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May 15, 2007 06:45 AM

What Affect Does Yeast Have Upon The Flavor Of Wine?

I read an article about this guy at UPenn who was trying to discern the affect yeast has on the taste of wine (which I'd never considered). He said that most US made wine is supplemented with "industrial strains" that “will produce a marketable wine” while Europe uses yeast strains found in forests and vineyards (i.e. natural fermentation). And to be clear we are not talking about the affect for example that dead yeast cells (i.e on the lees) has on the flavor but what flavors are produced during the fermentation process using certain yeasts. This is such a fundamental part of beer making (ale v. lager) so I'd conclude that it must have an impact on the taste of wine as well right? Yet I never hear much of this discussed.


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  1. First of all, what the researcher from UPenn says isn't true. it depends upon the "market segment" -- lots of wineries around the world, on every continent, use cultured strains of yeast; lots of wineries use indigenous yeast. It's all "natural" fermentation -- there is nothing artificial about adding a cultured strain. Some wineries use indigenous yeast with no problems whatsoever; others have nothing but problems with their fermentation when using indigenous yeasts, and so have reverted back to cultured yeasts.

    It's not *flavor* so much as aroma and texture. Montrachet, for example, gives chardonnay a rounder, fuller mouthfeel, but it's prone to generating H2S is left sur lie too long. Some yeasts work better with reds, or with Riesling, etc., etc., etc. Some wineries -- most notably Champagne and sparkling wine producers -- have a proprietary strain they maintain themselves.

    Lalvin is a major supplier of cultured yeasts -- check them out at

    1. What zin1953 said.

      Yeast strain 71B was notorious for giving Beaujolais, most notably Duboeuf's, a banana-like aroma. Duboeuf recently switched to another strain and his wines are less objectionable as a result.

      10 Replies
      1. re: carswell

        Why is this fact (i.e. 71B giving Beaujolais a banana-like aroma) not as commonly appreciated as the similar fact in beer making (i.e. that ale yeast provides say Hefe-Weizen it's clove, banana, spice character)? In popular wine literature I don't recall this topic being broached often (ever?)

        1. re: Chinon00

          Treading on potentially thin ice, so I hope I don't fall through (meaning I hope no one misunderstands) . . .

          Beer is all about additives, the adjuncts. It's mostly water. So it's all about whether you use they type of malted barley or wheat, the hops, the yeast (top or bottom) . . . and while beer offers an extraordinary range of tastes and flavors, styles and food-pairings, you must remember that beer appreciation is still, relatively speaking, in its infancy in North America relative to wine. And since yeast has a larger (proportionally) impact on beer, it has been a "longer" topic of discussion.

          In wine, there are litterally 2,000+ varieties of Vitis vinifera from which one can make wine, let alone V. labrusca, V. aestivalis, other species and all the various hybrids (the most prominent being those created between V. vinifera and V. labrusca). What about fermentation? Stainless steel, cement, plastic, or in wood? Temperature-controlled, or not? And then there are all the questions and variables about yeast?*** Then there is wood; do you put the wine in wood? If so, what kind -- redwood, chestnut, oak, something else? And what kind of oak? Nevers, Limousin, Troncais, Saone, Allier, or one of the minor French forests? Slovenian oak, Hungarian, German, or what about Russian or Chinese? And when it comes to American oak, do you use Wisconsin, Missouri, Ohio, Northern Appelachian, or what about Oregon oak (a different species entirely from the rest of American oak)? Who makes it? Every cooper is different, even when using wood from the same forest. How is it toasted? Is it toasted at all? Do you toast the heads? And how long do you keep it there? Do you filter it? Fine it? Centrifuge it, and if you do -- before or after fermentation? How long do you age it in the bottle? Before selling it? Before drinking it?

          There are so many variables -- I haven't even mentioned where the grapes are grown, how they are grown, or when they are picked (does anyone worry/discuss when the barley is harvested, or the hops?) -- yeast merely got lost in the shuffle . . . not only by consumers anxious to discuss and learn more, but by the winemakers themselves.

          *** Little thought was put into yeast until the 1970s, but lots of research has been going on since then.

          1. re: zin1953

            "you must remember that beer appreciation is still, relatively speaking, in its infancy in North America relative to wine"

            heh, i bet our forefathers would have begged to differ (benjamin franklin had some pretty good beer sense) cause beer was very much appreciated back in the day......


            1. re: hitachino

              It isn't a matter of beer CONSUMPTION. Beer has been around a very long time, to be sure. But I'm speaking of APPRECIATION -- of (wine and/or) beer magazines, writers, tastings, judgings, etc. . . . keep in mind that it was only 30-35 years ago that the Budweiser brand (not A-B overall, just Bud) was over 50% of the domestic beer sold in the U.S. market. Today, micro- and regional breweries abound throughout the U.S. -- so much so that the large brewers "pretend" to be small and make more beers under alternative labels -- and imports are a larger segment of the market today than a generation ago.

