November and december are MALO months! No relation at all to the French seaside resort of Saint Malo. The MALO I’m talking about takes place in the cellar, in tanks or in barrels. I’m talking about malolactic fermentation, in France also called FML (fermentation malo-lactique) or just MALO.
MALO ideally begins after the alcoholic fermentation. The latter is carried out by yeasts, which feed on sugar and produce alcohol and a whole bunch of aromas. MALO is done by bacteria (lactic acid bacteria more precisely). Like yeasts, lactic acid bacteria (we will call them LAB here) are a natural part of the wine world (they are just everywhere! In the vineyard, on grapes, in the pumps, on the floor, on the ceiling...). MALO can therefore start spontaneously, without having to intervene. Of course, you can also start it by adding LAB to the wine. LABs favorite food is malic acid. It’s a strong acid, which comes from the grapes. LABs would kill for malic acid and by eating it all, they make it disappear from the wine. More exactly, the malic acid is converted into the much milder lactic acid and some aromas by the LAB metabolism. Wines therefore often taste softer and may have gained aromatic complexity after MALO.
For red wine you make sure that the MALO always takes place. For white or rosé, the decision is not always easy. To obtain balance in those wines, it may sometimes be of advantage to preserve malic acid. In these cases: NO MALO! We block MALO by adding sulfites (which kill the bacteria), through sterile filtration (which take them out), or by low temperature (LABs like temperature above 20°C). Whatever technique is used, the most important is that MALO doesn’t occur after bottling. Because a wine that “does its MALO” (il fait sa Malo) just isn’t very tasty...
Nathalie in the Champagne (sometimes) does MALO on her wines. Even if straight and mineral acidity is primordial to the balance of Champagne, MALO may smoothen the wines in a pleasant manner. And let’s not forget the increased aromatic complexity.
“But often the wines decide themselves, whether they perform MALO or not,” says Natalie. “Wine is a natural product and therefore it does not always come to our doings, how it develops. Vintage, maturity, tanks, barrels… many factors play a role”.
Depending on the blend, Pascal Verhaeghe may prefer to let MALO be done in more or less large oak barrels and tanks.
“This has several advantages: The wines are smoother and softer and the woody character just seems to fit better into the wine”"