BALANCED ELDERBERRY WINE

Eldberry wine 2017
Elderberry wine at nine days old.

Elderberry is the hardest wine I have made as it is so close to traditional wine with a clear comparison to grapes. Other fruit wines such as blackberry have a strong flavour of their base fruit that is the basis of their profile. Elderberries make a “purer” wine far more reliant on the balance of acidity, tannin and sweetness that is extracted as you ferment.

CLICK HERE FOR LAST YEARS WINE

AND ALSO HERE

I have constantly been refining how I make my elderberry wine and this year I am hoping that I will be closer to mastering it. First I needed the best berries I could get and I have foraged further than previous years and trying to pick only the ripest and tastiest I can find. Elderberries can ripen at different times, vary in taste from tree to tree and even which side of the tree that gets the most sun. I have found that trees on moist but well draining ground provide the sweetest berries with the fullest, fruitiest flavour. Being on a bank of a stream or unhindered by other thirsty trees seems to be best while trees on flat drier ground take longer to ripen. Trees on muddy water logged ground produce the most tannic and bitter elderberries with little sugar or flavour profile so are best avoided. When starting to make wines I never though I would be writing about elderberry “terroir!”

CLICK HERE FOR A GUIDE TO FORAGING ELDERBERRIES

Black and white elderberries
Black and sweeter white elderberries.

Choosing when to pick has been a test of will but is paying dividends. Virtually all clusters have had a taste test to make sure they are ripe before I pick and that they are from sweeter tasting trees. The best berries have a full fresh berry taste with a detectable sweetness and mouth feel is present as a “buttery” sensation – to me at least. Acidity and tannin is reduced in comparison to the more immature berries that look identical but have still not plumped up full of juice. This year I found two new species of elder tree. White elderberries are sweeter with the tiniest hint of elderflower to them. As they are so rare only five or so clusters could be harvested so they do not make up any detectable percentage of the wine. The other species that gives pink elderflowers provides overly bitter berries that have been left unused. These trees were easily identified as they had dark green leaves that were feathered and curled compared to the lighter oval leaves of the traditional elder tree.

Once home the clusters were rinsed to get dust, leaves and any spiders removed. The few hard, mushy, reddish or otherwise unwanted berries removed and then the good ones gently tickled from the stems. If there are too few for a full batch of wine I froze them ready for when there were enough.

Cold maceration
Cold Maceration – Picked, rinsed, covered in cold water then protected by two layers of clingfilm.

Although I had the best fruit I could fine and my recipe was good my methodology was next to get an over haul. Elderberries are rich in tannin with the skins and seeds being particularly packed full and I wanted to manage how it was extracted. Due to their small size it means there is a lot of skin and seeds in comparison to the juice – certainly more so than grapes and because of this tannin is the enemy when making elderberry wine. A cold soak allows the rich colour and aroma to be extracted from the skins and as it is an aqueous extraction it leaves the tannin seemingly untouched as it is only soluble in ethanol as the wine ferments.

CLICK HERE FOR A GUIDE TO COLD MACERATION

Elder wine post cold soak
Post cold soak the elderberries were crushed to release juice then sugar added to 1.08 or 1.09

Cold maceration had always been part of my method for elderberry wine so to further manage I intended to test two methods to limit tannin extraction. One is to press the juice totally from the berries after the cold maceration then add only half the skins to the must allowing only half the tannin available to be extracted. I never tested this as I had great results using not weight but time as the limiting factor. The elderberries were pressed two days into fermentation and then discarded. Doing this created a rich dark must that continued to ferment for another five days.

ressing Elderberries at 2 days
Squeezing the juice out. By hand will certainly be good enough but a press works wonders.

Tannin seems to have been held back allowing the whole of the elderberry taste to shine through. The juice was far fruitier with a slight almost blackberry and deeper cherry like taste that I had not been able to maximise previously. This will take at yeast two years to mature, maybe even more but the admittedly crude taste test during fermentation has shown a rounder balanced wine than with. Hopefully I will be lucky like last year when spontaneous malolactic fermentation occurred mellowing acidity. Next year I will be further refining I hope.

ELDERBERRY WINE 4.5 Litres

Suitable yeasts – R56, Lalvin R2, D80, D254, Bergundy. Strong full bodied wine suitable for higher ABV of 13% Suitable for oaking and can be left totally dry or will a very slight back sweeten. Takes the longest of any fruit wine to mature at a minimum of 2 years. Skins can be used for a second run elderberry rose or an medium bodied elder & blackberry wine.

