Despite the beneficial role of Saccharomyces cerevisiae in the food industry for food and beverage production, it is able to cause spoilage in wines. We have developed a real-time PCR method to directly detect and quantify this yeast species in wine samples to provide winemakers with a rapid and sensitive method to detect and prevent wine spoilage. Specific primers were designed for S. cerevisiae using the sequence information obtained from a cloned random amplified polymorphic DNA band that differentiated S. cerevisiae from its sibling species Saccharomyces bayanus, Saccharomyces pastorianus, and Saccharomyces paradoxus. The specificity of the primers was demonstrated for typical wine spoilage yeast species. The method was useful for estimating the level of S. cerevisiae directly in sweet wines and red wines without preenrichment when yeast is present in concentrations as low as 3.8 and 5 CFU per ml. This detection limit is in the same order as that obtained from glucose-peptone-yeast growth medium (GPY). Moreover, it was possible to quantify S. cerevisiae in artificially contaminated samples accurately. Limits for accurate quantification in wine were established, from 3.8 x 10(5) to 3.8 CFU/ml in sweet wine and from 5 x 10(6) to 50 CFU/ml in red wine.