Sauvignon Blanc Malolactic Fermentation

Sauvignon Blanc has become much beloved around the world, likely because of its ability to adapt to various conditions and take on a wide complexity of characteristics. Recently, a conversation has sprung up around Sauvignon Black malolactic fermentation. Is it possible? Is it necessary? These are questions worthy of debate.

What Is Sauvignon Blanc?

Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine using the white/green grapes originally from the Loire Valley in France. The grapes are thought to be a hybrid version of two different strands of grape from opposite sides of the river. This varietal started getting mention in the wine world in the 1500s, and it has only grown in popularity since.

The name Sauvignon is thought to come from the French word for savage, Sauvage, meaning wild and undomesticated. The grapes kind of just grew on their own, hybridizing themselves from the Loire and Bordeaux vineyards nearby.

Sauvignon Blanc grapes tend to bud late and ripen early, preferring a cooler climate and demanding a quick eye to pick them at their ideal ripening time.

They have since been cultivated in New Zealand, North America, Chile, Australia, and South Africa. They have truly become a globally beloved varietal.

Part of this love likely lies in the wine’s tendency to shift flavor profiles. You can find Sauvignon Blanc that is more fruit forward while others may be more vegetal, and still others lean toward minerality.

All of this has much to do with the soil, the growing temperature, and even the temperature during fermentation.

What Is Malolactic Fermentation?

What does malolactic fermentation have to do with any of this?

Well, malolactic fermentation is not even a great name for the process undergone as it does not involve yeast.

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Malolactic fermentation is actually the process that takes place when a bacteria called Oenococcus oeni enters a food or beverage, consumes the malic acid, and then produces lactic acid as a waste product.

Lactic acid is the compound in milk and dairy that makes the texture creamy. Hence, you will find more lactic acid in cream than you will in low fat milk.

Why would we want lactic acid in wine?

Creaminess is everything in some wines. While we usually find malolactic acid more popular in red wines, we can also see this process functioning well in white wines, especially Chardonnay. Creaminess is essential to Chardonnay!

Sauvignon Blanc Yeast

Does Sauvignon Blanc undergo malolactic fermentation? Not usually. Typically, Sauvignon Blanc is intentionally kept drier and free from the malolactic process. In general, Sauvignon Blanc is considered crisp, citrusy, dry, and not particularly sweet or creamy.

The best yeast is one that has low nutrient requirements as well as low oxygen requirements, that is further able to ferment at cooler temperatures, keeping the notes subtle and the wine acidic. Lalvin QA23 is a much beloved yeast for this varietal, allowing passion fruit characteristics to thrive.

For all of these reasons, Sauvignon Blanc is most commonly fermented in stainless steel to make absolutely certain malolactic fermentation is not begun and the yeast fermentation is tightly controlled.

However, you will find the rare Sauvignon Blanc that is indeed aged in oak, which will encourage a very low level of malolactic fermentation to take place, and a bit of creaminess will result.

Because the Oenococcus oeni bacteria is prone to hang out in oak, aging the Sauvignon Blanc in oak is an intentional nod to the production of this creamy texture. Look for those produced in Bordeaux, America, and Australia, and you are likely to encounter oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc that has its zestiness cut and softened by a bit of lactic acid.

What White Wines Go Through Malolactic Fermentation?

In general, if you are looking for a creamy white wine, you are best off looking at Chardonnay and Viognier, both of which tend to be barrel aged and will be fuller bodied and less acidic.

It would be an interesting experiment to sample not only Sauvignon Blancs from different regions that have been barrel-aged and those that have not but also to introduce a variety of Chardonnays and Viogniers to the tasting as well.

Don’t forget the cheese, the olive, the nuts, and perhaps some smoked fish as well.


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