2kg elderberries
3.5L water
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Juice of one lemon
1tsp pectolase
1tsp yeast nutrient (optional)
Yeast

  1. Pick any elderberries and freeze until enough have been sourced.
  2. Cold soak for three to five days in a sterile covered pan or container in the fridge in two litres of water and a crushed campden tablet to kill any wild yeasts.
  3. On the penultimate day of cold soak, boil the rest of the water to sterilize and leave to get to room temperature. Mash the berries and combine the next day.
  4. Add pectic enzyme and leave for 12 to 24 hours.
  5. Stir in the sugar to 1.09SG, lemon juice then the yeast.
  6. Ferment for two days in primary then press the juice – a good manual squeeze in cleaned hands is perfectly good (A press does wonders though) The juice can simply return to the primary fermenter and then continue to ferment.
  7. Filter into demijohn to remove any rogue seeds or skins that may have stayed and ferment in secondary with an airlock.
  8. Rack after five weeks then two months after that to remove sediment. The wine wants to age at least six months after pitching the yeast.
  9. Stabilise if necessary and back sweeten if desired.
  10. Bottle and wait for at least two years before having a little taste test.

ROUGH GUIDE TO TANNIN

Tannin I think is often misunderstood in fruit wines. Feared even. It is often talked of in terms of minimising tannin levels as if it should be totally removed from wine and wine making altogether. Often tannin it is actually added either as a pure additive, as tea or in oak chips when it is ageing. Oak chips provide “hydrolyzable tannins” that provide greater mouth feel with a softer taste to the harsher “condensed tannins” that are present in fruit juice in low quantities and more prevalent in some fruit skins, seeds and stems.

Tannin left after elderberry
Excess tannin that settled during last years elderberry wine.

Both red and white grape wines have tannin present but it is far more prevalent in reds as it macerates on the fruit for longer. Little tannin is extracted aqueously but as the ethanol level rises so too does the extraction of tannin. Grape wines are the basis of fruit wines as the taste template we use as a reference. Home wine makers are beholden to those norms. Sadly not all fruit has the same characteristics of grapes so adding or managing tannin becomes important to replicate the balance between sweet, acidic sour and bitter tannin tastes of grape wines.

White fruit wine ingredients vary in tannin content. Elderflowers for example need tea added as the petals are naturally low in tannin. Gooseberries – the “hairy grape” has tannin present in the pips and skins so does not need any additives and I have found that pressing after an initial short maceration helps manage the tannin content to match that of a traditional white or rose wine. This is done two days into fermentation when the solids are removed, pressed then tossed away and the remaining wine happily sits in primary fermentation for a few days more.

GOOSEBERRY WINE RECIPE x2
Last years gooseberry wine

Red fruit wines have more variance in finished tannin content due to personal preferences in taste and style as well as the initial tannin content of the fruit that makes them. Some people may want a full bodied tannic blackberry wine, a medium bodied blackcurrant or perhaps a light bodied almost rose elderberry wine made from a second run fermentation. The tannin levels vary between the base fruit but it can be managed to make the style of wine you want. Because of this tannin becomes far more about management than simply addition or removal as with a white wine.

Always plan ahead and have an idea of the wine you wish to make. Generally it is thought that high tannin content and low tasting acidity and higher alcohol content work with each other as a flavour profile. This means that an idea of the final ABV and initial sugar content derived from a hydrometer reading is useful. Fresher tasting younger style wines will need less tannin, but if you have a preference for full bodied wines, with both time and will power to age your wine more tannin can be present.

Strained walnut liquer
Walnut leaf wine macerating. The liquor is brown from the tannin and can be seen as a floating white film on the left image.

I can think of few fruit wines other than oak or walnut leaf wine and possibly some dandelion wines that use stems. Stems should always be removed from fruit as they are high in harsh tannins. This is especially so in something like elderberry or elderflower wine as the stems are toxic as well as tannic! A good eyeball and preparation of fruit will help you make a good wine.

After a style is in mind a recipe needs to match it. Blackberries have some tannin present in them and are a good example where the recipe can change the style of a wine. The berries left to themselves will create a traditional medium-bodied wine that could be drunk at nine months in age if you are very very lucky. Blackberries with a tea added will make a fuller bodied wine that will need 18 months ageing before it approaches drinkability.

