Question from Cheryl: Is Petite Sirah the same as Syrah?
Monthly Archives: May 2011
Question from Sally: I was at a tasting room at a winery and when the guy at the bar served the Chardonnay he said “40% M L”. I was too intimidated to ask what that means.
Reply: Hello, servers and barristas everywhere – stuff like this is what steers people toward beer! Be helpful and kind to your customers or get a new job description!
OK, I’ve stepped down from the soap box…
ML is short for malolactic fermentation. This normally follows the primary, alcoholic fermentation so sometimes it’s called the second fermentation. It’s actually a conversion, but whatever.
It’s routine for reds, for the sake of stability and to soften the acid. When it comes to whites, it’s more of a question mark and when people talk about ML it’s usually in reference Chardonnay. This is the technique that makes your Chardonnay buttery. Here’s how it goes:
It takes the wine maker about three weeks to make his Chardonnay. Then, lactic-acid bacteria is added to the new wine. It causes the tart malic acid – the green apple acid, to convert to soft lactic acid – the milk acid. So the wine feels softer on your palate. ML also has a byproduct, called diacetyl, which adds a sort of viscous, oily sensation to the texture and smells and tastes buttery. Continue reading
Question from Karen: It seems like a lot of wine descriptions say “vanilla.” Why would something made of grapes taste like vanilla?
Reply: Hi, Karenl. Thanks for writing! We usually assume that vanilla character is extracted from the barrel (the barrel would have to be relatively new). Vanillin occurs naturally in raw oak and it becomes more noticeable with toasting, up to a point (the wood staves are bent into place over an oak fire. Then they toast the barrel, a little longer, over the fire in most cases).
There are lots of different characteristics in wine that are barrel derived and vanilla is in the top five, which is why you see it so often. Other common flavors/aromas: Coconut, caramelized character, smoke, coffee, spice (especially clove), nuttiness, dill (especially American oak), tobacco…
We can never be 100% sure that any of these characteristics are barrel derived. For instance, spiciness may be barrel derived but some grape varieties are inherently spicy: Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer and Syrah come to mind. Hay and tobacco aromas may come from the barrel, but Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc display those characteristics whether they’re barrel aged or not.
I think that’s part of the fun. For everything we think we know there is an equal number of mysteries – especially when it comes to fermentation aromas.
Hope that helps. Cheers!
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Question from Anna: Once in awhile I notice a dark coating on the sloped part of the bottle or dark sandy stuff in the wine. Does that mean the wine is bad?