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Robin Garr

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WTN /WineAdvisor: Max malo (Verget 05 Macon-Villages)

by Robin Garr » Mon Apr 16, 2007 4:42 pm

Max malo

I'm rather fond of sauerkraut, but I like it in its place: Piled high around a juicy pork roast, or spread thickly atop corned beef on rye to make a Reuben sandwich.

I'm not nearly as open-minded about sauerkraut aromas in my wine, a relatively rare fault that afflicted a modest white Burgundy we opened with dinner the other night.

Initially the wine, a 2005 Macon-Villages, seemed pretty typical of its genre: Appley and crisp, with a texture on the light side of medium-bodied and simple apple and yeast aromas and flavors. But what began as a subtle creamy dairy scent on the nose soon descended into something less appealing, taking on a distinct sauerkraut character as the wine warmed in the glass. The bottle and our unfinished glasses soon found their way to the kitchen for disposal.

What went wrong here? This wine suffered from an excess of malolactic fermentation, a common process that modern producers use in making most red wines and a fair share of whites, particularly Chardonnays.

Malolactic fermentation (sometimes abbreviated as "MLF" or "malo") can be beneficial or at least benign. Introducing lactobaccilus bacteria into the wine converts its naturally occurring malic acid, which often shows a tart, tangy green-apple flavor, to the softer and more mellow lactic acid, imparting a smooth roundness to the finished wine.

But lactic acid, also known as milk acid, can impart a distinct dairy character to food and drink, and the malolactic process spins off chemical components that can have even more strange effects. Diacetyl, for instance, brings the strong "buttery" flavor to Chardonnay that some love and others despise.

And, circling around to the point, lactobacillus bacteria are also the key player in the fermentation process that turns fresh cucumbers into pickles and fresh cabbage into sauerkraut. It's not surprising, then, that excessive malolactic can add pickle or sauerkraut aromas that most of us would find attractive on a Reuben but less so in our glass.

In the case of today's featured wine, I'd call the sauerkraut quality a flaw that diminshed my enjoyment but didn't render the wine undrinkable. And in fairness, previous vintages of this wine haven't shown the flaw, suggesting that it's a one-time or even a random event. But it was certainly attention-getting.

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/verg0413.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Verget 2005 Macon-Villages ($14.99)

This is a clear, pale straw color wine. Appley and slightly lactic, it shows elusive hints of dairy at first that segue into fresh sauerkraut, subtle at first but increasingly intrusive as the wine warms in the glass. Cooking apples and tangy acidity on the palate, suggesting that it must have been searing in its acidity before malolactic; sadly, the sauerkraut character and sharp acidity make it a little difficult to like. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio. (April 13, 2007)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Better with food than on its own, its acidity cuts nicely through the rich flavors of alder-smoked salmon in a goat-cheese cream over hot, silver-dollar corn cakes.

<B>VALUE:</B> The lactic flaw makes this one an iffy buy, but don't turn down the 2004, which I reviewed more positively last year and may still be in the market.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> This simple, low-end white Burgundy isn't really meant for keeping, but a year or two should do it no harm, and it might be worth putting a bottle or two aside to see if its odd flavors come together better with time.

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
Verget's Website is published in French only, but there's lots of content if you can struggle through:
http://www.verget-sa.com/

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Check prices and find vendors for Verget Macon-Villages on Wine-Searcher.com:
[url=http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/Verget%2bMacon/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP]http://www.wine-searcher.com/
find/Verget%2bMacon/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP[/url]

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Mark Willstatter

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Max malo (Verget 05 Macon-Villages)

by Mark Willstatter » Tue Apr 17, 2007 1:40 pm

Robin Garr wrote:Max malo

What went wrong here? This wine suffered from an excess of malolactic fermentation, a common process that modern producers use in making most red wines and a fair share of whites, particularly Chardonnays.



