Owners Rich & Christine Rorden sample a vintage
What is malolactic fermentation?
In a nutshell, malolactic fermentation (ML) is a secondary, bacterial fermentation that red wines of today are almost universally put through, as are many white wines. During primary fermentation, yeast converts sugar into alcohol. During the optional secondary fermentation, a strain of lactic bacteria (usually Leuconostoc oenos) converts the bright malic acid into a softer lactic acid.
The bacteria responsible for ML is found in most wineries and even vineyards, and so malolactic fermentation often occurs spontaneously; however, many winemakers inoculate their wine with the bug to give the process a jump start. Because Leuconostoc oenos is so rampant in wineries, it is difficult to control and if a winery wants to avoid it, it must take special and extensive measures in hygiene, pH and temperature control.
How does a wine change during malolactic fermentation?
During ML, a two-fold change occurs: 1) There is a drop in acidity, since malic acid is a stronger acid than the lactic acid into which it is converted. 2) The process imparts a characteristic flavor change; the wine loses its "green apple" crispness imparted by the malic and gains the "buttery" character of the lactic.
What purpose does ML serve?
Originally, the main purpose of ML was economic: softening the acidity of a wine allows it to be released sooner. This is helpful in some regions where ripening to 24° brix is not consistently possible. In California, we don’t have this problem and prior to the 1980s, most California wines were non-malolactic. However, malolactic fermentation started becoming popular here during that decade as a way to make wine more accessible to non-wine drinkers, and to make it even quicker to market. Since then, the malolactic style has become the norm and classically structured wines the exception.
So...why does Cantiga prevent ML?
Preventing ML is our way of achieving a classical structure to our wines while taking advantage of the ripe flavors we can achieve here in California. In other words, we are preserving the natural acidity of the wine and the purity of the fruit. A non-malolactic wine, with its livelier acidity, elegant balance and fruit-forward character, is generally better suited to the dinner table. Additionally, it can cellar for decades, allowing complexities to gradually unfold. And finally, acid is a natural preservative; wines higher in acidity do not require nearly the sulfite levels that softer wines require, thus making them easier on allergies.