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How can I know which Chardonnays have not undergone malolactic conversion?

After a recent visit to Napa, I discovered that I don’t dislike all Chardonnays. I learned about malolactic conversion while there and discovered that without that buttery/oak taste I liked the wine much better. Trouble is, I can’t seem to find this on any labels. If it says ‘no oak’ does that mean it likely also hasn’t had the conversion? Does one just have to know which have or have not undergone the conversion? Is it a fact that in the older, traditional sense, Chardonnay did not undergo this process? Thanks for any help!

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5 Responses to “How can I know which Chardonnays have not undergone malolactic conversion?”

  1. hahunter88 said :

    Would assume that “no oak” means just that. With the bottling info on the label it has to meet accurate criteria from the FDA. However – if still not satisfied call or email the manufacturer for an accurate answer – Good Luck…….

  2. Lady J said :

    I think Chardonnays can be made in oak casks or steel casks. Just because a Chardonnay is made in a steel cask doesn’t mean that it will taste better than an oaked Char. Below are a couple of articles that can help you decide what you like about Chardonnays and they may give you some suggestions.

  3. Trid said :

    The buttery/oak flavor is not related to the malolactic fermentation. The buttery note is from the formation of diacetyl which is a by-product of natural fermentation. The oak flavor is from the oak barrel it’s aged in (although some places age in stainless containers with the oak added separately).

    If you don’t care for the oak or buttery flavor, you’re better off switching to perhaps a pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc which might have the flavor characteristics that you care for instead of trying to find the odd chardonnay that does.

  4. Pontac said :

    Buttery flavors and oaky flavors are have two different causes, so I’ll discuss them separately.

    I’m going to disagree with an previous answerer because I agree with you that the fat buttery flavor in Chardonnay is usually the result of malolactic fermentation (actually not fermentation, but a bacterial action that happens either naturually or is induced deliberately) sometime after alcoholic fermentation is complete.

    Malolactic fermentation (often shortened to malo) — as the name suggests, changes malic acids into lactic acids. And since the definition of the word lactic is “of or pertaining to milk” you can see the connection with a butter taste.

    The Oxford Companion to Wine says “Malolactic fermentation may reduce the acidity of a particularly ripe wine unduly and care must be taken that the amount of the buttery-smelling DIACETYL produced by the process is not unpleasanly excessive.”

    Its definition of Diacetyl is “a product of malolactic fermentation with a powerful butterscotch or butter aroma.”

    So, to avoid buttery flavoured Chardonnay you need to avoid ones which have had malo. But doing that is not that easy, since information about malo doesn’t usually appear on wine labels.

    Oaky flavor come from oak. This can be barrels in which wine is fermented in, or aged in, or can be induced by adding staves or wood chips to steel tanks.

    Chardonnay — especially California Chardonnay seems to frequently be made with both malo and oaking, so if you want to buy California Chardonnays a careful study of back labels is needed, looking for wines which are said to taste crisp and don’t mention oak. But if, as it seems, you prefer crisper sharper wines you might well be much better advised to look for Sauvignon Blanc wines.

    If you want Chardonnay – then look to France and Chablis in particular. That is the home of Chardonnay and is made there usually without oak and in a very crisp steely dry manner. It is a much cooler area than California and the wines are leaners and sharper as a result.

  5. sommelier2000 said :

    Dare I say it – right on Pontiac !

    Chablis is where you want to be if you are seeking clean & crisp Chardonnays. Some producers in the region have taken to oak maturation but thankfully the majority have not.
    Another option – Beaujolais Blanc (Chardonnay) from the Beaujolais region of Burgundy.

    In general, I would say your safest bets for unoaked white wines are those from Germany or Alsace. While you are unlikely to find Chardonnay, you will find terrific dry wines with plenty of character. Northern Italy also produces some good quality Chardonnay that are clean, refreshing, unoaked and are traditionally not put thru maloactic fermentation.


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