MLF, partial malolactic fermentation, blocked malo – all terms you're likely to have stumbled across if you have more than a casual interest in wine and Champagne. If you've been wondering what it's all about this blog outlines all the important parts without getting bogged down in too many technicalities (we'll leave that for the winemakers!)
What is it?
Malolactic fermentation (or MLF as it's sometimes initialled) is the conversion of malic acid into lactic acid within a wine. It’s a common and, indeed, natural process which takes place in the winery when lactic bacteria, all around us in the atmosphere, comes into contact with the wine.
How does it affect Champagne?
Fundamentally, Malolactic fermentation 'softens' wine and raises the pH giving it a rounder, fuller mouthfeel. It also brings down many of the tart, fresh flavours replacing them with creamier buttery notes.
That's not to say, however, that all Champagnes that undergo malolactic fermentation will be rich and creamy and all those that don't will be fresh and zesty. There are many other equally important elements from terroir and microclimate to time of harvest, as well as a whole host of vinification techniques that all impart characteristics upon a wine. Malo is just another piece in the puzzle and another option a winemaker has to influence the profile of his cuvées.
Why is it such a hot topic?
As is so often the case in Champagne presently, 'hot' is the key word.
With climate change ramping up the average temperature across the region, some vignerons are using partial malolactic fermentation or total malo blocking to preserve the zingy, acidic notes Champagne is famed for.
Try for yourself...
If you fancy putting your palate to the test why not try this selection of pure Chardonnays? The first has undergone full malolactic fermentation, the second partial and the third has malo blocked entirely. Enjoy!