Pressed blackcurrants
Pressing fruit means that juice can be kept and tannin rich skins discarded

Elderberries have the opposite problem and as they have a high proportion of thick skins and seeds compared to the juice they provide when crushed or pressed. When processing tannin rich fruit it is important not to break the seeds or pips as the interior has the harshest tasting tannins that could ruin a wine if extracted in large quantities. Blending in a foot processor or an extremely thorough press could crack the seeds and release it. There are several methods to control the amount of tannin extracted. Cold maceration allows an aqueous extraction of the least harsh tannins from the skins before the berries are crushed. In conjunction with removal of the fruit mid way through primary fermentation less tannin will be extracted. Pressing the fruit pre-fermentation then discarding half the skins and allowing those remaining to sit for the duration of primary fermentation could also work. This will allow the extraction of different tannins as the seeds will be exposed for far longer.

CLICK HERE FOR A ROUGH GUIDE TO COLD SOAK/MACERATION

Alternatively whole elderberries could be left to ferment with months in bulk ageing to allow the tannins combine and fall out of suspension as sediment that is left behind when racking. This very much leaves it to chance. In addition or an alternative certain settling agents like gelatine or isinglass can be added to remove tannin when racked. It should be noted that tannin can also act as a natural settling agent combining with certain proteins as it ages and settling agents could interfere. Mechanical filtration though filter pads is a final way to remove tannin but that can also remove other flavour compounds… apparently… the jury is still out on that discussion.

oaked-and-topped-up
Oaking blackcurrant wine.

Oaking a wine occurs neer the end of bulk aging just before bottling. This replicates the aging process in a wine barrel. Few white wines are aged in oak barrels but it is not unheard of and I may try it with my elderflower wine next year to simulate a Chardonnay style. Whites are generally unsuited to oaking with chips as the higher acidity (lower pH) conflicts with the tannin tastes. Typically less than 10g per litre of oak chips are added to either white or red wines and they can sit for a few days to three months extracting the oak flavour. A home made port is an exception as it is so rich and more than likely sweet it can with stand the high tannin extraction, ranging from 20 to 30g of oak chips added per gallon and resting for up to three months or more. Oak is not a tannin addition like tea and is not meant to provide the whole tannin content, merely to compliment it with a range of usually lighter tannins to add complexity as top notes. All oaked wines will need longer to age than an un-oaked wine of the same recipe as the tannin will gradually bind over time to create a rounded mouth feel and balanced taste.

FORAGING ELDERBERRIES

Elderberry 1
Elderberries

Elderberry season will nearly be upon us and, in some cases, they have matured to perfection and are ready to pick now. Traditionally it was thought that elder was an autumn harvest but possibly to global warming or to Walthamstow marshes microclimate and industrial estate pollution they are ripening in mid-August with a few exceptionally early if they are on the banks of a water course.

Elder tree
Elder tree – not the prettiest tree in the world.

With a few exceptions of freeze-dried mail ordered packets, all elderberries will be foraged. Identifying an elder tree is important, many berries or trees look similar and some berries are inedible or poisonous. Elder trees are stout, scrubby-looking things up to 15ft tall with ill-defined trunks and thin branches. Leaves are almost always in clusters of five arranged two by two with one at the end, only a few sub-species vary and these are rare. In springtime, an elder tree will be covered with clusters of white/cream flowers with a lovely scent, often detectable even at 10 metres away so keep your eyes peeled all year. By the time the berries have grown, they will be an inky black with the weight of the berries making the red stems droop downwards. If in doubt The Woodland Trust has a very good tree identification app that can be down loaded for free!

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/identify-trees-with-our-tree-id-app/

Identifying elderberries
Clusters of berries on red stems and leaves in sets of five.

Always be sensible hunting for elderberries. Do not get trapped in a bog or fall down a ditch trying to get that last teasing beautiful ripe bunch of berries. Check if you need permission to forage – common land will always be OK but some forests have by-laws as they are managed eco systems, for example Epping Forest. Usually, these are to stop over eager mushroom-pickers but do not leave it to chance and be chased by PC Mountain-Bike. He is unusually fit despite his advanced size.

Elder trees are hardy things and can be seen in unlikely places – do not get temped by any on the side of a busy road chocked by diesel or in the middle of an industrial estate. Trees near still water tend to get mildew and cobweb-covered easily or infested with flies but that is not to say there won’t be anything useable. Ones by the side of running water seem to ripen the quickest as they have a huge reserve of water to plump up the berries while those on flatter dryer land will mature later. This can be used to your advantage if you are making a few batches as it can time with your primary fermenter. South-facing berries will mature earlier than those on other sides of the tree.

