Elderflower & Elderberry Wine
By M.Kirkland, Peak Country Wine
Elderflower and elderberry wine are amongst the first drinks thought of when home-made wine is mentioned, this is hardly surprising as both the flowers and berries are abundant and easy to identify and gather. Elderberries have many characteristics of the grapes used in red wine production, making an excellent full-bodied dry wine, whilst elderflowers give a charming refreshing flavour to white wines. Elderflowers can also be used to flavour mead, producing melomel (the traditional name for mead flavoured with flowers or fruit).
There are a few points to bear in mind when gathering any wild ingredients:
- Do not pick elderflowers or berries growing next to a busy road, dust and exhaust fumes damage their flavour and the concentrations of ingredients called for in some wines can make them potentially dangerous.
- Be aware that insecticides and herbicides sprayed on crops can drift onto hedgerows.
- Do not take risks by over reaching or climbing in dangerous trees – you are not on an assault course!
- Avoid stripping an individual bush, they are valuable habitats for wildlife, also, flowers taken in the spring will not bear fruit in the autumn.
This last point is especially important with elderflowers, if you intend to use the same tree for elderflower and elderberry wine, do not take all the low flowers, as the berries will form high up and be difficult to reach. Elderberries taken from different locations, even within the same hedge, can have slightly different characteristics, those on the sunny side will contain more sugar, those growing in damp areas will have more juice.
This is a light Champagne style wine which if made when the elderflowers blossom will be ready for Christmas. The recipe is for 4.5 litres (1 gallon) but we tend to make 5 gallon batches as it is very popular and can be drunk as a table or social wine. The technique for making sparkling wines is not difficult, but it is important that Champagne or sparkling wine bottles are used, as the pressure will burst ordinary wine bottles. Using plastic Champagne stoppers secured by a wire cage is essential, anything else will be forced out of the bottle. Homebrew suppliers will stock the more specialist equipment. As with all wine making, equipment should be sterilised and rinsed before use.
1 litre Fresh Elderflower heads (measure by pressing them gently in a measuring jug)
300g chopped sultanas
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 mug strong black tea
Pectic enzyme or clearzyme
- Place the flower heads, sultanas, lemon juice and enzyme in the fermenting bin and cover with 2.5 litres water. Add a dissolved crushed Campden tablet and leave 24 hours. Keep covered.
- Dissolve the sugar in 1 litre warm water and add to the fermenting bin, along with the mug of strong black tea. If using nutrient add this as directed at this stage.
- Check the temperature, when below 22oC add the Champagne yeast. Keep the fermenting bin covered.
- After 1 week strain the wine into a sterilised demi-jar, top up with water, fit an airlock and leave in a warm place to ferment out.
Fermentation is complete when no air bubbles are passing through the air lock, if using a hydrometer the reading will be between 1.000 & 0.995. The wine will have a layer of sediment on the bottom and might be starting to clear at the top.
Siphon the wine off the sediment and into a sterilised and rinsed demi-jar and move it to a cool place to clear. You may have to repeat this as the wine clears and more sediment settles. The enzyme used in fermentation greatly helps this process. Once clear, leave the wine to mature for at least 3 months.
- Dissolve 50g sugar in a little water and add it to the wine, move to a warm place, fit an airlock.
- As soon as the wine starts to ferment, siphon into Champagne type bottles and fit the stoppers, being sure to use wire cages to secure them.
- The wine can be drunk when mature (at least 6 weeks. The second fermentation will cause a layer of yeast to settle at the bottom of the bottle, chilling the wine well and careful pouring helps to avoid disturbing this layer.
The second fermentation gives the wine its sparkle, be careful not to use too much sugar, as the result is too much fizz and not enough wine. Decanting the wine into a jug allows the sediment to be left in the bottle. This wine really benefits by being chilled before serving, keep a bottle in the fridge so you are can celebrate anything at a moment’s notice!
To make a still elderflower wine use general purpose wine yeast, up to 1Kg sugar and ordinary bottles and corks, but do not add the extra sugar. Allow 4 months to mature before bottling.
The stalks, which make up the he heads of berries, have an extremely high tannin content, if they are included in the fermenting wine there is a risk that it will contain enough tannin to create headaches and nausea in some people. Removing fresh berries from the stalks can be a tedious task, the most efficient method is to pick the complete heads then freeze them. When frozen the berries can be shaken from the stalks quite easily or the heads can be combed with a very wide toothed comb or fork. The freezing process does not seem to affect the flavour and the berries are already softened.
Do not be tempted to add extra fruit when making elderberry wine, the flavour is so strong that it is one of the few wines which benefits from erring on the side of caution.
1.3 kg Elderberries
3 mashed ripe bananas
375g chopped raisins
2 tsp nutrient
1 tsp pectolase
- Put the elderberries in the fermenting bin and add enough water to just cover them.
- Add the mashed bananas, chopped sultanas, pectolase and 1 crushed Campden tablet, leave
- for 24 hours.
- Dissolve the sugar in 500 ml water, add to the must, make up to 1 gallon with water and add the yeast and nutrient.
- If a hydrometer reading is taken the sultanas will contain about 250g sugar so add 0.020 to the hydrometer reading. The elderberries will contain some sugar but most of it will be in the dried fruit so will not influence the hydrometer reading
- Move to a warm place to ferment, keep the fruit submerged.
- After 1 week strain the wine into a demi-jar, (squeeze the strainer bag gently to extract all the flavour) top up with water if needed, fit an airlock and allow the wine to ferment out.
- When fermentation has finished rack the wine off the sediment into a clean demi-jar and move it to a cool place to clear, fit an airlock for the first week to ensure fermentation has stopped.
- When clear rack off again, top up with a little water if needed and mature for six months.
- Bottle and store for at least two months before drinking.
Martin can also be contacted via Twitter @PeakCountryWine