Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Why do we call it “malolactic fermentation” when it’s not a fermentation at all, but the conversion of one type of acid to another?
—Jerold G., Fort Myers, Fla.
You’re right that malolactic fermentation (or “ML,” as it’s nicknamed) is a conversion of harsh, tart malic acid to softer, creamier lactic acid. It’s called fermentation, but that’s technically not correct, as fermentation specifically refers to the conversion of sugar to alcohol or acids, not of one acid to another acid.
I do sometimes hear folks refer to it as malolactic conversion and not fermentation, but it seems a little late to try to change a term that is such a part of the winemaking vernacular. My guess is that when ML first got its name, the term “fermentation” was used more broadly to refer to any conversion. So the fermentation of sugar to alcohol is the primary fermentation, and the ML is referred to as the secondary fermentation. Terms tend to stick in language if people use them.
Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...
Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more
Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.
Passionate about wine? Wine Spectator magazine is looking for an enthusiastic copy editor in the New York office.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions
New! Ratings Flash