Yeast autolysis during lees contact influences the organoleptic properties of wines especially by increasing their sweet taste. Although observed by winemakers, this phenomenon is poorly explained in enology. Moreover, the compounds responsible for sweetness in wine remain unidentified. This work provides new insights in this way by combining sensorial, biochemical and genetic approaches. First, we verified by sensory analysis that yeast autolysis in red wine has a significant effect on sweetness. Moderate additions of ethanol or glycerol did not have the same effect. Second, a sapid fraction was isolated from lees extracts by successive ultrafiltrations and HPLC purifications. Using nano-LC-MS/MS, peptides released by the yeast heat shock protein Hsp12p were distinctly identified in this sample. Third, we confirmed the sweet contribution of this protein by sensorial comparison of red wines incubated with two kinds of yeast strains: a wild-type strain containing the native Hsp12p and a deletion mutant strain that lacks the Hsp12p protein (Delta degrees HSP12 strain). Red wines incubated with wild-type strain showed a significantly higher sweetness than control wines incubated with Delta degrees HSP12 strains. These results demonstrated the contribution of protein Hsp12p in the sweet perception consecutive to yeast autolysis in wine.
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