“Buttery” Wines

Did you know that the “buttery” taste in classic California Chardonnay comes from a process called malolactic fermentation (MLF)? Winemakers and those in the know simply call it “malo” (as in “how much malo has this wine been through?”).

To make normally crisp (acidic) Chardonnay wine more full and rich tasting, wine makers add bacteria to the wine during alcohol fermentation. This bacteria converts malic acid (the same thing that makes green apples taste sour) into lactic acid (found in milk and butter). The bacteria is filtered out of the wine before bottling.

Malolactic fermentation may beĀ  done only partially in which case the process is stopped before all the malic acid is converted. The process can be stopped by cooling the wine down (killing the bacteria).

Some wines go through multiple malolactic fermention processes to convert as much of the malic acid as possible. It’s all up the winemaker and his goal for that particular wine.

White wines and red wines can both have malolactic fermentation (or not) depending on the taste the winemaker is trying to achieve. The richer the taste, the more malo the wine has been through.

More recently, the trend in New World Chardonnays has been to reduce or even eliminate malo leaving the wine with a crisp, even tart finish. In France, there has always been a variety of styles depending on the traditions of each region. For example, in the north of Burgundy, the Chablis region traditionally produces very crisp Chardonnay wines. While further south, regions like Montrochet produce wines with some MLF to produce richer tasting wines.

There is now a spectrum of taste from totally crisp to completely “malo” depending on your taste preference.

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