Better With Butter
At this point in time, all of our wines are in house, pressed off, and have finished primary fermentation. We are now waiting on the secondary fermentation to finish. The secondary fermentation I am referring to is Malolactic Fermentation or MLF (not to be confused with the acronym MILF which has more to do with attractive moms of a certain age). Basically, it is the conversion of malic acid (the kind of acid that is in say, very green apples) to lactic acid (the main acid in milk) with a small belch of CO2 as a side product.
Now imagine your wine starting out with just the malic acid component (I’m talking red- I’ll address the white shortly). Expressed in red wine, malic acid gives it a harsh, bitter, green apple component- you can still see and taste the varietal characteristics, but this is completely overwhelmed by the effect of the acid. By having the wine go through MLF, those harsh acids are converted to the softer, richer, lactic acid, allowing for those varietal characteristics to come through, while giving the wine a silkier and smoother texture (while not “buttery” more “butteresque”) . Now, white wines can also be put through MLF as well. Sometime in the 90’s, big, buttery Chardonnays became the trend, and that’s when the world became aware of the process of MLF. Fast-forward a decade, and whites are trending back to little-to-no MLF, a very good thing in this blogger’s humble opinion. White wines retain their acidity, ensuring their delicate fruit flavors are not masked, as well as making them a better accompaniment to food. I am happy to report that Naggiar whites are MLF-free.
While spontaneous primary fermentations are fairly easy to manage, secondary MLFs do better with the addition of MLB- Major League Baseball- I mean, Malolactic Bacteria (ok, that’s not the abbreviation for it, but gotta give a shout-out to the Giant’s in the World Series).
Malolactic bacteria (or Oenococcus onei) are added to wines that do not present ideal conditions for MLF or ones that might not finish it in a timely fashion. Difficult conditions would be too high or low of a temperature, low pH, high alcohol, and high SO2. Fruit known to have a predilection for undesirable bacteria that can cause problems with VA, off-flavors, and aromas are inoculated right at the crusher. You know the saying, an ounce of prevention… The wine is also monitored throughout MLF to make sure it completes the process. This is done through taste, chromatograms, and our friends at the lab who confirm our findings through enzymatic measurement.
The question begs- what happens when MLF goes wrong? If you remember, I said one of the by-products of fermentation is CO2. Here’s a comparison my boys (and my daughter for that matter) would appreciate- fermentation is a process that can occur during digestion of food. As I stated, CO2 is produced, but is trapped inside your digestive tract. It builds and builds until the pressure is great enough to force it out- BUURRPP. Same thing happens when your MLF goes unmonitored. The CO2 builds up- you go to open that barrel or even worse, that bottle of wine and… remember everyone’s favorite grade school science experiment, the homemade volcano? Yeah- you get the picture, projectile wine fountain.
So while red wine may not be actually better with “butter”, it is made better with MLF!