Elderflower is a traditional wine that was historically popular because it ferments on the wild yeast in the elderflowers, though this recipe uses commercial wine yeast for consistent results. The recipe begins by making a tea with dried elderflowers, though you can also use freshly collected elderflowers without the stalks if you like (You need about 20 heads). The elderflower tea begins to smell very appealing on the second day, so suspend judgement when the tea is fresh.
Ingredients (To start)
These are the ingredients you will need to get the fermentation started, which takes about 2 hours over two days. Where a quantity is not given for an ingredient this means either:
- The quantity is not fixed and depends on taste or other ingredients OR
- You follow the directions printed on the container
- 25 g of dried elderflowers
- 1 packet Wine yeast
- Tartaric Acid
- Malic Acid
- Citric Acid
- As an alternative to Tartaric, Malic and Citric acid you can use an acid blend for winemaking, though you will have less control of the acid profile.
- Wine Tannin
- Yeast Nutrient
- Vitamin B1 (Optional if contained in the yeast nutrient, important otherwise)
- 100 ml concentrated white grape juice specifically for wine making (Optional)
- 0.44 g Sodium Metabisulphite or a Campden tablet
Ingredients (During and after fermentation)
- If you need to top up the demijohn during fermentation you can use a sterile (Boiled) sugar solution at specific gravity around 1.100, but this should be a small adjustment if required at all.
- You might need a fining agent like carrageenan gum, but this is unlikely.
- Sterilising Solution for cleaning containers (Boiling water may suffice)
- Stainless steel pot for heating steps, 6 l capacity minimum
- A medium to coarse sieve
- pH measurement strips or meter
- Demijohn and Airlock
- Kitchen basics like knives, spoons, bowl
- Food grade syphon tube
- Bottles with stoppers or corks (You don’t need these until the end)
First day: Start the Must
Place your elderflowers in the pot and pour over 3 litres of water that has just boiled and brew to 90 degrees then place the pot in a sink of cold water to cool quickly, which will pasteurise the tea. From this point forward you should handle the must with great attention to cleanliness as it could become contaminated. This is unlikely to happen unless you are careless, but sanatise all implements that come in contact with the must and keep it covered with the lid as much as possible, both in the pot and later in the fermentation container.
Once cooled to 50 degrees add 0.44 grammes of Sodium Metabisulphite or one crushed campden tablet, cover and leave overnight.
Second Day: Balance the Must
After 24 hours strain the mixture through a sieve into your fermentation container and add enough sterile boiled water to make the correct quantity that fills your container, less about one litre for headroom in the demijohn and the volume of sugar you will be adding. The must should be not hotter than room temperature while you balance the acid and tannin so you can taste the results effectively.
Remember to keep the must covered as much as possible to avoid contamination. A single vinegar fly entering the vessel now could lead to extreme disappointment in a few months when you discover you have a gallon of white wine vinegar! It is best to fill your airlock now and use it to keep the must sealed between the remaining steps. Otherwise use a normal lid or a clean tea towel and elastic band.
Check the pH
Now it is necessary to balance the must. First measure the pH. It should be about 3.5. If it is between 3 and 4 you should be fine. If the pH is below 3 then the must is too acid and correcting this requires addition of calcium carbonate, but this is impossible here as there is no fruit content. However if the pH is significantly above 3.5 pH you can adjust it down by adding more acid. If you are using testing strips they will only give you a very approximate reading, usually with no decimal places, so just aim for a reading of 3. With practice you will be able to do this by taste alone, and absolute accuracy is not necessary. You can always do a second acid adjustment (Very carefully) after fermentation if you need.
Because this must is only a tea you need to add all the acid required in the wine (Leaning mostly on tartaric) in small increments and mix and sample each time. Alternatively you can use an acid blend, preferably with 40% or more tartaric. Be sure to check the pH with strips or a meter, and also taste every time so you learn what a pH of 3.0 to 3.5 tastes like and can reduce your reliance on testing strips with practice.
When I last made this wine I used:
- 8 grammes tartaric acid
- 3 grammes malic acid
- 2 grammes citric acid
Now start adding the tannin in small increments until there is a slightly perceptible dry tannin taste in the must. If you are aiming for a dry wine you may want to use upto a teaspoon, but you must judge by taste. If you add too much it is impossible to remove it, so go slowly, and err on the side of less, as you can add more after fermentation if you like. The slightest tannin dryness is all you’re aiming for.
I have successfully used 1.5 grammes of tannin per gallon for this wine.
