Wine yeast (and mead yeast) can play an important role in flavor development, and choosing the right yeast can mean the difference between spectacular homemade wine…and something that’s “just Ok.”
Choosing the right yeast for winemaking is incredibly important to the finished character of the wine. It’s almost as important as using high-quality fruit, as, believe it or not, wine yeast contributes a lot of flavor to the finished wine.
Certain wine yeasts metabolize acids, changing the pH of the wine. Others contribute floral or fruit esters, to complement the fruit juice and add complexity.
Some mellow natural fruit tannins, while others leave them in place. Certain yeasts are known for deepening color and amplifying aromas.
Certain yeasts work well at low temperatures, while others need warmth and high-nitrogen environments to thrive.
Lastly, the alcohol tolerance of the yeast will determine not only the finished ABV of the wine, but also how much residual sweetness is left at the end of fermentation. Using a wine yeast with an alcohol tolerance of 13% will make a very different wine than if you choose a champagne yeast with a tolerance of 18%.
If you’re new to winemaking, I’d suggest you also read the other posts in this series, including:
- Beginners Guide to Making Fruit Wines, where I take you through all the steps in the winemaking process.
- Small Batch Winemaking can be done for micro-batches, making as little as 1 bottle of wine at a time, and the process and equipment are a bit different with super tiny batches.
- How to Make Mead (Honey Wine) is mostly the same, but there are some particularities when working with honey.
- Equipment for Winemaking, which covers all the durable equipment you’ll need to make your first batch (besides your ingredients).
- Ingredients for Winemaking, which covers all the other things you’ll need (besides yeast).
- How to Make Wine from Grapes, though not necessarily for beginners, but everyone always asks about this one first!
- Winemaking Recipes can be hard to find, but I’ve put together a list of more than 50 to get you started.
- Meadmaking Recipes are even more obscure, but I’ve got you covered there too.
Historical Wine Yeast
A quick note before I take you through each of the types of modern wine yeast, one by one.
Many people believe that historical brewing and winemaking relied on random chance and wild yeasts, but our ancestors were smarter than that. They may not have known about yeast biology, but they did know that the air in a certain building (or room) produced better wine than others.
They knew that batches came out better when stirred with a certain wooden paddle, or when primary fermentation was done in a certain frequently used cask.
The timbers in wineries were naturally impregnated with the right yeasts over time, as we’re aging barrels. They had tools for harvesting sediment from batches, as well as specialized tools that were floated on top of batches to collect specific top-fermenting yeasts (especially in nordic beer breweries).
Wine was too precious a commodity to leave up to winds and chance, and while they may not have had named varieties in packets, they were selected for specific wine yeasts (and beer yeast, mead yeast, and even whisky distillery yeast, etc).
You can learn more about those historical techniques in these books:
- Historical Brewing Techniques: The Lost Art of Farmhouse Brewing
- Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale
- Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Re-created
Types of Wine Yeast
At this point, there are literally dozens of types of wine yeasts for making homemade wine. Some are specifically selected for certain types of grape wines, while others are more broadly used and will make exceptional fruit wines and meads.
These are the most common types of wine yeasts available, along with their fermentation characteristics. If I’ve missed any of your favorites, please leave me a note in the comments, and I’ll add them.
- Red Star Cote des Blancs (Geisenheim Epernay) ~ Brings out the fruit character and sweetness of both red and white wines. A slow fermenter with low foaming, it’ll take longer to finish but help to maintain volatile esters and subtle flavors. Often selected for apple wines and ciders, as well as sweet white wines like chardonnay. Low alcohol tolerance, especially when fermented at low temperatures, means more residual sugars. Alcohol tolerance to 12-14%, ideal temperature range 64 to 86 F.
- Red Star Montrachet or Premier Classique ~ A strong fermenter known for producing full-bodied red wines. It preserves the natural tannin content of the fruit and leaves the wine with intense color. Alcohol tolerance is relatively low (only 13%), so a good choice if you’d like more residual sweetness. Ideal fermentation temperatures 59 to 86 F.
- Red Star Premier Blanc ~ A neutral wine yeast with a relatively high alcohol tolerance. Sometimes known as Champagne yeast, but it shouldn’t be used for sparkling wines (use Premier Cuvee instead). Ideal for cider, dry white wines, meads and light fruit wines. Alcohol tolerance to 15%, and temperature range 59 to 86 F.
