THE WINE JOURNAL

Posted by bruce-bradley on March 31, 2015 at 2:15 PM

MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION

A lot of people seem confused whenever I mention ML, or malolactic in wine. Malolactic is a secondary fermentation that wines go through after primary fermentation is complete. Unlike primary fermentation, which is caused by yeast consuming sugar in the grape juice and converting it into alcohol, malolactic occurs when bacteria consume the malic acid in the wine and convert it to lactic acid. All red wines go through ML, but for white wines it is a more stylized decision. Malolactic conversion makes whites rich and buttery and somewhat less crisp. In the 1980’s it was all the rage to make big, buttery and oaky Chardonnays—what we called in those days “soda-pop” wines. Those wines were responsible for getting a lot of people who weren’t wine drinkers to switch over to wine. As tastes refined, however, smooth and buttery chardonnays became less popular. There’s still a place for them—Rombauer Vineyards in Saint Helena has a huge fan base for their very buttery, oaky Chardonnay.

Winemakers have anxiety attacks for different reasons. Some get anxious about bottling, others about harvest. The one thing that has caused me sleepless nights has been ML. In the old days it was easy. You would inoculate your wines with ML during primary fermentation. By the time you pressed your wines out and barreled them down, both primary and secondary fermentations were done. By November your wines were barreled down and put to sleep for winter.

Current winemaking practices call for higher sugars and, therefore, higher alcohols. That means you need to wait to inoculate your wines with ML bacteria, until primary fermentation is complete. Otherwise, you run the risk of causing a “stuck” fermentation (where the yeast die off before completing their work and you are left with sugar in your wine—a bad thing). It’s also a much slower process. Often, you end up adding the ML bacteria after the wine is already in the barrel. Then it can take months for the bacteria to do their work. Remember how I said that everything used to be done by November? Not so any more. Many times I’ve awakened in mid-July worrying about wines that weren’t yet finished with ML. The reason for my worrying was that, while the wines are going through ML they are producing CO2 gas. The CO2 blankets the wine and protects it from oxidation and bacteria. Once that process is complete, the wine no longer has that protection and it needs to be adjusted so that it doesn’t go bad on you.

Even knowing that, my anxiety was unwarranted. After completing ML the wines will continue to “give off” CO2 for a couple of weeks. There was absolutely no chance that, at 3 AM on any given night in mid-July, my wines would go bad before I got to work the next morning.

But I guess it wouldn’t have been normal if I didn’t get stressed about some aspect of my job…

Here are my picks for this week:


BERINGER

2013 Pinot Grigio

California

$4.00 at CVS Pharmacy in Grass Valley

Peach and Citrus notes in the nose, more so on the palette, with a touch of pineapple. Fruity, but a little thin.

TWO AND A HALF STARS


PRIMAL ROOTS

California Red Blend

2011

$6.99 at CVS Pharmacy in Grass Valley

Hints of smoke and dark red fruit in the nose. A little veggie initially, but then opens up to cherries and blackberries and chocolate. Slightly vegetable finish.

THREE STARS


QUAIL OAK

Non-Vintage

American Chardonnay

$2.48 at Safeway in Grass Valley

Subtle notes of pear and pineapple in the nose. Bright and fruity. Decently balanced.

For the price…

THREE STARS

 

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2 Comments

Reply Dianna
12:42 PM on April 4, 2015 
Another great article.
Reply Jeff
4:48 PM on March 31, 2015 
Great article Bruce!!