Ask Wine Wizard

How do you know if it’s too late to add MLF?


Garth Brown — Alpine, California asks,

I have 7 gallons (26 L) of 2009 Chardonnay made from home-grown grapes. This was my first year of production from these vines and I did not use oak or MLF. Fermentation was normal and I clarified with bentonite, then cold stabilized. I recently tested it at 3.16 pH, 0.53 TA and 40 ppm SO2 and thought it was ready to bottle. However, a chilled sample (40 °F/4 °C) tasted slightly bitter and a little too acidic. Is it too late to try MLF and do you think it might help? Is it too late to add some oak chips and would that help its character?

Before you set about making any major changes to this wine, make sure that when you taste you are not tasting a sample that has a lot of dissolved carbon dioxide gas in it. Tiny bubbles can be refreshing in a white or pink wine, but they can contribute to a sense of sharpness and a perception of increased acidity, essentially because dissolved carbon dioxide gas (+ water=carbonic acid) will actually decrease the pH of the wine. To de-gas a tasting sample, simply seal up about 100 mLs in a small jar or bottle and shake vigorously, then release the seal on the container, “burping” your wine of its dissolved gas. Repeat two or three times or until the wine isn’t foaming so much anymore. Then pour into a glass and swirl, sip and spit. Also, try tasting at a higher temperature. Anything below 45 °F (7 °C) can increase the perception of acidity. You are doing a lot of things right to get that bright fruit to show through, namely racking, cleaning the wine up with bentonite and cold
Response by Alison Crowe.