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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Does malolactic fermentation take place in the barrel or in the bottle? Is it always necessary?
—Paul P., Montreal
Malolactic fermentation, also known as "ML," is a secondary fermentation, which means it takes place after the primary fermentation, which converts sugar to alcohol. ML converts harsh malic acid (think of the tartness of a green apple) into softer lactic acid (think of the texture of cream).
ML can take place in a tank, in a barrel, or in a bottle. It's not necessary to the winemaking process, but it's a very popular method. Most red wines and many white wines are intentionally put through ML to enhance stability and complexity.
However, if ML takes place in a bottle, the results can be disastrous. The wine will be cloudy, smelly, and fizzy—really the sort of thing you dump down the sink.
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