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.
Verget's Website is published in French only, but there's lots of content if you can struggle through:
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