of those numbers can be natural or from artificial additive sources. also, you can have a wine with all the numbers looking great that just doesnt taste good.

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Re: Purchasing wine (untasted) based on acidity, TA, brix, alcohol, etc.

#11 Post by dougwilder »

As a critic, I pay very little attention to pH, or TA. They aren't data that many consumers will really grasp. I taste with several producers who send me multi-page chemical analysis of their wines. Alcohol level is probably the most reliable predictor of how a wine 'may' taste. Generally, lower = lighter. Wine is a journey, you'll miss the great omelettes unless you break some eggs along the way.
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