Because this wine has no fruit content you can increase the chance of a successful wine by adding 100 ml of a concentrated juice blend specifically made for winemaking. Concentrations vary so use your judgement as to the quantity to use. Where a bottle is recommended to make a gallon of wine on its own, you’ll want to be adding not more than half that quantity, and even then only while carefully sampling the must. You can omit this and have a wine based just on elderflower, sugar and acid if that is your preference.
Now add 1 kg of the table sugar and stir or shake to dissolve. Once the sugar is completely dissolved (This is important) then take the specific gravity reading.
You are aiming for a specific gravity of 1.096, and ideally the temperature of the must should be close to the calibration temperature printed on your hydrometer. If the difference is more than 4 degrees you can use an online converter. Accuracy will help the wine to hit the desired 13.5% alcohol by volume at which it is well balanced.
When I last made this wine the total added table sugar was 1,150 grammes, but your total will be a little more if you omit the grape concentrate.
Pitch the Yeast
Begin to hydrate your yeast according to the directions on the packet or as described next. Put 30 ml of freshly boiled water into a cup or glass and place it on a little cold water in the sink until it cools to 30 degrees, then sprinkling the yeast over it and leave for 10 minutes, then add a half teaspoon of table sugar and the yeast should start to foam and ferment within a few minutes. While it is important to hydrate the yeast, it is not absolutely necessary to activate it with sugar, but this step does give you confidence that the yeast is alive and fresh. If fermentation does not start you may need to obtain fresh yeast. You can, of course, repeat the pitching process with new yeast after 48 hours if the must does not begin to ferment.
Now double check that your wine is below 30 degrees celsius then pitch the yeast into the must, using a little must to wash the glass clean and apply an airlock correctly filled with a suitable sterilising solution.
Add a level teaspoon of yeast nutrient, or as directed on the container. Because this is a flower wine, it is important to add Vitamin B1, unless it is already contained in the yeast nutrient. Usually a large dose of two tablets is used, consult the container. Vitamin B1 is necessary for the yeast to multiply into a colony before fermentation begins, and while it is present in fruit, it is not present in this must unless grape juice is added.
Allow to Ferment
Put the wine in a place that maintains a relatively stable temperature between 18 and 28 degrees on a tray to catch any spillover. in eight to 24 hours it should be bubbling merrily, though sometimes it takes 48 hours.
Troubleshooting when Fermentation does not Start
If fermentation has not begun in 72 hours then double check that your seal is airtight. If the cap or bung is loose then the produced carbon dioxide may pass out the leak instead of through the airlock making it appear that fermentation has not started when it really has. Remove the bung and smell for carbon dioxide. Look for any motion or frothing in the wine which would indicate fermentation. If it is clear that the wine has not begun to ferment then you have either added something incorrect to your must (Like inadvertently adding sterilising solution), the temperature is significantly outside the range of your yeast (18 to 28 degrees typically), or most likely of all, your yeast was dead or incorrectly hydrated. Try adding another dose of yeast, carefully following the directions on the packet. As a last resort, just pour your dried yeast directly into the must, this should work too.
Allow to ferment until bubbles have slowed to less than one a minute. This may take anything from one to three weeks. Once fermentation stops your wine should start to clear.
This is a good time to take another hydrometer reading to see how dry your wine became. Ideally it will be at 1.000, which will give you an alcohol by volume of 13.5%. If it is more than 1.002 then it may be better to add a quarter teaspoon of yeast nutrient and see if it ferments further given another couple of weeks.
Once the specific gravity is at 1.000 (Or at least less than 1.002) and the wine is starting to clear you can syphon it into another clean container to remove the lees that might taint the wine once fermentation stops. The wine can now be placed in a cooler location. Because fermentation is not completely stopped, restore the airlock and wait for the wine to clear. If it has not cleared within two weeks you may wish to use a fining agent like carrageenan according to the directions, but if the wine is almost completely clear this step can be skipped. It will clear a little further in the bottle.
Troubleshooting a Cloudy Wine
Because this wine starts with a must that is effectively tea it is almost impossible for it to be problematically cloudy when fermentation ends, and it will never have a pectin haze as no ingredient contains it. You can use wine finings, but this wine should not need them.
Mature in Demijohn
This wine benefits from sitting in the fermentation container for 6 to 12 months before bottling.
Syphon your wine to remove any new sediment and transfer it into suitable sterile bottles. You can obtain plastic corks which require no special equipment, or you can invest in a corking machine for real corks. Plastic works fine and is easily sterilised.
Rest the Bottles
Place the bottles in a cool place for some months, and don’t be surprised if a tiny bit more sediment falls out of the wine, especially if it wasn’t brilliantly clear when bottled.