Have you recently had a glass of white wine that was a little cloudy in appearance or had a bit of funky nose? But on tasting it impressed you with its richness, complexity of flavours and palate length? Chances are you were drinking a wine that was fermented with wild yeast.
Using wild yeast for fermentation is a growing trend. While most of the big commercial wineries still prefer to use a cultured strain of yeast isolated for its desirable fermentation characteristics and reliable results, boutique wineries have not been afraid to embrace the risks of wild yeast fermentation.
Recent New Zealand research shows that yeasts are territorial and vary according to place. Intuitively this makes sense. The vegetation and surrounding air contains hundreds of strains of yeasts, and the types of strains are determined by the fruit, flowers, soils, trees and grasses in the local area. Consequently, winemakers interested in making wines that express their ‘terroir’ or sense of place believe that fermenting the fruit with wild yeasts helps to impart the wine with a character that is unique to where the fruit was grown.
Of course, wild yeast is only one of several ingredients that gives a wine its special character. Other elements like vineyard location, soil composition, vine maturity, farming practices and winemaking techniques all contribute to the expression of a sense of place.
In an article about wild yeasts, wine critic Huon Hooke singled out the acclaimed Cullen’s Kevin John Chardonnay 2011 as one of the best examples of a wine that has undergone a wild yeast fermentation: “This was slightly feral and very exciting. It lives dangerously. Biodynamically grown and wild fermented, it’s a pioneer and benchmark of the genre. It’s so complex it’s difficult to describe, although honey and oak and what I call ‘balsamic’ (like the smell of balsamic vinegar, without the vinegar or sweetness) aromas are all involved, welded to a razor-sharp, crisply tart, long and linear palate structure.” (Winemakers turn to wild fermentation, Good Living, Sydney Morning Herald 30 July 2013)
By Merrill Witt, Editor