Elderberry on bush
English grapes

Elderberries are regarded as “the Englishman’s grape” as they make the best non-grape wine with a full-bodied taste due to the tannin already present in the skins. Elderberries are acidic to taste raw just like some wine grapes and totally at odds to a dessert grape. In my view, though generally not amazing to eat raw, the acidity and tannic taste has been over emphasised in recipes and guides. Mature berries mellow with acidity becoming less dominant and the “chlorophyll” or “fruit skin” taste retreating and a rounder more traditionally berry like taste developing. Most guides only say to pick when all the berries have turned a deep black but in reality you need to do more. Generally, the mature berries will be weighty and pull downwards but, if a number have been eaten by birds, they will remain rigid. The stems will have become red, and will be brittle and are easily snapped like a twig if they are mature. Before that, pick a few individual berries – they will pop off the stalk easily and be soft and squishy if rolled gently between a thumb and fore finger. Juice will be plentiful and viscous rather than the fleshier immature berries. Taste a few berries from each cluster for the definitive test. Acidity will have mellowed to be palatable with a velvety mouth-feel similar to a ripe blackberry and some sweetness, but not as a dominant as other berries. If the elderberry has a “plastic” or “artificial” taste, they still need time to mature on the tree.

Elderberries
Elderberries picked and plucked from the stems

Two kilograms of elderberries are needed for an English gallon (4.5litres) of wine, which is probably 80 to 100 clusters of berries. They freeze well so you can easily pick over a few foraging trips to maximise the quality of your harvest. Always remove the red stems as much as possible, as this contains toxins and no one likes an upset tummy. The easiest way to do this is gently pull three or four berries gently at a time, though some swear a dinner fork works wonders. All parts of the elder tree contain toxins except mature berries and flowers. Do not get tempted to make a leaf wine or experiment with unripe green berries, do not handle the wood and stay well clear of the heavily toxic roots!

MARROW RUM

Rum Northumbriana
Thats either Jupiter or… Marrow Rum

So before I get a whole load of moaning emails I want to clear a few things up. Firstly, I know this is not Rum. I know what Rum is. Rum is made from fermented sugar cane… and this is made from a marrow. A marrow fermented in a sock. Let’s not get too hung up the nomenclature.

Mind you, any one that insists on calling a marrow a zucchini needs a good hiding, and as I’m from the North East I should be calling it a marra’.

Marrows are the world’s worst vegetable. A bloated courgette that is good for nothing except making rum apparently. The initial idea came from some notes that funny uncle Michael gave to me from his mid-70s wine making that I have somehow inherited. There has been a revolution in kit, ingredients and ideas in amateur wine making so most have some rather out dated methods, they are a pleasure to read and there are one or two great ideas and inspirations there. Making “Northumbrian Rum” seemed like a particularly bad idea so it really appealed and there are various other methods I have seen since.

Rum Northumbriana recipe
“The Inspiration”

The basic idea is to deseed a marrow, pack it with sugar and wine yeast, reseal and then leave to ferment. Light or dark sugar is used in differing recipes and some add raisins either during or after the marrow fermentation. This is a real prison hooch operation so organisation is rather haphazard so I doubt there is a true “marrow rum pot” to make this in an elegant fashion. With the prison hooch stylings there is a totally illegal (both in Britain and Hamburgerland) method of ice distillation that can increase the ABV by freezing the finished rum and letting the more alcoholic mixture melt and be saved with the water being discarded. If they are reading I would just like to tell MI5 and GCHQ that I have not done this.

RUM NORTHUMBRIANA

1 large marrow

1ish kg of demerara sugar

1 orange

Yeast

Nutrient

Rum Northumbriana ingredients
Rum Northumbriana ingredients

Wash you marrow (ooh-er!) chop of the top and scoop out the seeds.

Fill your cavity (ooh-er!) with demerara sugar, give it a tap and then top it up if space is created.

Marrow Rum 1
No turning back…

Juice an orange and pout in the juice. Give it a tap and top up the sugar again.

Pour in your yeast – make a starter as the packet describes or if no instructions dissolve in water and pour over the sugar.

Marrow Rum 2
You have committed to it…

Place the top on the marrow and tape it shut getting a tight seal.

Pierce the skin of the marrow at the base but do not go through the flesh then wrap in cling film.

Marrow Rum 3
Wooo Hooooooo!

Place it in a container –the more air tight the better so it can drip into a demijohn.

Wait for it to ferment, drip out.

After a week to three months depending on the integrity of the devil’s vegetable squeeze the now desiccated marrow skin to get all the juice out and leave to ferment fully.

Marrow Rum 4
Marra marra marra!

You can now bottle and leave for a year to mature or…

Gather the juice and add more sugar and a high strength yeast. Ferment to the highest alcohol tolerance it can go to – possibly 20% ABV.

 

PERFECT GOOSEBERRY WINE RECIPE

Gooseberry wine 2017
Gooseberry wine at seven days old. Just entered secondary fermentation.

