A commercial fluorochromic system was evaluated for the rapid detection of lactic acid bacteria in fortified wines by the epifluorescent filter technique (DEFT). The viability test used, employing the fluorescence dyes SYTO 9 and propidium iodide, was able to detect and clearly differentiate viable from non-viable cells (killed with a 50% v/v ethanol solution). A good overall agreement (r = 0.92) was obtained between the DEFT count and the plate count in the range studied (5 x 102-4 x 109 cells ml-1). Wine components which might otherwise interfere with the method could be removed by including simple wash steps in the protocol. This measure proved critical to the success of the procedure. For practical purposes, the rapid method studied seems to be a good alternative to the traditional cultural methods as part of quality control programmes in wine making. It may also be useful when studying the efficacy of certain treatments in the elimination of wine bacterial contaminants.