I think it's unlikely that this problem was really caused by an "excess" of malolactic fermentation. After all, many wines go through complete malolactic fermentation and very few suffer from tasting like sauerkraut. I think instead the more likely cause is that the malolactic fermentation was performed by the wrong species of lactobacillus. It's only speculation but I'd guess the MLF was spontaneous/unintentional, caused the presence of wild (rather than cultured) ML bacteria.
Last edited by Mark Willstatter on Tue Apr 17, 2007 1:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Max malo (Verget 05 Macon-Villages)

by Hoke » Tue Apr 17, 2007 1:45 pm

Interesting, Robin.

Just this past weekend I was doing some wine eddicashun, doing some comparison tastings, both varietal and Old world/New world stuff.

In one pairing I put out a representative mid-range Aussie Chard (heavy oak and fat) and asked for my local source to buy a Macon Villages. I requested a traditional/classic style---but what I got was the very same Verget you mentioned. The comparison was not as clear as I had wanted, obviously.

And I agree, that spoiled milk/sauerkraut was painfully evident after the wine sat in the glass for a few minutes.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Max malo (Verget 05 Macon-Villages)

by Robin Garr » Tue Apr 17, 2007 3:35 pm

Hoke wrote:what I got was the very same Verget you mentioned.


Even without the malolactic issue, which to be fair hasn't been an issue in other recent Verget Macons, the V name on the label should have been a warning ... love it or hate it, I think most wine geeks would agree that he's one of the most "international/Parkerized" Burgundy producers out there.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Max malo (Verget 05 Macon-Villages)

by Robin Garr » Tue Apr 17, 2007 3:40 pm

Mark Willstatter wrote:I think it's unlikely that this problem was really caused by an "excess" of malolactic fermentation. After all, many wines go through complete malolactic fermentation and very few suffer from tasting like sauerkraut. I think instead the more likely cause is that the malolactic fermentation was performed by the wrong species of lactobacillus. It's only speculation but I'd guess the MLF was spontaneous/unintentional, caused the presence of wild (rather than cultured) ML bacteria.


Could be, Mark. I generally defer to the experts on matters of wine chemistry, due to my being an English major. ;)

In this instance, though, I picked up the "excess malo" notion from an older but usually reliable reference, Amerine and Roessler's <I>Wines, Their Sensory Evaluation</i>, which uses that exact terminology.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Max malo (Verget 05 Macon-Villages)

by Paul Winalski » Tue Apr 17, 2007 6:41 pm

I don't think anyone in Burgundy induces malo via a bacterial culture. They just heat up the cellars and let it start naturally. For the reds, at least, the barrel aging process lets the sour-milk nuance blow off (it's there with red Burgundies either going through or just finished with malo). I don't know enough about the process to know what went wrong with the Verget.

-Paul W.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Max malo (Verget 05 Macon-Villages)

by Mark Willstatter » Tue Apr 17, 2007 9:49 pm

Robin Garr wrote:Could be, Mark. I generally defer to the experts on matters of wine chemistry, due to my being an English major. ;)

In this instance, though, I picked up the "excess malo" notion from an older but usually reliable reference, Amerine and Roessler's <I>Wines, Their Sensory Evaluation</i>, which uses that exact terminology.


Robin, I make no claims about being an expert in organic chemistry, either. Whatever knowledge I have on this subject comes from working for a winemaker for a time, making my own wine and doing lots of reading. So it's completely possible that somebody will chime in and straighten me out but based on what I think I know, Amerine and Roessler didn't have a clue here. I can't even think what would be meant by the "excess malo" reference; it borders on nonsensical. Paul's explanation of Burgundian winemaking practices makes sense. Just as there are many yeasts willing to ferment sugar into alcohol, some of which (Brett, for example) generate off flavors, there are many bacteria willing to ferment malic acid into lactic acid, some of which, like Brett, will be bad actors. If you depend on wild yeast and ML bacteria, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you get sauerkraut. :)

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