Malolactic "Fermentation" of Wine - Not


The flavors in wine come from three things - the grapes, fermentation and aging. We've explored the flavors from the juice of the grape, the flavors from the grape skins, seeds and stems and we've seen that the yeast can affect flavors during fermentation. But, there's another process that affects a wine's flavor and it's often called Malolactic Fermentation.

But, getting right to the point, this is not a fermentation. It's actually a process in which one type of acid in the wine is converted to another type of acid. So, it is more correctly a Malolactic Conversion, not a fermentation.

In this conversion process, a tart acid that naturally forms in wine, malic acid, is converted to lactic acid. While the tart malic acid can yield flavor sensations much like a tart green apple, the lactic acid is much softer and creates a richer mouthfeel that is often called buttery and can make a wine seem velvety smooth.

Most red wines undergo malolactic conversion while only some white wines, notably Chardonnay, undergo malolactic conversion. This process is most often performed shortly after the end of primary fermentation and just prior to the aging process.

And, speaking of the aging process, we'll explore the flavors that are imparted to wines as they age in next week's blog. Until then, Cheers!

What are Jammy, Buttery & Earthy Wines?

Ever wonder how terms like 'Jammy,' 'Buttery,' and 'Earthy' can be associated with wine? A product that made with grapes?

Previously we looked at "How do all those flavors get into wine?" There we learned that taste and smell come from the combination of senses from your tongue and your nose that your brain puts together to form flavor. We also learned that aging a wine, especially in oak barrels, can impart flavors that go beyond the fruit flavors from the grape.

So, let's briefly explore the terms 'jammy,' 'buttery,' and 'earthy' with respect to wines.

The first, jammy, is probably the easiest to understand. Just like a jar of fruit jam that you may spread on toast, jammy wines have very concentrated fruit flavors. And because jammy wines are made from very ripe fruit (i.e., high in sugar content) they can end up with just a slight hint of sweetness to go along with the concentrated fruit flavors. Hence, a jammy wine.  Zinfandel is best known for having jammy characteristics.

Next is buttery. Seemly an odd term to be associated with wine. But buttery flavor can be created in wine in one of two ways. First, putting the wine through the process of malolactic conversion (often referred to a malolactic fermentation) turns the naturally formed malic acid that you might associated with tart green apples into lactic acid that is most commonly associated with cream or butter.  The second process that can add buttery flavor to a wine is oak aging.  While most red wines go through malolactic conversion and oak aging, it's Chardonnay that's best known for showing buttery flavors.

Finally, earthy wines are those that have subtle aromas of damp earth, forest floor, mushrooms or a bit of a dusty aroma. Earthy wines include Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah. These should not be pungent aromas, you should just get a hint. If these aromas are strong it usually indicates that the wine has become tainted.

While these descriptors may sound a bit odd when associated with wine, they really can be wonderful enhancements to your wine drinking experience. So, remember to swirl and smell your wines in the glass, then sip. And then see if you can pick out these interesting nuances. Cheers!