In times gone by, when English folk hey-nonny-nonnied their way around this merrie land to the sound of the lute, the intoxicating booze that flowed from their wooden goblets would often be elderberry wine. Known as ‘the English grape’, the fruit of the elder tree displays many of the same properties as proper red grapes – plenty of juice, tannin rich skins, and the willingness to hang in fruit-packed bunches – making it perfect for picking, squishing and fermenting.
There are few fruits that will create a better red wine, and it’s an excellent ingredient to combine with other Autumn fruits (see Rich’s blackberry and elderberry wine combo). Due to its deep red colour and heady nature it’s also known as ‘English port’.
With all elderberry wine recipes, including Rich’s multi-berry effort, there are a few brewer’s tips worth observing…
Seven top elderberry wine tips
1. After straining, the berries will be viable for ANOTHER drink. You could soak them in spirit and sugar for an elderberry gin, vodka or rum (see our sloe gin recipe for measurements), or you could top up with another helping of fruit and repeat the wine making process. I’ve done this with sloes and damsons for a mixed berry wine.
2. Elderberry wine has a tendency to taste a bit musty. This is due to the high level of tannin in the skins. When straining through muslin try not to force through every last drop of juice as this will squeeze out excessive mustiness.
3. Excess squeezing will also force through high levels of pectin which can cloud your finished wine. Allow the juice to drip through naturally, with merely an occasional stir to help it on its way.
4. Try to use only the ripest berries and avoid getting stalks and leaves into the mix. Flicking them off through the prongs of a fork is the age old technique of choice. Fingers work equally well.
5. Time really does improve the flavour of elderberry wine, even reducing any musty tinges to the taste. But if patience is getting the better of you try adding a teaspoon of sugar to a bottle of wine before serving.
6. Allow to ferment in a dark place and use dark glass for bottling. Sunlight will turn its deep ruby hues to dirt.
7. Birds love the berries and, for no particular reason, some trees can be less berry heavier than others. Try to find trees laden with fruit so our avian chums can snaffle their fair share.