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Elderflower wine recipe – one step beyond champagne and cordial

Light, crisp, floral and with the most amazing aroma, elderflower wine is probably the easiest homemade wine for beginners, and one of the most delicious too. If you’ve made elderflower champagne or cordial before, elderflower wine is the next step – and well worth the effort. Elderflower is one of the most captivating flavours of the English hedgerow, and this recipe keeps the wine base very simple to let those floral notes just sing out.

First time winemaker?

If this is your first venture into home winemaking, don’t panic: I’ll provide links with examples of equipment and any special techniques, such as racking, in time for you to use them. As for how much wine to make: when you’re making country wines it takes hardly any more effort to make five gallons than it does to make one. If you’re making five gallons (22.5 litres) use a lidded brewing bin: if you’re making one gallon (4.5 litres) use a demijohn with an airlock.

elderflower wine - an easy start in winemaking

Elderflower wine recipe ingredients

The quantities below are for 5 gallons, with the quantities for 1 gallon brews given in brackets.

If you can’t get fresh elderflowers you can still make this wine using 100g (20g) of dried elderflowers although the flavour is not so fine. If you can pick the flowers but don’t have the time to actually make the wine, trim them as per step 1 in the recipe below and put them in an airtight plastic container for freezing. Use them straight from frozen.

Equipment (for beginners)


Harvesting elderflowers

Elder trees (Sambucus nigra) are very common throughout the UK, and flower in May and June. They produce thousands of tiny off-white flowerlets clustered into distinctive ‘heads’, which are quite aromatic. Don’t confuse elder with the invasive weed ground elder, which doesn’t have the same flavour. At a quick glance the leaves and flowers of ground elder are very similar, hence the name, but it doesn’t have a woody stem. If you can’t see a woody trunk, don’t use it.

Pick the flowers on a warm, dry day when they are fully open, but avoid any that have started to go brown as they have an off-putting bitter taste. As you pick them, give them a gentle shake or tap to dislodge any bugs that may be on board. Otherwise, be gentle with them and use them as quickly as you can. Bruise them or leave them for too long, and they’ll develop a peculiar smell often compared to cat pee, although thankfully this doesn’t persist in the wine.

elder tree, the raw ingredient for elderflower wine

How to make elderflower wine

  1. Give each flower head a quick shake to knock off any remaining bugs, then trim the flowerlets off the stems with a pair of scissors (or strip them off with a wide-toothed comb) into a sterilised brew bin or lidded food grade plastic tub. You should end up with about 1 pint of trimmed flowerlets for every gallon of wine. Don’t be tempted to use more, or the aroma may become unpleasant. Thanks to reader Vambo for the comb suggestion!
  2. Chop the sultanas up a bit with a sharp knife and add them to the brew bin or tub. If you find this too messy, give them a quick blip in batches in a food processor. You’re not aiming to pulp them, just break the skins.
  3. Bring 2 gallons / 9 litres (4 pints / 2.25 litres for the smaller brew) of water to the boil and add the sugar and citric acid. Stir until it has all dissolved, and pour it over the flowers and sultanas. Put the lid on and leave it overnight for the water to extract most of the sugar from the fruit.
  4. Next day, add another 1 gallon / 4.5 litres (2 pints / 1.125 litres for the smaller brew) of cold water plus the yeast compound powder (or yeast and yeast nutrient) and the tea. Give it a quick stir. Take care to read the instructions on the yeast, as they vary from type to type: most modern yeasts can be added dry but a few need to be made up as a ‘starter bottle’.
  5. Leave the brew for four or five days. There will be an intial rush of fermentation which will push some of the flowers and fruit up in an unappetizing yeasty crust. Stir this back in daily using a ladle or similar implement which has been scalded with boiling water. Make sure that you fit the lid snugly again afterwards.
  6. Strain the brew into a second container. On a large scale this means using a straining bag and another brew bin, but on a small scale you can use a nylon sieve and a sterilised saucepan, and transfer it to a demijohn afterwards. Feel free to squeeze the pulp to get as much liquid out as you can and then put the pulp in your compost bin, mixed with other materials.
  7. Top the liquid up to 5 gallons / 22.5 litres (1 gallon / 4.5 litres for the smaller brew) with water, and close the lid tightly (or fit the airlock, if you’re using a demijohn). Once it’s sat for a while you’ll see lots of little bubbles rising to the surface as the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol. Leave it to finish fermentation – about six weeks depending on temperature. Some people like to monitor the progress of their wine with a gadget called a hydrometer, and deliberately stop it early for a sweeter wine – but this isn’t essential.
  8. Once the bubbles have stopped and the wine begins to look clear at the top, ‘rack’ it by syphoning or pouring it off the yeasty sediment at the bottom.
  9. Stop any further fermentation using campden tablets and stabilising tablets, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  10. Leave the elderflower wine undisturbed in a cool place to clear. This can be as little as two weeks, but it’s fine to leave it for longer if needs be.
  11. Rack the wine again and pour or syphon it into sterilised bottles, and close with the sterilised caps, stoppers or corks. Then label the bottles so you don’t mix it up with future brews.

