You may have heard wine experts/lovers (or me just being a toff again) talk about Malolactic Fermentation, otherwise called Malo or MLF, and thought What The…? (Thanks, Rove).
Malolactic Fermentation is a secondary fermenation that is often encouraged to take place after the alcoholic fermentation (the ultimate reason we drink wines) is finished.
Put simply, Malo converts Malic Acid, the natural occurring acid in grapes, into Lactic Acid, normally found in diary products.
So why would we want that to happen? Firstly it helps to understand that Malo is not a good thing in every style of wine (Sauvignon Blancs and Riesling, especially. But we’ll come to that soon). But the reason winemakers do encourage it (mainly in Chardonnays and reds) is due to the process converting the harder, “fresher” Malic Acid to the softer, rounder Lactic Acid. The resulting wine therefore does not look as “sharp” in the mouth, but feels smoother, “creamier”, more rounded and mouth-filling.
Ok where is it used? Cooler climate wines that tend to have a higher acidity level can benefit from Malo by reducing the “hardness” of wine in the mouth and filling out the body. But Malo isn’t used on wines where freshness is the key, eg Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and unoaked Semillon.
How you I pick MLF in a wine? As stated above, Lactic Acid is the acid found in diary foods and thus will impart creamy characters on the wine. These characters could be described as any of the following; Whites: Butter, Butterscotch, Creamy, Cashew, Caramel, Honeycomb or Toffee Reds: Bacon, Cashew or Toffee
I like those characters, where can I find them? Chardonnays mostly. One of the best examples of MLF (combined with oak matuation) is Lyre Bird Hill’s 2001 Chardonnay from Koonwarra, South Gippsland. Many Yarra Valley producers also use MLF with their Chardonnays.