WHAT IS BRIX?
The Brix scale is a system used to measure the sugar content of grapes and is typically used as a simplified measure of ripeness. The Brix of juice from crushed grapes is determined using a Hydrometer, which measures specific gravity (the density of a liquid in relation to that of water). Each degree Brix is equivalent to 1 gram of sugar per 100 grams of grape juice. The grapes for most table wines will have a Brix reading of between 17 and 24 Brix at harvest, depending on the grape variety and with an average of about 21 or 22 degrees. Most of the sugar in the grapes will be converted into alcohol during fermentation. Grape ripeness and flavour is also impacted by acidity and complex phenolic character and winemakers often rely on tasting the grapes for their final decision about when to harvest.
ICEWINE AND LATE HARVEST
Higher brix standards for sweet wines mean that the juice starts out with much more sugar. Fermentation will convert only part of this sugar to alcohol, leaving a high natural residual sugar in the wine. Compared to table wines that start with 20 brix juice and may be fermented to dryness with an alcohol content of 11%-13%, the profile for Icewine is:
- Brix at harvest – 35 degrees or higher
- Typical finished alcohol content – 9%-10%
- Residual sugar in finished wine – minimum 125 grams/litre, usually near 200 g/L
All VQA wines are subject to a full chemical analysis. The analysis includes health the safety components and wine chemistry and is performed to confirm that the wine meets standards set by VQA Ontario, the LCBO and the federal government. VQA Ontario also uses this analysis as a benchmark to verify through random testing whether the wine released for sale is of the same provenance as the wine submitted for approval.
PESTICIDE RESIDUES AND TRACE HEAVY METALS
Wines are tested for a range of contaminants. Any wine that exceed limits for identified contaminants are rejected by VQA Ontario.
All samples are analysed for basic wine chemistry, including sulphites, volatile acidity, alcohol content and residual sugar. Sulphite levels and volatile acidity are subject to limits for quality assurance purposes and, in the case of sulphites, for health reasons. Alcohol and residual sugar are used to assess the wine character and ensure accurate labelling.
Vitis vinifera is a grape species originating in Europe and traditionally used for wine for many hundreds of years. Other species include, among others, vitis riparia, vitis labrusca and vitis amerensis which are native to North America. VQA Ontario maintains a restricted list of permitted variety to manage quality inputs.
VQA Ontario permits the use of almost all common vitis vinifera varieties based on the rationale that they are globally recognized as suitable for wine production. Although the list is long, the vast majority of production is represented by approximately 10 varieties. These varieties represent the intersection of consumer preferences and the varieties that perform particularly well in Ontario's appellations. Many wineries continue to produce small or experimental quantities of dozens of vitis vinifera varieties.
VQA Ontario allows wine production from a short list of 8 grapes which are hybrids produced from crosses of vitis vinifera and other species. Wines made from hybrid grapes must declare the grape variety on the label. The permitted hybrids have been carefully selected based on a demonstrated record of quality achievement. Of particular note is the success of the Vidal Blanc for making Icewine. Other hybrids have not been included on the list of permitted varieties because of a history of association with an undesirable character described as "foxy". More specifically, hybrids with vitis labrusca parentage are not permitted to be used in any VQA wine. Wineries are free to produce wines from grape varieties that do not appear on the authorized list, however these wines must not be labelled with VQA appellation terms.
GRAPE VARIETIES ON THE LABEL
The grape variety on the label often helps consumers choose a wine. It can be an indication of the flavour, weight and body of a wine.
Varietal labelling rules ensure that when grape varieties appear on the label, the wine is predominantly made up of those varieties. Wines labelled with varieties are also assessed for typicity when tasted by the VQA tasting panel to ensure that the character of the wine is within the range of character expected for that varietal. It should be noted that these ranges can be quite broad and encompass winemaking styles, such as oaked or not oaked