Ask Wine Wizard

Crafting a Buttery-style of Chardonnay


Lou Anne — Belle River, Ontario asks,

I’d like to create a more “buttery” tasting Chardonnay. Through some research it appears that malolactic bacteria (MLB) is usually used but I’m not sure where to get this or if there is another way to achieve the same result. What are your thoughts on this?

Indeed, that flavor you’re after is primarily caused by the malolactic bacteria, which impart that buttery, dairy, or creamy taste in many Chardonnays. This is because these bacteria, depending on the strain, can produce a lot of a compound called diacetyl, which is a natural byproduct of their malic acid metabolism. Diacetyl really does smell like butter and is purposely produced in the commercial food industry to flavor, you guessed it, movie theater popcorn along with crackers, baked goods, and other things that need a little buttery kick to mimic the real thing. How to get more of it naturally into your wine? Choose a malolactic (ML) strain like Lallemand’s PN4 and Beta, both of which are sold by Scott Laboratories in the United States. My connections at Scott Labs tell me that PN4 is “creamier” while Beta will come across as more “buttery.” Choose wisely and you’ll be rewarded with higher-than-usual levels of the buttery goodness. Not all ML cultures are alike, and these two are examples of those which have been meticulously bred to produce diacetyl under the
Response by Alison Crowe.