Wine Secondary Fermentation

Exploring the Mysteries of Wine’s Secondary Fermentation: Unveiling its Enchantment Ah, wine – the elixir of the gods. Few things in life can compare to the joy of sipping a well-aged, perfectly balanced glass of …

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Exploring the Mysteries of Wine’s Secondary Fermentation: Unveiling its Enchantment

Ah, wine – the elixir of the gods. Few things in life can compare to the joy of sipping a well-aged, perfectly balanced glass of red or white. But have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes to create that heavenly nectar? One crucial step in the winemaking process is secondary fermentation. Join me on a journey as we delve deep into the intricacies of this magical transformation.

What is Secondary Fermentation?

Secondary fermentation, also known as malolactic fermentation, is a natural process that occurs after the primary fermentation. While primary fermentation converts grape sugars into alcohol, secondary fermentation focuses on transforming malic acid into lactic acid. This process helps reduce the wine’s acidity, making it smoother and more rounded.

Now, you might be wondering, why is secondary fermentation necessary? Well, my fellow wine enthusiasts, it’s all about balance and flavor complexity. By reducing the acidity, the wine gains a softer, creamier mouthfeel. It also brings out new aromas and flavors, adding layers of complexity to the final product.

The Microbial Players

During secondary fermentation, certain bacteria called lactic acid bacteria (LAB) step into the spotlight. These bacteria convert malic acid, which is sharp and tart, into lactic acid, which is softer and smoother on the palate. The most commonly used LAB in winemaking is Oenococcus oeni, also known as O. oeni.

There’s something fascinating about the relationship between O. oeni and wine. This bacteria not only helps in reducing acidity but also contributes to the wine’s overall flavor profile. It produces compounds that add buttery, nutty, and sometimes even spicy notes. It’s like a little alchemist working its magic to create a symphony of flavors.

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Secondary Fermentation: The Dance of Chemistry

Now, let’s uncover the intricacies of the chemical reactions that take place during secondary fermentation. Malic acid, abundant in grapes, is transformed into lactic acid through a two-step process.

  1. O. oeni consumes malic acid and converts it into lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and heat.
  2. The generated carbon dioxide bubbles out, leaving behind the lactic acid, which contributes to the wine’s softer mouthfeel.

It’s like a carefully choreographed dance of chemistry – a delicate balance between the bacteria, the wine’s acidity, and the desired flavor profile.

The Influence of Oak

Secondary fermentation can take place both in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels, but the choice of vessel can have a significant impact on the wine’s characteristics. Aging wine in oak adds yet another layer of complexity, as the wine interacts with the wood. The micro-oxygenation that occurs in oak barrels can enhance the aromas and flavors produced during secondary fermentation, resulting in a more nuanced and sophisticated wine.

However, it’s important to note that not all wines undergo secondary fermentation. Winemakers carefully consider factors like grape variety, desired style, and aging potential before deciding whether to initiate secondary fermentation.


And there you have it, my fellow oenophiles – a glimpse into the captivating world of wine secondary fermentation. This enchanting process adds depth, character, and balance to our beloved bottles. So, the next time you savor a glass of wine, take a moment to appreciate the magic that happens behind the scenes. Cheers to the alchemy of winemaking!

John has been a hobbyist winemaker for several years, with a few friends who are winery owners. He writes mostly about winemaking topics for newer home vintners.
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