Q. I don’t care for Chardonnay, and a friend says it’s because of “malo.” I was too embarrassed to ask her, so I’ll ask you: What in the world is she talking about?
A. The word “malo” is shorthand for a longer term, malolactic fermentation. Although it sounds a little scary, malo is actually a fairly easy process to get a basic understanding of.
Wine’s basic fermentation occurs when grape sugars are converted to alcohol. Malo, on the other hand, is an optional extra fermentation that affects the acidity of the wine, converting tart malic acid (which tastes something like green apples) to soft and mild lactic acid. Sometimes, a buttery-tasting compound called diacetyl is also produced during malolactic fermentation.
Many winemakers like to craft their Chardonnays in this soft and buttery style. If you prefer refreshingly crisp white wines, stick with popular favorites such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, which seldom undergo malo. And for something more unusual, also keep an eye out for zingy zipsters such as Spanish Verdejo.
—Charles Smothermon, a food and wine writer in Laurin, Mont.