Sulfur compounds in wine can be a ‘double-edged sword’. On the one hand, certain sulfur-containing volatile compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, imparting a rotten egg-like aroma, can have a negative impact on the perceived quality of the wine, and on the other hand, some sulfur compounds such as 3-mercaptohexanol, imparting fruitiness, can have a positive impact on wine flavor and aroma. Furthermore, these compounds can become less or more attractive or repulsive depending on their absolute and relative concentrations. This presents an interesting challenge to the winemaker to modulate the concentrations of these quality-determining compounds in wine in accordance with consumer preferences. The wine yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae plays a central role in the production of volatile sulfur compounds. Through the sulfate reduction sequence pathway, the HS- is formed, which can lead to the formation of hydrogen sulfide and various mercaptan compounds. Therefore, limiting the formation of the HS- ion is an important target in metabolic engineering of wine yeast. The wine yeast is also responsible for the transformation of non-volatile sulfur precursors, present in the grape, to volatile, flavor-active thiol compounds. In particular, 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one, 3-mercaptohexanol, and 3-mercaptohexyl acetate are the most important volatile thiols adding fruitiness to wine. This paper briefly reviews the metabolic processes involved in the production of important volatile sulfur compounds and the latest strategies in the pursuit of developing wine yeast strains as tools to adjust wine aroma to market specifications.
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