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Choosing the Best Yeast for Your Wine and Cider

Choosing the Best Yeast for Your Wine and Cider

It seems like everytime you google what wine yeast to use with your grapes, the recommendation is always Lalvin EC-1118.  While it is a great strain, there are many more options that can help you enhance varietal characters, convert malic acid during fermentation, push out the natural fruit characters in the grape, and help you make your best wine.  The beauty of yeast is that it determines how everything comes together, so you can dial in your favorite wine however you want it!  This week we’ll go over different wine strains and talk about what to expect from each one so you can make the best yeast decisions possible!

Champagne Yeast Strains

 

The Champagne Strains and Why They’re So Popular

The joke around here is that everything says to use the champagne strain (Lalvin EC-1118, Lalvin K1V-1116, or Red Star Premier Cuvee) because you can’t kill it with fire and it will ferment absolutely anything.  It seems like anytime you look up something on the interwebs that involve wine, mead or cider, you find recipes that call for one of the champagne strains.

As I said above, this is because it’s resilient and has a wonderfully high alcohol tolerance, up to 18%.  What you need to remember is that, just like beer, you want to choose the best yeast for what you’re doing.  If you want an aggressively neutral strain that produces a finished product with higher TA or titratable acidity, then this is absolutely what you want.  This strain is pretty much a catch all for wine kits, homebrewed ciders, and even the majority of commercial dry ciders.

In my experience, the tart, green apple profile that you get from this strain calms down after about a year or so.  If you have the time to wait, this strain is incredible.  That being said, for me this is not the end all be all strain for every fermentation.  Just like any yeast, it has it’s uses, perks and limits.

What Wine Yeast Should I use?

 

So What Yeast Should I Use?

The answer to this is absolutely ‘It Depends’.  I know that doesn’t help, but stay with me for a minute!  First, you have to look at what you want and what you’re trying to do.  Making a pinot grigio?  Yes, there really is the perfect strain to make a really great wine from those grapes.  A cabernet sauvignon?  Also yes, and in this case there are several depending what kind of cab you’re feeling.  Let’s look at what’s readily available.  Once you have an idea of what each strain is known for, it makes it easier to make a decision as to what to use for your wine!

Yeast Strains - Lalvin

  • Lalvin EC-1118 - Commonly known as ‘THE’ champagne strain, and more often in commercial circles as Prise de Mousse, this strain is clean, neutral and a resilient fermenter.
  • Lalvin K1V-1116 - A champagne strain variant.  This strain is known to be more floral and less neutral than EC-1118 due to the production of esters.
  • Lalvin QA23 - This is a wonderful and easy to use white wine yeast found in Portugal.  It is the literal catch all for most white wines, and does wonders in cider by pushing out the fruit characteristics.
  • Lalvin D47 - Commonly known as the Rhone strain, this strain heavily accentuates fruit characteristics.  This makes it perfect for many white wine styles, and is a favorite for ciders and meads.
  • Lalvin BM 4 X 4 - This strain is a blend of white and red wine strains, giving you the best of both worlds.  In general, it provides a wonderfully round mouthfeel and a fruit forward characteristic due to a heavy ester profile.  This is my go-to for table grapes or any non wine specific grape varieties.
  • Lalvin 71B - Commonly known as Narbonne, 71B is unique in that not only does it assimilate malic acid, making your wine less acidic, but it also has super low nutrient requirements.  This is absolutely my go to for fermenting apple juice and honey, as well as white wine grapes.  The ester profile and ease of use make it a great strain, especially for beginning fermentationists.
  • Bourgovin RC-212 - One of my favorite red strains, this one hails from the Burgundy region in France.   There’s nothing quite like it to push big fruit characters out of red wine grapes.  This is the type of yeast to give you a big, jammy Zinfandel or deliciously fruit forward Cab.  This strain is emerging as a really amazing and ideal yeast for ciders and meads because of the way that it pushes out the innate flavors in fruit.

Yeast Strains - Red Star

  • Red Star Premier Cuvee - This is Red Star's version of the Prise de Mousse strain, and you can expect very similar results from this champagne strain.
  • Red Star Premier Classique - Formerly known as Montrachet, this red wine strain is very similar to the RC-212 strain, but slightly more acidic and slightly less fruit forward.  Ideal for less common red wine grape varieties like Tempranillo.  It has a wider fermentation temperature range and lower nutrient requirements.
  • Red Star Premier Rouge -  This strain is almost the equivalent of RC-212, ideal for big, meaty cabs and jammy zinfandels.  Will push the fruit out of any grape, but it really shines in reds.
  • Red Star Premier Blanc - Premier Blanc often gets confused as the Red Star champagne strain, but it’s really a lot closer to QA23 than anything.  Ideal for most white varieties as well as ciders and meads, it will enhance varietal characters and is easy to work with.
  • Red Star Cote des Blancs - Another version of the Rhone strain, this is one of my favorites for whites and anything fruit or honey based.  This is the equivalent of D47 with very few, subtle differences.
REhydrating WIne Yeasts

    To Rehydrate or Not to Rehydrate

    Now that you have a better idea of what each strain will do, let’s talk preparation.  Most of these strains, at least at the home winemaking process level, come in 5 g sachets.  This means that you are pitching about a gram per gallon of must.

    This is not uncommon nor unheard of.  Not only are most of the wine strains geared towards simple sugars like fructose, but they are born and bred to be pitched lighter into these high gravity musts.  But just because they are, there’s no reason not to baby them a little bit.

    When you rehydrate your yeast, it helps wake them up and mitigate the shock of going dry directly into a high gravity must.  The theory is that this will preserve cells so that they have the maximum number of healthy cells for replication and fermentation.

    To maximize this potential, we use a little bit of warm water (~90 F) and a gram per gallon of Go-Ferm Protect.  Go-Ferm basically encapsulates the cell and protects them as they wake up, providing easily accessible bioavailable nutrients in an environment that is non stressful, versus adding Fermaid or a similar yeast nutrient during actual fermentation.

    Hopefully this helps you make the best decision for your next wine, mead or cider fermentation!  You should ALWAYS play around with different strains to see which you like best.  Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with everything that’s happening at BrewChatter!  Check out our YouTube channel, BrewChatterTV, to connect with us personally and get tons of fun and brewing knowledge!  Post up in the comments below your experience with the different wine strains!!

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