My grandparents used to live in the stranger parts of Northumberland with a huge gooseberry bush in the garden that would produce enough gooseberries for crumble for about 19 months of the year which would always be the ending to huge family dinners.

It’s a car park now.

 

I will never be as green fingered as my granddad and personally have no intention of entering any leek shows but I do want to grow some gooseberries for wine and have invested in some bushes. While I gently kill those through neglect I have to rely on shop bought ones. Gooseberries are seasonal and the pink dessert gooseberries emerge later in the season around July. Pink gooseberries are less tart with a lighter floral flavour than the more common green version. Both can be used to make wine and there are good reports of green gooseberry champagne but I am yet to venture into it. You can use 100% green in a recipe, a combination or 100% pink. It really is down to personal preference and availability but most recipes decide to do a 2/3 split towards the pink.

CLICK HERE FOR LAST YEARS GOOSEBERRY pt 1

CLICK HERE FOR LAST YEARS GOOSEBERRY pt 2

Gooseberry wine 2016
Gooseberry wine 2016 vintage – opened to test the recipe for this year.

Last year was bit of a nightmare for my gooseberry wine as it was the first time I ever had a stuck fermentation. The yeast would not start fermenting and in the end I had to adjust the acidity with precipitated chalk and use some hardy champagne yeast to get it going. It did provide an opportunity to have two demijohns with differing yeasts in each. It is a nice light white that has cleared to perfection tasting a little like a rosé and as I was restrained and made it a lighter ABV at around 11% the alcohol does not dominate the taste. Ms Gazette seemed particularly taken by it and as she usually likes the full fruitier wines I make rather than the oddities like gorse or oak leaf.

Pressing the gooseberry at 2 days
Gooseberries pre and post press to extract as much juice as possible.

Personally I was a little less satisfied as while very nice I thought it could do with a few changes to the recipe and methods used to make it. The biggest change is pressing the gooseberries two days into the primary fermentation rather than leaving them until the wine moves to secondary at seven to ten days in age. Last years I think was left too long on the skins so an ever so slight after taste entered the wine, with a slight metallic zinc like hint – not enough to ruin it but certainly there. This has been apparent for both of last years wines so it was not yeast or stuck fermentation related as they both varied. The taste was apparent when ever the wine was racked so it seemed to be introduced early into the fermentation. Pressing the gooseberries early with the resulting juice re-entering primary it seems like this has been a success and will be a regular method from now on. I used a press I have invested in but some muslin and strong hands powered by elbow grease are certainly acceptable to squeeze the flavour out. In addition I have decided to jettison the MA33 and EC1118 yeast used last year and moved to Vintners Harvest CY17. I had the last few elderflowers in my freezer so they have been thrown in too. This is simply an addition and the wine will be more than happy with out them.

Gooseberry cold maceration
Top – gooseberries in water then covered thoroughly. Bottom – gooseberries post cold soak three days later then crushed to break the skins

A process used last year was a cold maceration to extract colour, aroma and some flavour out of the berries before they even entered primary fermentation. This required the fruit to sit covered in sterilized water and kept under 15° C – that is 59° Fademheit in American. A cold soak is not needed but it is an easy addition that really seems to pay dividends.

CLICK HERE FOR A FULL GUIDE TO COLD MACERATION

Gooseberry wine fermenting
Quick check with the lid off – Just after being pressed and still in primary fermentation.

With the cold soak and despite the earlier press the juice is a lovely peachy pink hue that is unlike any other wine I have made. Last year the colour seemed to dull just before it was bottled and I believe that gooseberry wine is photosensitive with sunlight dulling the colour but otherwise leaving it unchanged. There are similar issues with prickly pear that turns from a similar pink to amber and beetroot wine turns brown! Orange wine will also dull so all of them need to be either in a green or brown demijohn or be covered thoroughly and kept in the dark as much as possible.

 

GOOSEBERRY and GOOSEBERRY & ELDERFLOWER WINE – 4.5litres

 

NOTES
Suitable Yeasts – CY17 or EC1118. White or rose wine best as a lighter 11% ABV. Can be back sweetened but does not need it. Unsuitable for oaking. Can be turned into a sparkling wine. 18 months before opening.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2kg Gooseberries (use pink dessert gooseberries as much as you can)
  • Optional – flowers from 10 sprays of elderflowers
  • 1kg-ish Sugar to 1.08SG
  • 3.5 litres of water
  • Half teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • Yeast

 

