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This study was designed to isolate and characterize the lactic acid microbiota of the musts and wines of a young denomination of origin area, Ribeira Sacra in north-west Spain.Over three consecutive years (2007, 2008 and 2009), we examined musts and wines from four cellars in different zones of the region. Through biochemical and genetic tests, 459 isolates of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) were identified as the following species: Lactobacillus alvei (0·7%), Lactobacillus brevis (1·7%), Lactobacillus frumenti (0·9%), Lactobacillus kunkeei (12%), Lactobacillus plantarum (6·5%), Lactobacillus pentosus (0·9%), Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis (3%), Leuconostoc citreum (0·7%), Leuconostoc fructosum (synon. Lactobacillus fructosum) (3·7%), Leuconostoc mesenteroides ssp. mesenteroides (2·8%), Leuconostoc pseudomesenteroides (0·2%), Oenococcus oeni (59%), Pediococcus parvulus (7%) and Weisella paramesenteroides (synon. Leuconostoc paramesenteroides) (0·9%). Of these species, O. oeni was the main one responsible for malolactic fermentation (MLF) in all cellars and years with the exception of Lact. plantarum, predominant in 2007, in one cellar, and Lact. brevis, Lact. frumenti and Ped. parvulus coexisting with O. oeni in one cellar in 2009. Different strains (84) of LAB species (14) were identified by biochemical techniques (API strips, the presence of plasmids, enzyme activities and MLF performance) and molecular techniques (PCR). All assays were carried out with every one of the 459 isolates. To select candidates for use as culture starters, we assessed malolactic, β-glucosidase and tannase activities, the presence of genes involved in biogenic amine production and plasmid content.A high diversity of LAB is present in the grape musts of Ribeira Sacra but few species are responsible for MLF; however, different strains of such species are involved in the process. As far as we are aware, this is the first report of Lact. frumenti thriving in wine.Information on LAB populations in must and wine is presented. A large collection of well-characterized strains of LAB are available as starter cultures to winemakers.