In an attempt to control the growing problem of alcohol consumption, researchers have now come across a special yeast that produces a lower level of alcohol, yet preserves flavor.
The alcoholic content of wine has crept gradually northward in the last 10-15 years, from 12-12.5 percent to beyond 15 percent. That, plus issues of public health, as well as taxes (in some countries, on alcoholic content), have created a need for approaches to lowering alcohol content.
The investigation began with a systematic screening of non-Saccharomyces yeast as a means of achieving such a reduction, corresponding author Cristian Varela of the Australian Wine Research Institute, Adelaide, South Australia, said.
The investigators evaluated 50 different isolates from 40 species and 24 genera for their capacity to produced wine with reduced ethanol concentration. They chose the most successful of these yeasts, Metschnikowia pulcherrima AWRI1149, for experiments in which it was set to work separately on Chardonnay and Shiraz musts.
Once the slower-growing Metschnikowia yeasts had consumed 50 percent of the sugar, S. cerevisiae were added to the mix to complete the process. This "sequential inoculation" reduced the alcohol content in Shiraz from 15 percent to 13.4 percent (and somewhat less in Chardonnay).
"The reduction isn't all that great, but it's in the right direction, and with more work, they might get that even lower, perhaps by letting the non-Saccharomyces yeast go longer before you throw in the Saccharomyces, Alan Bakalinsky, of Oregon State University, Corvallis, who was not involved in the research, said.
The study was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.