METHOD

  1. Wash the gooseberries and rub off the top and woodier tail (freezing is optional and a week will break down pectin by a half)
  2. Cold soak for 3 days in two litres of boiled then cooled water in a covered container keeping it below 15°C. FULL GUIDE HERE
  3. After the cold maceration crush thoroughly add the rest of the boiled then cooled water (the elderflowers can be added to the water as it cools if you are using them) sugar, pectic enzyme and leave for 24 hours for it to work.
  4. Pitch yeast and yeast nutrient. Leave to ferment for two days.
  5. Remove gooseberries and press. Add the juice back to primary and discard the skins.
  6. After another four to seven days fermentation will slow (gravity will be at about 1.02) move into secondary fermentation in a clean demijohn with airlock.
  7. Rack at four or five weeks to remove the exhausted yeast, then every two or so months if needed.
  8. Bottle at six months of age and drink at 18 months or later.

BLACKCURRANT WINE AND THE KRUSHINATOR

Blackcurrants are rarely sold in shops and when they are they are expensive. I got them from a pick-your-own farm with three kilograms for half the price of a supermarket. Ms Gazette has frozen some for jam making, we made a cordial that will keep for a month, if it lasts that long and then 1.5kg was used for 4.5 litres of wine.

Blackcurrant wine glass and demi
Last years blackcurrant wine opened  and this years entering secondary fermentation

While last years blackcurrant wine is still a year away from truly being mature I opened a bottle to test the recipe ready for this years harvest and fermentation. I was initially worried that there was too little fruit as it uses half a kilogram less per gallon than blackberry wine. That was totally unfounded as although the wine was a medium bodied with light tannin it was full of a rich fruit flavour. Another 12 months will allow the acidity to mellow and it will be a lovely easy drink and a totally different character to the fuller more tannic elderberry or full bodied blackberry wine.

CLICK HERE FOR LAST YEARS BLACKCURRANT WINE pt1

CLICK HERE FOR LAST YEARS BLACKCURRANT WINE pt2

Preparing blackcurrants
Prepping for a cold soak:  De-stemmed, washed, watered and covered.

Blackberry is well suited to a cold maceration that allows colour and flavour to be extracted from the thick berry skins before fermentation is started. It is important to prepare the fruit by removing leaves, bruised or mouldy berries and as much stem as possible. They are then covered in water in a sanitised pan and placed in a fridge to stay cool, ideally between 5 and 15 degrees C. Few microbes or yeast will be active – especially if a campden tablet is used. There are no hard rules as to if or how long a cold maceration should be used but it generally lasts between two and five days, though some wine makers extend this to a whopping 14 days in exceptional circumstances.

 

FULL GUIDE TO COLD SOAK MACERATION HERE

Removing blackcurrants
Removing the blackcurrants to press.

After the cold soak the fruit was allowed to warm and then sugar and acidity were adjusted and the yeast pitched. Fermentation was slow to start with R56 yeast but explosive when it did decide to kick in. After six days primary fermentation was starting to slow so I used my new toy… The Krushinator. Well its a wine press as crushing fruit is different to pressing fruit. Crushing is pre-fermentation breaking the skins so that juice can escape into the must. Pressing is post-fermentation that allows all the juice to be extracted ready for secondary fermentation. As an amateur wine maker you do not need a press and it is a considerable investment to make – this is by far the most expensive piece of kit and x5 the price of anything else I have bought. It will get a frequent run around as I intend to use it on gooseberry wines (one of which has just been started), blackberry, elder and black, elderberry wine and maybe even my first cider if I take the plunge. In the future it could be used on haskap, red currant, or rosehip wines and I may experiment with it on quince and parsnips though it may extract too much starch so this is under investigation.

 

Planning the press
Everything sanitised and organised ready to press, with a gooseberry wine for some dutch courage.

 

The press was initially a daunting prospect as it needs meticulous sanitising and preparation. I used an MDF board on the kitchen bench to protect it from the metal legs and force that it can exert that could have scraped or gouged marks. Set up was easy but I did plan where my primary fermentor was and the target demijohn to make sure it was all organised for the cleanest and easiest press.

Pressing blackcurrants
This might look planned but it was more or less accidentally all at the correct height.

The blackcurrants were initially removed with a jug into clean muslin in a large brewers funnel. This let the initial run off fall into the demijohn and the berries to be kept. Once all the berries were collected the muslin was lifted out and placed into the press pan. The muslin keeps the fruit in one place and stops any goop squirting out when it is pressed as well as keeping the solids together. The plate was screwed down gradually so that it did the work gradually rather than my arms screwing it all flat in one messy action. This allowed a controlled, clean press. The juice was released gradually but steadily and was a fantastically dark purple as it was squeezed from the flesh. As so much pressure can be applied richer flavour can be extracted from the flesh and skins of the blackcurrant which I hope will make a more complex wine. I may very well have been able to extract more juice but as a first test I was more than happy. The resultant “cake” was pressed flat with none of the mess from an elbow grease powered hand squeeze. It is possible to over press fruit and extract bitter tannin from seeds or pips but there was no danger here.

