A method for determining ethyl coumarate and ethyl ferulate in wine using GC-MS with deuterium-labeled analogues has been developed and used to measure the evolution of these two esters during the production of two commercial monovarietal red wines, cv. Grenache and Shiraz.
During fermentation, the concentration of ethyl coumarate rose from low levels to 0.4 mg/L in Grenache and 1.6 mg/L in Shiraz wines. These concentrations then increased further during barrel aging to 1.4 and 3.6 mg/L, respectively.
The concentration of ethyl ferulate was much lower, reaching a maximum of only 0.09 mg/L. Conversion of ethyl coumarate and ethyl ferulate to their corresponding ethylphenols was observed during fermentations of a synthetic medium with two strains of Dekkera bruxellensis (AWRI 1499 and AWRI 1608), while a third (strain AWRI 1613) produced no ethylphenols at all from these precursors.
Strains AWRI 1499 and 1608 produced 4-ethylphenol from ethyl coumarate in 68% and 57% yields, respectively. The corresponding yields of 4-ethylguaiacol from ethyl ferulate were much lower, 7% and 3%.
Monitoring of ethyl coumarate and ethyl ferulate concentration during the Dekkera fermentations showed that the selectivity for ethylphenol production according to yeast strain and the precursor was principally a result of variation in esterase activity.
Consequently, ethyl coumarate can be considered to be a significant precursor to 4-ethylphenol in wines affected by these two strains of Brettanomyces/Dekkera yeast, while ethyl ferulate is not an important precursor to 4-ethylguaiacol.