Effect of increased yeast alcohol acetyltransferase activity on flavor profiles of wine and distillates

M. Lilly, M. G. Lambrechts, I. S. Pretorius*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

302 Citations (Scopus)


The distinctive flavor of wine, brandy, and other grape-derived alcoholic beverages is affected by many compounds, including esters produced during alcoholic fermentation. The characteristic fruity odors of the fermentation bouquet are primarily due to a mixture of hexyl acetate, ethyl caproate (apple-like aroma), iso-amyl acetate (banana-like aroma), ethyl caprylate (apple-like aroma), and 2-phenylethyl acetate (fruity, flowery flavor with a honey note). The objective of this study was to investigate the feasibility of improving the aroma of wine and distillates by overexpressing one of the endogenous yeast genes that controls acetate ester production during fermentation. The synthesis of acetate esters by the wine yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae during fermentation is ascribed to at least three acetyltransferase activities, namely, alcohol acetyltransferase (AAT), ethanol acetyltransferase, and iso-amyl AAT. To investigate the effect of increased AAT activity on the sensory quality of Chenin blanc wines and distillates from Colombar base wines, we have overexpressed the alcohol acetyltransferase gene (ATF1) of S. cerevisiae. The ATF1 gene, located on chromosome XV, was cloned from a widely used commercial wine yeast strain of S. cerevisiae, VIN13, and placed under the control of the constitutive yeast phosphoglycerate kinase gene (PGK1) promoter and terminator. Chromoblot analysis confirmed the integration of the modified copy of ATF1 into the genome of three commercial wine yeast strains (VIN7, VIN13, and WE228). Northern blot analysis indicated constitutive expression of ATF1 at high levels in these yeast transformants. The levels of ethyl acetate, iso-amyl acetate, and 2-phenylethyl acetate increased 3- to 10-fold, 3.8- to 12-fold, and 2- to 10-fold, respectively, depending on the fermentation temperature, cultivar, and yeast strain used. The concentrations of ethyl caprate, ethyl caprylate, and hexyl acetate only showed minor changes, whereas the acetic acid concentration decreased by more than half. These changes in the wine and distillate composition had a pronounced effect on the solvent or chemical aroma (associated with ethyl acetate and iso-amyl acetate) and the herbaceous and heads-associated aromas of the final distillate and the solvent or chemical and fruity or flowery characters of the Chenin blanc wines. This study establishes the concept that the overexpression of acetyltransferase genes such as ATF1 could profoundly affect the flavor profiles of wines and distillates deficient in aroma, thereby paving the way for the production of products maintaining a fruitier character for longer periods after bottling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)744-753
Number of pages10
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2000
Externally publishedYes


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