Pressed blackcurrants
Spent blackcurrants after pressing. (probably suitable for a second run in retrospect!)

In six months the wine will have been racked twice and may well be bottled only to be popped open when it is two years old. The Krushinator will get a work out next week with a gallon of gooseberry wine then a few berry wines in August and September.

 

BLACKCURRANT WINE – 4.5L

Suitable Yeasts – Lavlin 71B, RC212 or Vintners Harvest R56

Suitable to be oaked

Best kept totally or almost dry (to avoid Ribena references)

.

1.5Kg Blackcurrants
1kg Sugar – to 1.09SG
Juice of 1 lemon
Yeast
Yeast nutrient
Pectic enzyme
3.5L water.

Blackcurrant wine

After destemming and washing the blackcurrants, cold soak for at least 3 days and up to 5 with as much of the water as you can. Keep below 15 degrees C. (a guide to cold maceration is above)

Boil the rest of the water and and let cool in time to…

Mash currants in the cold soak with sterilised potato masher, then add the cooled water. Leave to get to room temperature and add pectolaise and leave for 12 to 24 hours.

Add the lemon juice, sugar, yeast and nutrient.

Cover in primary for 5 or 6 days in primary fermentation stirring 4 times a day if possible.

Blackcurrant wine at end of primary fermenration
Lid removed to stir the blackcurrants

When SG reaches 1.01 (or bubbling starts to slow if you have no hydrometer) squeeze currants thoroughly and rack into secondary fermentation with a closed demijohn and airlock

Rack after one month, then two months after that.

Final rack at 6 months in age and stabalise and back sweeten if desired.

Bottle and leave for ever. Takes two years to fully mature though some people leave it four!

ENGLISH VERMOUTH

Gin tonic and vermouthLast year I transformed a few bottles of my strawberry wine into vermouths making three differing tastes that were used in various cocktails and gin & tonics over the summer months. They were all nice but the more floral version was generally the best, though the blackberry gin paired better with the more spiced version. It was all based upon a lot of reading and not a massive amount of understanding. Pairing tastes together and creating balance is very difficult to do writing it as an abstract recipe. Conversely throwing ingredients into a pot and creating it organically is nerve racking as too much cinnamon or wormwood can obliterate all the other ingredients and hard work that has just occurred. Which ever method is used it will be a steep learning curve with ideas that outmatch your ability. Great fun and maybe with time I can get towards my goal of a vermouth that can be drunk not as cocktail addition but aperitif on its own. Maybe 400 years and I’ll have it all cracked.

CLICK HERE FOR THE EARLIER VERMOUTH IDEAS

I may well return to a strawberry vermouth in the future but the idea of an English vermouth really intrigued me as foraging for ingredients has become one of lifes pleasures as I have become more and more adventurous in my wine making. Vermouth is originally French with the Italians adopting it creating two differing styles but Britain has a long tradition of herbal tonics, infused spirits, spiced chutneys and Nandos so there is no reason why this should not come naturally to me through osmosis… google… trial and error… and advice… if any one gives it…

The Art of Drink had a solid looking basic vermouth recipe so became the basis of mine. (thanks Art of Drink – I’m only borrowing it!) I swapped a few ingredients out of necessity and personal preference as I cannot get quinine in Britain and hate camomile finding it overpowering so decided to use just a smudge of some foraged English walnut leaf.

foraged yarrow
Yarrow!

Then I wanted to steer it towards some traditionally English tastes using flowers as this had been the best vermouth I had made. Elderflowers were added as they make a great white wine and can compliment the base wine white used for a vermouth. A few dandelion heads were harvested, though they are becoming rarer with the hottest summer months starting to make them flower less. I had hoped for more to give a gingery hit but had to make do with what I could find. In all honesty I would like three times as many. Dandelion root was also substituted for some of the traditional bittering agents and I did consider hops but thought it might be too vegetal in taste. The last flower to be added was yarrow which is an aromatic weed that happily grows everywhere which I literally stumbled over as I walked home. It grows in small patches as it is rhizomatous (25 points in Scrabble) and has small clumped white or pink flowers with fern like leaves. The leaves are a full on kick to the taste buds but the flowers more mild and taste of a mild aniseed and liquorish and can be found in a fair few vermouth recipes.

