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How to choose a wine yeast

Word cloud showing yeast choices

Written by Paula Goddard

Paula started her home-made beer and country wine journey in the 1990s when she won the Tunbridge Wells Wine Circle Brookside Novices’ Cup, Ladies Trophy, E&R Jubilee Bowl and Wells Trophy. Which matched her move from the research team at a food packaging manufacturer and deciding to be more involved with the food inside the packaging while beginning teaching food and drink courses at adult education colleges. Tea tasting expanded into popular wine courses that were regularly over-subscribed. She now runs online wine courses with Buckinghamshire Adult Learning, and tasting events through her own wine website wineuncorked.co.uk. You’ll find her on social media dispensing tips, views and wine reviews as @wineuncorkeduk

13 July 2022

When Burgundy wine yeast doesn’t automatically turn your country-style wine recipe into Burgundy tasting French red wine, or when adding a teaspoon of all-purpose dried yeast to start your elderberry Port results in a not-quite-finished stuck fermentation then just how do you go about choosing the right wine yeast for your home winemaking recipes? The answer lies in how much time you have to think about it.

There’s a sachet for that

If you’ve already tried making a wine from a wine kit or blackcurrant wine using a bottle of Ribena (see p164 of book First Steps in Winemaking) but feel that the final result could have been better then consider using a specific wine yeast next time. Adding a sachet of Young’s, Gervin or Mangrove Jack’s yeast to your next fermentation will liven up the final wine’s aroma and general tastiness no end.

There are all-purpose wine yeasts (Mangrove Jack’s SN9 or Gervin GV1) that will work most of the time with most of your recipes and so are a great stand-by when the urge to brew comes on quickly and that’s all you have in the cupboard, but if you want to affect the final result beyond your choice of ingredients then specific named wine yeast strains will add your choice of extra aromas and flavours.

Burgundy in Berkshire

Wine yeasts named after a famous winemaking region (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Sauternes) are specific yeast strains found within these areas and are useful to help create some of the characteristics found in these wines. You can buy the 5g foil sachets for between £1.20 and £1.40 and these are cheap enough to try with each new batch of wine (5g will ferment up to 5 gallons or a full fermentation bucket of your starter ingredients). So try a Burgundy (now down to £1.10) with blackcurrant wine made with freshly picked fruit (July is a great time for this) and the Gervin GV9 German yeast strain with your gooseberry or rhubarb.

But what if you want the final taste characteristics of wines from two famous wine regions?

Two yeasts are better than one

So using two yeasts would solve this then? Well in theory yes but one of your choice of yeasts may be a ‘killer’ and out-compete the other so that your second choice of yeast never gets going. The way round this is to divide your wine ingredients and ferment in two buckets – using a separate yeast in each and then combining the contents after they’ve finished fermenting (just how the professionals do it).

There are other occasions for using two yeast types: when you have a ‘stuck’ ferment and the first yeast has stopped half-way through fermentation and so by adding a second yeast you can get it going again. There’s also the time when you may want to add a second yeast to partially fermented dessert-style wines where the second yeast can take the end wine to higher than usual alcohol levels. Another use is for sparkling wines where you referment your wine by adding a pinch of yeast and sugar to create secondary fermentation in the bottle.

So what wine yeasts are there?

Young’s Burgundy Red Wine Yeast 5g sachet (Sale price £1.10) Use for blackberry, blackcurrant and elderberry red wines where you want a lot of fruity aromas.

Young’s Dried Active Yeast 100g pot (£2) Works across both wine and beer recipes but will not produce high alcohol levels. Use for wine recipes that contain root vegetables or bananas. Useful as a starter yeast before a second yeast strain is to be added.

Gervin GV3 Sparkling Wine Yeast 5g sachet (£1.30) For higher alcohol (10% and above) sparkling wines and higher alcohol dessert wines. Use for sparkling apple wine.

Gervin GV6 Light Dessert Wine Yeast 5g sachet (£1.30) A Sauternes yeast that will give white dessert wines a floral note. Use with recipes that contain orange juice, peaches or apricots. Also useful for fermenting during autumn and winter as works down to 5 degrees Centigrade.

Gervin GV7 Restart Wine Yeast 5g sachet (£1.30) Use as a second yeast addition when the first yeast has stopped half-way through fermentation (a ‘stuck’ ferment and a hydrometer reading above 1).

Mangrove Jack’s AW4 Wine Yeast 8g sachet (£1.40) Use with recipes that contain rhubarb and gooseberries to create aromatic German-style white wines. Will also help add essential extra aromas to rosé where too often it is lacking – so try with redcurrant or raspberry recipes.

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