White Wines and Malo/Lees


Once the primary, alcoholic fermentation has finished it is time to decide if you want to do a malolactic fermentation ("MLF"). Unlike for red wines where doing an MLF is considered standard practice for creating a high quality wine, delicious white wines can be made with no, partial, or full ML impact. It is simply a matter of style and personal preference:

  • No MLF: Wines made without any MLF will focus on the fruit, such as Germanic whites (Riesling & Gewürztraminer) and New World Sauvignon Blancs.
  • With MLF: Wines that are made with a complete MLF may not have the singular focus of fruit intensity in them, but they make-up for it by their complexity. The MLF adds desirable flavors and aromas while also contributing positively to the mouthfeel of the wine- indeed the white wines of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Loire owe a lot of their complexity to malolactic fermentation!
  • Partial MLF: In recent years, there has been a move to try and get the best of both worlds (intensity of fruit and complexity) by doing partial MLFs. The MLF is initiated then stopped by the winemaker when he/she feels they have gotten enough complexity in their wine without covering-up the original fruit qualities.

Note: If you do not want to do an MLF, then you will sulfite the wine as soon as the primary fermentation has finished (see below). However, if you do want to do an MLF then you need to inoculate the wine with your chosen ML bacteria and let the MLF take place. Once it is done (fully or partially, whichever you decide) then add sulfite to the wine.

A note about MLF and the “Lees”: If you do want to do an MLF, it is important to make sure you have either all or a portion of the “lees” present. The lees are the layer of sediment made up of spent yeast that, once the fermentation is over, stop working and settle out on the bottom of the vessel.  Spent yeast release nutrients into the wine that provide an important source of food for the ML bacteria. Whether you want the full lees or a partial amount is a stylistic decision discussed fully in our Guide to Sur-Lie Ageing, but it will come down to the following:

  • Full lees requires no racking, you just prepare and add the ML bacteria into the original fermenter.
  • Partial lees will require you to rack the wine from the fermenter into a new vessel before you begin the ML fermentation. Once this is done you can then add the ML bacteria and start the MLF.

Please refer to our Guide to Sur-Lie Ageing for complete information regarding Lees Management.

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