I was recently asked a great question…
“At a recent wine tasting we kept hearing the phrase ‘Malo’ or
‘It’s not 100% malo’, or ‘There is no malo’. What does this
mysterious phrase mean?”
~ M.Z., Milwaukee, WI.
And I answered with this…
It is encouraging to hear that you are attending wine tastings. It
is time to ‘mellow out about malo.’ Malo is short for malolactic
fermentation, which is the conversion of the strong, harsh malic
acid (which is normally present in new wine and apples) into the
weaker lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Lactic acid is the acid of milk.
This transformation makes the wine less harsh, less tart, and more
supple. It can also add flavor and complexity to both red and white
wines and eliminates the chance of the fermentation occurring
after the wine has been bottled. This result would be a wine that
is gassy and cloudy. The process is not at all related to alcoholic
fermentation. Malo almost always happens after alcoholic
fermentation, which is why it is sometimes called a ‘secondary
fermentation’. Mastery of this fermentation process was one of
the great developments in winemaking in France and the world
in the 20th century. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally
when the temperatures become warmer in the spring. There can,
however be too much or not enough malo which means and a
control system is the key to perfecting the wines.
Chardonnay has a great affinity for malolactic fermentation,
creating soft, creamy almost buttery textures. Chenin Blanc,
Riesling and Gewurtztraminer show their true colors with the
fresh fruit acidity that makes them so great tasting. A wine that
is bottled and meant to be drunk immediately would not
need malo. Most red wines naturally go through malolactic
fermentation. It is the white wines, generally Chardonnay,
that are monitored and stylized. It all boils down to the
winemaker’s discretion and the style of wine she/he wishes
to produce. It is fun to buy several different styles and see
which ones suit your tastes and recipes. So have fun and
see what you prefer.
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