Your elderflower wine should be drinkable by Christmas, but like most homebrew wines it needs to be left for a while to develop character. It will be at its best next summer, served ice cold – if any of it survives for long enough!

Other elderflower articles
Other homebrew and winemaking articles

Featured image courtesy of Girl Interrupted Eating on Flickr

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116 Responses to “Elderflower wine recipe – one step beyond champagne and cordial”

  1. Barry says:

    Hi there,
    Thanks a million for this recipe. I followed the instructions to make half a batch and it smells amazing, some really nice aromas coming off it. The only hitch is that I am at the stage of bottling (i.e. I have stabilised it and racked it a few times) but upon sampling a drop it appears incredibly strong both in flavour and alcohol content. I was just wondering if you had any advice on perhaps diluting it? Whether I may use distilled water or maybe some fruit juice? I have no clue how to go about it. Any pointers would be appreciated. Thanks

    • Andy McKee says:

      My advice on diluting is… don’t! There’s a lot of chemistry still to do after bottling so I’d leave it ‘as is’ or you risk ending up with a disappointing nose. If you find that the wine has a higher alcohol content than you like, use less sugar next year; you’ll need to take readings with a hydrometer as the fermentation progresses, and stop the wine with campden tabs and sorbate when it reaches the level of dryness you prefer.

  2. ted says:

    I have a canned elderflower wine in a demijohn at the clearing stage but the flowers are still floating. Is this ok
    The wine is a golden yellow colour.

  3. ian harris says:

    Very good recipe , however as a brewer, I found the switch from the goods which were in metric, to the process to what was imperial,frustrating.

    • Andy McKee says:

      It’s a fair point, so at the risk of making the recipe more difficult to read, I’ve fixed it. I’m of the peculiar age where I think of small amounts of stuff in metric, but large amounts in imperial. You can’t please everyone!

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi I have used a similar recipe and method. I have started with the flowers, sugar, lemon juice, grape juice concentrate, and added 4 pints of boiling water stirred to dissolve sugar, waited 5 mins then added 4 pints of cold water. I left it an hour so it became room temperature, then added the yeast nutrient and yeast compound (sprinkled on top, left 15 mins, then stirred into the mix).
    After 1 week of stirring every 2-3 days, I strained into a demijohn and put an airlock in.
    That was a week ago and still no bubbles!
    The mixture is a yellow, cloudy colour, but cloudiness is gradually beginning to settle as sediment.
    Is this going to be drinkable? Does the lack of bubbles mean that I’m just going to be left with a sweet elderflower syrup?
    Should I keep the demijohns in a warmer place?
    This is the first time I have ever made wine – please help!