- Red Star Premier Cuvee or Lavin EC-1118 ~ Generally known as champagne yeasts, these are strong fermenters with a neutral taste. This yeast has a high alcohol tolerance (usually to 15%, but up to 18% in ideal conditions) and may result in a wine that’s quite dry (unless you choose to back sweeten). These are great at restarting stuck fermentations. Ideal temperature range 59 to 86 F.
- Red Star Premier Rouge (Pasteur Red) ~ Encourages fruity flavors and complex aromas. Ideal for cherry and berry wines. Alcohol tolerance to 14%, and a temperature range from 64 to 86 F.
- Lavin D47 ~ Adds a strong fruity, floral character to wines with spicy aromas that would add complexity to any fruit wine. Specifically adds tropical fruit and citrus notes. Only a moderately vigorous fermenter, and may start slowly. Alcohol tolerance to 15%, ideal temperature range 59 to 86 F.
- Lalvin K1-V1116 ~ A dependable fermenter that works well in difficult fermenting conditions (low/high temperatures, low nutrients, etc). It’s also known for contributing more fruity and floral esters than other types of wine yeast. It’s generally used with “uninteresting” juices that can use a bit of perking up. High alcohol tolerance, up to 18%, and an incredible temperature range from 50 to 95F.
- Lalvin QA23 ~ Usually chosen for white wines because it adds a clean, fruity taste to the finished wine. Ferments quickly and settles out relatively fast to help clarify the wine. Alcohol tolerance to 16%, temperature range 59 to 86 F.
- MA33 Country Wine Yeast ~ Known to reduce the acidity in high-acid fruit wines, as well as tolerate high-acid environments. Used to “soften the palate” of harshly acidic fruits, while contributing fruity esters to the mix at the same time. Alcohol tolerance to 14%, ideal temperature 64 to 82 F.
Best Wine Yeast for Fruit Wine
There are plenty of recommendations on the internet for wine yeasts for grape wines, and if you buy a winemaking kit with juice included, it’ll come with yeast.
We mostly make country fruit wines with our homegrown fruit, and it can be tricky to choose the right yeast for fruit wines. There are fewer specific recommendations out there.
Here are the best wine yeast options for fruit wines, by type:
- Apple Wine ~ Lavin D47 or Lalvin QA23
- Banana Wine ~ Lalvin K1-V1116 or Lavin EC-1118
- Blackberry Wine ~ Montrachet or Premier Classique or Red Star Premier Rouge (Pasteur Red)
- Blueberry Wine ~ MA33 Country Wine Yeast (for high acid tolerance) or Lalvin K1-V1116
- Cherry Wine ~ Red Star Premier Rouge (Pasteur Red)
- Citrus Wine (like lemon wine, orange wine, and grapefruit wine): MA33 Country Wine Yeast (for high acid tolerance) or Lalvin K1-V1116
- Cranberry Wine: MA33 Country Wine Yeast (for high acid tolerance) or Lalvin K1-V1116
- Elderberry Wine ~ Lavin D47, Montrachet or Premier Classique or Cote des Blancs
- Floral Wines (like Rose Wine, Lilac Wine, and Dandelion Wine): Côte des Blancs or Lavin D47
- Grape Wines ~ It really depends on the type of grapes and wine style you’re going for. Read the wine yeast descriptions above to find one that suits your goals.
- Peach Wine ~ Red Star Premier Blanc or Red Star Cote des Blancs
- Persimmon Wine ~ Red Star Premier Blanc or Red Star Cote des Blancs
- Pineapple Wine ~ MA33 Country Wine Yeast (for high acid tolerance) or Lalvin K1-V1116
- Plum Wine (like greengage plum wine and damson wine):
- Pomegranate Wine ~ MA33 Country Wine Yeast (for high acid tolerance) or Lalvin K1-V1116
- Rhubarb Wine ~ Red Star Premier Blanc or Red Star Cote des Blancs
- Root & Vegetable Wines (like beetroot wine and parsnip wine) ~ Lalvin K1-V1116
- Raspberry Wine ~ Montrachet Wine Yeast or Champagne Yeast
- Strawberry Wine ~ Red Star Premier Blanc or Red Star Cote des Blancs
- Watermelon Wine ~ Lalvin K1-V1116, MA33 Country Wine Yeast, Red Star Cotes de Blanc or Lalvin D47
If I’ve missed your favorite type of fruit wine, please leave me a note, and I’ll add it.
Brewing up more than just wine this year? Expand your horizons with these recipes:
- How to Make Mead (Honey Wine)
- 50+ Mead Recipes
- How to Make Homemade Beer
- How to Make Hard Cider
- How to Make Pear Cider (Perry)