              There are great beers out there, as well as great wines. My point above is that there is less that goes in to making beer -- crucial and vital as each ingredient is -- and therefore yeast became a topic of discussion, speculation, debate much sooner than it did with wine.

              1. re: zin1953

                oh, ok....i just thought you meant appreciation as in liking it a whole lot.

                kind of joking.

                you know what's so odd (ironic?) to me....what with how much more goes into making wines --- how they're so much more readily available and have such an easy plethora of market space.

                (there are probably at least 8 wine specialty stores near me in podunk FL, and only one beer store -- which is actually a wine store that has some good beer)

                oh, the irony!

            2. re: zin1953

              Where would you rank yeast in terms of adding to a wine's character against the many other inputs that you've listed aboved?

              1. re: Chinon00

                It's definitely a second- or perhaps even third-rank "input," well behind the type of grape, the level of maturity when harvested, the temperature of fermentation, the vessel used for aging, and the like. Some yeasts, like the aforementioned 71B, can certainly push it up a notch (BAM!), but those are the exception to the rule. Clearly it's more of a "spice" than it is a "main" ingredient.

                1. re: zin1953

                  And one of the aspects of "natural" yeasts, that has not yet been addressed in this thread is that found between the toes of those, who treaded the grapes, barefooted, in the lagares. Though this tradition has been mostly replaced in major wine-producing regions, except for a show for the tourists, it was a contributor to the fermentation of the wines and, hence, their flavor profiles. Some of it had to do with the type and amount of pressure applied, but a great deal had to do with those natural yeasts.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Keep in mind, Bill, that a lot of small quintas still tred in lagares. The big companies do use auto-vinification while saving some "demonstration" lagares for the tourists, it's true; and the Syms have those "robotic feet," but they continue to tred at places like Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Gricia, Quinta Vale D. Maria and others . . .

              2. re: zin1953

                Hm-m, my reply didn't seem to "take." If most of this gets posted here later, excuse me, please.

                Now, what I said, was that in a few paragraphs, you have answered the question, "why do different wines taste different?" Well stated.

                I went on to mention that you didn't even get into clones, and will now add, does the winemaker pump-over, or punch-down? So many choices to make, far beyond just overcoming what nature brings to the vineyard that year.

                To the beer analogy, it was once stated that the main difference was that if a brewer made a bad batch, he/she threw it out, and started over. A winemaker, making a bad decision, has to wait until next year, and hope that with the weather, there IS a next year.

                Again, if this basic post shows up twice, I apologize. I'm not sure why it disappeared in the first place.

                Thanks for the concise thoughts,

          2. Just to add to the other comments. a yeasty (breadd-like) aroma is considered desireable in some young, light white wines. But this disappears with aging, and may not be noticeable in fuller-bodied white wines.

            I certainly disagree with the term "industrial yeast" when it comes to good wines, as though they were leftovers from a Wonder Bread factory. They are all genuine wine yeasts, and much research has gone into them, both in this country and, yes, even in Europe.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mpalmer6c

              I think that this mind-set is based on the idea that "natural" is always better, and anything "cultured" is bad. Some folk gravitate to wines that feature a totally "hands-off" approach, even if the wines are not that good, and pass on wines, that have been "handled," even when they are better.


            2. What interested me when making a distinction between “industrial yeast” versus “natural yeast” users was the apparent randomness of one and the highly characterized nature of the other and what that could lead to? My understanding was that the natural yeast folks may in many instances have no idea what yeast are fermenting their wine while the “industrials” have a much more controlled approach. I really don’t know however it’s just my present understanding. I could be very wrong.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Chinon00

                Many terroir-ists view the indigenious yeasts as an essential component of a vineyard's terroir. For them, producing a wine that speaks uniquely of its place is worth the gamble that using wild yeasts inevitably entails. And certainly one of the reasons so many "modern" Italian wines (to use a common example) don't taste particularly Italian, let alone Tuscan or Umbrian or Sicilian, is that they are made with commercial yeasts (not to mention the use of "international" grape varieties, French oak, Australian oenologists, etc.).

                1. re: carswell

                  One thing to remember about indigenous yeasts is that -- take Bordeaux as one example -- grapes have been growing there for hundreds and hundreds of years. The yeast found naturally in the area have evolved to become a relatively pure stran. Relative compared to, say, what is found in California -- where not too long ago fruit orchards (or marijuana fields) were planted near vineyards, and the indigenous yeasts are an amalgam of many, many strains . . . .

                  Thus, many people in California have had problems when fermenting with indigenous yeasts, while many others here have not.