Wine Wednesday: Malolactic Fermentation

By: Cecily Gamba

It’s Wine Wednesday, and this week we are going to dive into a term that many of us have heard, but may not fully understand. You may have heard the term “malolactic fermentation” thrown around here and there, but what exactly is this process? What does it do? When does it occur during the wine making timeline? We are here to debunk!

You know that creamy texture in red wines, and some white wines? That buttery taste, or that oily feeling on your mid palate? That is the result of a wine going through what is known as Malolactic Fermentation (also known as malo, or MLF). Through this process, wines gain a richer and creamier texture than wines that do not go through MLF.

Graphic via

At it’s most basic, MLF is what turns tart acid in wine, into a creamier, softer acid. The starting acid is called malic acid, which is the same acid that contributes sourness to some foods, such as fruits. That tartness in a Granny Smith apple? Malic acid. The primary flavor in rhubarb? Malic acid. That thing that makes you pucker when you bite into a salt and vinegar chip? You get the idea.

During MLF in wine, a bacteria called Oenoccocus Oeni eats the malic acid, and converts those compounds to lactic acid. Lactic acid is the same acid found in milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Lactic acid gives the wine a much softer feel than it’s sharp predecessor, hence the buttery, creamy, velvety texture in the resulting wine. MLF usually occurs in oak barrels during the aging process.

Most all red wines, and some whites such as Chardonnay and Viognier, go through MLF. Next time you taste one of these wines, see if you can notice that creamy texture on your palate. You will be tasting the result of Malolactic Fermentation!

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