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Yeast for Newbies

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  • Yeast for Newbies


    Yeast is important. If yeast only converted sugar to alcohol, you'd end up with something which tastes like alcoholic grape juice. The processes which take place are complex, and different yeast strains behave in different ways. We try to choose the strain which will affect our wine in a positive manner.

    There is a heck of a lot of information on this site (and others) about yeast, and for someone new to winemaking it can be difficult to extract meaningful advice from it all.

    Please don't consider this as a definitive reference - it is just the consensus of a few experienced winemakers. It is UK-orientated because that's where the author comes from.

    General Purpose wine yeast (normally sold in a small tub) is just that. It will work for red and white wine and it is relatively cheap. By all means use this yeast for your first batch or two of wine, but once you have learned the basics, please consider one of the alternatives I'll talk about later.

    Turbo Yeast is formulated to ferment as fast as possible, and has a tendancy to strip flavour from the wine. Personally, I avoid it.

    What's the alternative then? Move on to .....

    Yeasts are fungi, and there are many hundreds of species (probably thousands). A few strains of one or two species of yeast are suitable for winemaking, and these are what you can buy in little 5 gram or 8 gram packages from your Homebrew Shop.

    Certain strains are suited to certain styles of wine. Later on in your winemaking odyssey you might want to start experimenting with different strains to see what the effects are, but for now, let's keep it simple for now and suggest just 5 strains.

    We'll consider three brands of yeast commonly found on the shelves in the UK: Lalvin, Gervin and Vintners Harvest.

    Lalvin 71B-1122
    (Gervin Varietal 'D' and Vintners Harvest MA33 are the same thing)
    This will work well for almost all white wines. Brings out the fruit flavours. Great for Wine No.1. You'll see it referred to as 71B for short. Great for stoned fruit wines as it can metabolise some (up to 40%) of the harsher malic acid present, giving you a smoother wine.

    Lalvin ICV-D47
    (Gervin Varietal 'F' and Vintners Harvest CY17 are the same)
    Again, good for whites, and generally recommended for rosÚs too. Fine for Wine No.1 and ideal for Wine No.2. Referred to as D47 for short.

    Lalvin K1V-1116
    (Gervin Varietal 'E', Vintners equivalent not known)
    A great swiss-army-knife yeast, which works well in whites and reds, and everything in between. Generally bullet-proof, it will sedately but thoroughly ferment anything in its path, and produces fruity whites and reds. Fine for Wine No.1 or No.2. Keep a sachet in your cupboard. Shorthand is K1V.

    Lalvin EC-1118
    (Gervin No.3, Vintners Harvest CL23)
    Again a good all-purpose yeast which will ferment virtually anything, but it's a little bit harder on the wine and has a tendancy to strip flavour. If you ever get a stuck fermentation (see below) this is the yeast of choice to get you out of trouble.

    Lalvin RC212
    (Gervin and Vintners equivalents not known)
    This is a dedicated red wine yeast. Make sure you use a good yeast nutrient with this one. Tends to produce 'darker' tasting reds (as opposed to K1V, which brings out the fruity character).

    These 5 yeasts will cover everything you are likely to make for a good while.

    Be sure to use a good quality yeast nutrient, such as Tronozymol or Vitamon Combi, and use the dosage as recommended on the packet. Some yeast strains are needier than others (e.g. RC212) so don't skimp! Be careful not to overdose with Tronozymol however as it can taint the wine if used to excess.

    A single 5g sachet of yeast is sufficient for a 5 gallon batch of wine. Therefore, 1g of the yeast is sufficient for a gallon. Trying to split the contents of a 5g sachet into 5 equal portions is not easy or practical, but by all means split it 2 or 3 ways. If you don't want to use it all at once, seal the pack immediately but don't leave it longer than a week or two before using it.

    You can make a sachet of yeast last for months and make many gallons of wine from it - you do this by making a yeast starter, but don't worry about that yet - get a few batches under your belt first.

    Read the sachet! If the instructions recommend rehydrating the yeast before adding it to your wine must, do it. This involves adding it to lukewarm water (the temperature range will be mentioned), maybe with a bit of sugar in it, then leaving it for 15 minutes or so. Rehydration gives the yeast an easier start, and more yeast cells will survive the shock of being brought out of hibernation and put to work.

    Don't get too hung up on finding EXACTLY the right yeast strain for your wine. The ones described above are fine for the vast majority of wines you will ever make.

    If you want to find whether a particular yeast strain produces a better result, I would suggest making two 1-gallon batches side by side, one with your usual yeast and one with the new yeast. If the wine is made from the same must, fermented under the same conditions and is the same age, you'll be able to make a decent comparison.

    Once you have made a few batches of wine, you may find these topics interesting:

    Yeast Reference
    Yeast Starters
    Last edited by goldseal; 02-08-2011, 10:44 AM. Reason: Spelling
    Pete the Instructor

    It looks like Phil Donahue throwing up into a tuba

  • #2
    Excellent post there Pete....

    Oh and I believe that the Gervin equivalent of K1V-1116 is "Varietal E" (blue on a white label)


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    • #3
      Cheers John, I think you are right about K1V. A few sites seem to say the same, so I have updated the tutorial.
      Pete the Instructor

      It looks like Phil Donahue throwing up into a tuba


      • #4
        Pete, this is a great thread. Thanks for the info.
        I must admit that as I am reasonably new to wine making still, I have tended to stick to wine kits and use the yeasts that comes with them; and in fact not question or look into which yeast is supplied. Until a few months ago I didn't even know that different yeasts produced different results if I am honest.
        When I make my kits now, I am logging (in BrewTrax of course) the yeast strain and starting to think about the tweaks that are often discussed.
        So, this thread was great at summarising the basics for me.
        My two most recent red wine kits from the same manufacturer used different yeast so I am now going to look into the differences.... (any comments on the below appreciated!!):

        1) Wine Expert Selection Lodi Ranch Cab Sav (Estate Series) came with "Lalvin Bourgovin RC212" yeast. So... a good general purposes yeast looking at the info in this thread. Would anyone have chosen a different/better yeast given this is Wine Experts "top of the range" red?

        2) Wine Expert Selection Luna Rossa (Original Series) came with Lalvin EC-1118. Interesting that this is a "big red" from Wine Expert. Could this yeast "strip flavour" though? Too late now as it's in primary, but I suppose if I do another one of these kits I could try RC212 to compare?


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        • #5
          Ta for the feedback

          My view is that the Selection kits are quality-orientated, not budget-orientated, and I stick to the yeasts which are supplied.

          If I were to try a different yeast, I would probably buy a couple of the 6 bottle kits to experiment with.

          Low- and mid-range kits are different in my view. For instance, in a Beaverdale kit you'll get a white sachet of 'wine yeast'. There is no information on the strain. some low-end kits are built to ferment out in a week, so the yeast supplied appears to be of the ferment-fast-and-sod-the-quality variety.

          Some yeasts are reported to have problems fermenting the complex sugars present in grape concentrate, but I have also heard good things about Beaverdale kits being fermented with RC212 and 71B for reds and whites respectively.
          Pete the Instructor

          It looks like Phil Donahue throwing up into a tuba