    • Andy McKee says:

      Room temperature should be fine. I don’t really want to get into checking other recipes but my guess would be too much total sugar – I’d suggest doing a yeast ‘starter bottle’ and once it’s rolling dilute it with 50% must, several times, before finally adding it to the bulk. Check internet help for ‘stuck ferment’ and someone should tell you how to do this.

  5. adam says:

    I have a bit of mold on top of my elder-flower win fermenting for 5 days is it normal . I put a Camden tablet in

    • Andy McKee says:

      Sounds like you didn’t get things properly clean at the start, didn’t cover up promptly, or were just plain unlucky. Assuming the camden tablet didn’t kill the ferment, I’d just skim it off and hope for the best – most moulds give up at a very low alcohol level.

  6. Sue says:

    Hi I have just started this recipe off with the Sambuca elderflower and have just put it into a demijohn. I have made lots of wine in the past but will the yellow colour stay, what colour should it be when its eventually bottled. Its bubbling away nicely at the moment.

    • Andy McKee says:

      The yellow colour is mostly just suspended pollen which will settle out; the finished wine usually just looks like a liebfraumilch but if you have jumped the gun and used a lot of unopened flowers you may get a very faint green tint (and less flavour), whereas if you’ve used a lot of flowers that were past it and going brown, you’ll get a darker wine (with a poorer flavour).

  7. Steve Cargill says:

    Thanks for the recipe.

    I picked my elderflowers back in June and froze them ready for when I had more time to start the fermentation.

    Last weekend I started the fermentation of picking the 5 gallon option. Its now been 6 days in and it would appear that the fermentation has stuck?

    I have followed your recipe and stirred everyday and wondered if you had any advice?

    Regards Steve

    • Andy McKee says:

      It’s too early for a stuck ferment, so either it’s just a little slow to get going or the yeast is kaput. I’d make a ‘starter bottle’; dissolve a teaspoon of sugar in a glass of blood-temperature water, and stir in a fat teaspoon of yeast. You should have bubble showing within half an hour. Once it’s going strong, mix in the same volume of wine and leave it for another couple of hours; provided you can still see it fermenting then mix this in with the bulk of the liquid.

      It can take a little while to see signs of fermentation in liquid, especially when conditions are cool. Basically the first CO2 produced dissolves in the liquid, and it’s only when the solution is saturated that it starts to form bubbles. Good luck!

  8. Steve Cargill says:

    Thanks Andy, sorry just re-read my post and I should of stated that for the first four days it was bubbling really strong then all of a sudden it stopped completely?

    • Andy McKee says:

      That’s really odd! If you’re a novice brewer it’s possible that you’re missing the bubbles (they’re really tiny, compared to the frothing you get right at the start) – stick some in a scalded lemonade bottle and screw the lid down tight, and leave it for a couple of hours to see if it builds up pressure. If so, no problem.

      If that’s not it, I would still try a starter bottle using freshly-purchased yeast I think.

  9. Steve Cargill says:

    Hi Andy

    Is a a gravity reading of 1.026 of for the start of the 2nd stage fermentation?

    Still need to top up the mix with water to the 5 gallon mark.

    Regards Steve

    • Andy McKee says:

      Hi Steve – reading the gravity before you’ve topped up isn’t terribly useful unless you’re prepared to fiddle about with some fiddly equations. There’s a pageful of brewing calculators here which should help.

  10. Angie says:

    I have racked when fermentation stopped at about six weeks. Have left to clear for three weeks but it does not seem to be clearing should I add finings? I would like to bottle in September so that I can reuse the demijohn for elderberry.

    • Andy McKee says:

      Don’t be in such a rush – most wines clear naturally given enough time, but this is very slow during the summer when temperatures are high. I recommend splashing out on another demijohn (or try freecycle). If you’re in a hurry you can use finings, but they can affect the delicate flavour so avoid it if you can.

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