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Recently a friend described a style of wine she had enjoyed, saying it was chardonnay but different from others she had tasted.

“It wasn’t sweet, tangy or oaky. It was almost creamy and buttery,” she said.

What she described, perfectly, is a wine that had undergone malolactic fermentation.

To understand malolactic fermentation, first remember that wine is made by converting sugar to alcohol with the help of yeast. Eventually, the process ends because there is no more sugar for the yeast to feed on. That’s when malolactic fermentation begins.

For centuries, it was regarded as one of wine’s most intriguing mysteries. Cellar masters noticed that their wines changed after fermentation into smoother, more full-bodied, supple styles. Because it was a mystery, there was no way to control the process.

In the mid-20th century, however, Frenchman Pascal Ribereau-Gayon discovered that lactic acid bacteria was responsible for the conversion. Basically, during this mysterious time, the wines were naturally converting their harsher lactic acid to softer malic acid.

Red wines will almost always undergo the second fermentation, producing added smoothness and complexity. However, a sauvignon blanc with its natural fresh, zippy taste would suffer if turned into a soft, full-bodied wine.

Chardonnay, however, is a different grape that loves the added complexity of “malo.” These are the wines often described as having aromas of butter, butterscotch, milky, caramel, nutty and vanilla.

For those who enjoy these styles of wine, here are a few Value and Splurge finds.


  • 2007 Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay, California (about $10, retail)
  • 2007 Guenoc Lake County Chardonnay, California (about $16, retail)
  • 2006 Irony Wines Napa Chardonnay, California (about $12, retail)


  • 2006 Martin Ray Russian River Chardonnay, California (about $20, retail)
  • 2007 Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay, California (about $45, retail)
  • 2005 Dierberg Estate Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay, California (about $38, retail)
  • 2006 Chateau Potelle VGS Chardonnay, California (about $38, retail)
  • 2006 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay, Chile (about $26, retail)
  • 2006 Geyser Peak Estate Reserve Chardonnay, California (about $20, retail)