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Oct 29, 2006 01:53 PM

Wine store in Cherry Hill, NJ that does not know what malolactic fermentation is

Because of my upcoming trip to Napa, I am starting to learn more about winemaking. Since I like chardonnays, I have learned that the big buttery ones generally undergo a full malolactic fermentation. I went to a local wine store that professes itself to be a very knowledgable (as well as expensive)place. None of the sales people (older guys who have been there for a while) had any idea of what malolactic fermentation was. Is this a common thing that should be known by people in the wine selling business? If so, should I ignore their opinions on wine and look fo another place to shop for wine?

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  1. Anyone who works in a fine wine shop should be fully conversant on ML this is not a "wine geek" type of term.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Winemark

      I disagree. I only expect, in the best of cases, a generic descriptive explanation from a wine shop sales clerk. Please keep in mind wineries don't have procedures set in stone. Every vintage, and every product line, will require different manufacturing steps based on weather patterns, varietals to be combined & so on and so forth. It would be totally unreasonable to expect from a sales clerk at a store selling hundreds of different bottles, from different wineries and years, to be familiar with the manufacturing process that went into the making of every single one of them.

      1. re: RicRios

        What you say is true, that it is not reasonable to expect clerks to know how each bottle was produced. But the OP was saying that the people at this store didn't know what malolactic fermentation was at all, not that they didn't know which wines had undergone that process. There's a difference there. That's like if you go to a car lot and maybe they don't know which paricular models have a V6 engine, but they should all know what a V6 is.

      2. re: Winemark

        Beg to disagree. It is a wine geek term and one can drink and appreciate wine without being conversant in malolactic jargon. It's when people start to intellectualize wine that it starts to get boring.

        1. re: froggio

          OK, granted I spent some 35 years in the wine trade, but . . .

          Malolactic fermentation is an important process in winemaking. It's no more "wine geeky" than "French oak," "sur lie/on the less" or "Meritage." For me, a much more wine geeky term would be something along the lines of "gobs of hedonistic fruit," "decadent," or "slutty." A consumer who is developing (or has developed) their taste in wine will come to know the term malolactic/malo/ML, and will know whether -- for them, for their taste -- this is a positive or negative thing in that Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Champagne or whatever they're thinking of buying.

          This does NOT mean one has to intellectualize about wine. God, no! I agree with you there. It's first and foremost about "Yum" or "Yuck," but anyone who is SERIOUSLY working in a WINE shop -- versus a Costco, Safeway, Trader Joe's or 7-Eleven -- anyone whose job it is to assist customers in selecting a wine, should know something about wine, don't you think? And -- for me -- that would include knowing what the heck malo is. And if they don't, the store owner should teach them (unless he/she was hired just to make deliveries!).

          1. re: zin1953

            Yeah, you can appreciate wine without knowing any technical terms, but a wine store employee not knowing what malolactic fermentation is comparable to a butcher shop employee not knowing what dry-aging is.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Right, I agree with that. I just meant that consumers don't need to know that to appreciate wine.

        2. definitely find another place to shop. malo is outside the realm of esoteric and in the realm of fundamental wine knowledge. imho, if you're in an independent shop (ie, outside total, trader joe's and grocery stores) you should be able to have a salesperson who's well versed in basic winemaking processes.

          1 Reply
          1. re: HeelsSoxHound

            my recent foray into a TJ's wine shop found me face to face with a clerk that had no clue what a Viognier was.....and pointed to the Red section saying "Try looking there."

            Not what I would call knowledge.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. While I agree that ML should be a term understood by any serious purveyor of wine, it is sometimes also referred to a "a secondary fermentation."

              But more imporatantly for the consumer, you are probably best off asking about the aromas/flavors/textures that it produces in white wines (all reds undergo ML).

              If you like chard that has been given full ML then you probably are looking for the buttery aromas and tastes and the creamier, rounder texture that it produces, especially in warmer climates like Napa, Sonoma, etc.

              So if this is your "go to" wine shop, and you find their opinons about the flavor profiles of wines to be in line with your assessment of how those wines taste, then I would focus on asking about how the wine smells/tastes/feels, instead of how it's made.

              3 Replies
              1. re: DonnyMac

                I think the ability to make good recommendations goes hand in hand with a basic education about wine.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I generally agree with you. I suppose that hypothetically I can imagine a person with the wine tasting equivalent of "perfect pitch" - someone who accurately perceives the entire sensory attributes of every wine and can translate the experience into precise and meaningful descriptions. If such a person could also do the reverse, i.e. listen to what sensory characteristics you want from a wine, and chose to work selling wine, then he or she might be able to make fantastic recommendations without knowing anything about sny/how the wine in question had the aromos/flavors/textures that it did. But such a salesperson seem highly unlikely to exist, because developing ones wine knowledge seems to quite naturally from enjoying the sensory experience enough to approach it analytically.

                  1. re: DonnyMac

                    That seems farfetched to me. You learn about wine by making correlations between what you taste in the glass with everything else you know about it.

              2. I guess it would depend what else these clerks claimed to "know" about wine. If they taste a bunch of wines and have memorized typical food/wine pairings then they should be able to do their job and be helpful to 90% of their clientele.

                It is important, IMO, that there is always 1 person on staff in a fine wine store/boutique to deal with the other 10% of clientele. This would be a person who knows what MLF is; who knows the difference between chaptalization, fortification, and sweet-reserving; who knows the primary grapes in Old World regions (I once had a clerk tell me that the '99 vintage in Cote Rotie was excellent because it was an ideal growing year for Cab Franc and Pinot Blanc????)

                Just because they were clued out on MLF, they may stil be knowledgeable in general, though it would cast some serious doubt in my mind.