I’m not the only person that thought of English vermouth either as there is The Collector Vermouth but I think we can all agree that a professional chef, drink tosser and herb fondler should cower before me the enthusiastic amateur lacking taste buds and modesty. Their vermouth uses an apple spirit as the fortifier rather than the traditional brandy, grappa or in my case white port. Inspired by this I may make a peach or plum spirit as I have them close to hand and easy to forage but this will very much be next years experiment. I did decide to use a smashed peach stone to add a rounded earthy base note though.

There are two versions I made. One with caramelised sugar in a shop bought white wine and another dryer version using my own oak leaf wine which is I hope light enough to take the additions. Caramelising sugar is an easy concept that hides the teeth gnashingly difficult task to do it. Too little heat nothing happens then the slightest hint of too much and it burns to fuck then laughs at you.

Vermouth ingredients

ENGLISH VERMOUTH (NOVO STYLE) – 2 litres

2 x bottles of white wine

400ml of spirit (brandy, grappa, vodka, white port, sherry etc)

200g caramelised sugar

1.5g Wormwood

0.5g Gentian Root (or similar bittering agent)

1g Dandelion root

10g Elderflowers

45 Heads of dandelion petals (I only got 15)

0.25g Camomile flowers or a pinch of walnut leaf

1g Vanilla bean

3 Cardamom pods (shell removed)

4 strips of orange peel (Seville oranges are best)

1g Oregano

0.25g each of rosemary, sage, basil, thyme, coriander seed

10 yarrow flower heads

1 x Cracked peach stone

Caramelising sugarTo caramelise the sugar put it in a good quality heavy pan with 2 tsp of sugar and stir while on a medium heat. As it starts to dissolve stop stirring and start to swirl it around the pan to keep it moving. It will purée more and more to become a syrup and start to boil. Keep it simmering but on the lowest heat you can manage it. After a few minutes it will start to brown. After 10 or so minutes it will be a rich nutty brown. Pour it onto greased proof paper making sure none will pour off as it is so viscous. This syrup has a lot of heat so make sure it cannot damage any counter tops and resist the temptation to stick a finger in it as it is weaponised sugar acting like napalm and can stick to your skin. Leave for an hour to harden.

 

As the caramelised sugar sets grab some miniature scales and measure out all your ingredients. I made groups so that they could be incrementally added to the boil.

  • Group 1 – Florals – elderflower and dandelion
  • Group 2 – Bitters – wormwood, gentian & dandelion root and coriander seed and the peach stone
  • Group 3 – Herbs – camomile/walnut leaf, vanilla bean, cardamom, orange peel, oregano, rosemary, sage, basil, thyme
  • Group 4 – Yarrow (yarrow’s taste is very delicate so this is the last addition when off the boil)
Organised ingredients
Divide your ingredients to know what and when they get added to your spirit.

Pour the spirit into a good heavy pan and add the group 1 floral elements get it to the boil so it can extract as much flavour.

400ml port
There are no rules about what fortifies your vermouth and opinion varies as to what is best.

When the boil starts reduce it to a simmer and start to time it for 10 minutes. Add the Bitters group straight away.

With 5 minutes to go add the herbs

Steeping ingredients for vermouth
Differing ingredients release flavours in different ways, staggering them maximises them with out extracting woodier tastes.

When 10 minutes are up remove from the boil and add the yarrow flowers as it cools.

Leave until cold in a covered pan and then strain through coffee filters (top up with a little spirit if you need to to get it back towards 400ml.

Combine the cleared infused spirits to the wine then crush the caramelised sugar and add a good portion but reserve about 50g.

Taste test and add more sugar if desired.

Vermouth lunch
You deserve a test drive.

Ready to drink right away in a cocktail though a few days wait to muddle is recommended. Can be kept indefinitely but best used with in three months – once open and in use refrigerate and use with in a month if you can.

If any one has any experience hints, tips or recommendations I would love to hear it!!!

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/19/how-to-make-perfect-vermouth

https://www.artofdrink.com/ingredient/how-to-make-vermouth

http://www.thecollectorvermouth.com/

 

BLACKBERRY PORT RECIPE

Blackberry port 7 days old
Blackberry port at 7 days old.

As everyone knows Port is a rich fortified wine that helped red nosed bankers deal with the pain of working through a boozy lunch and leering at secretaries. Sorry… sorry… it is a rich fortified wine made in the Duoro Valley in Portugal and became popular with the British when they were having a biff boff match with the French who kept all the good wine to themselves. It is generally but not necessarily sweet and of a higher ABV than wine at about 18 to 20% that comes from fortification using a 100% proof brandy like spirit called aguadente. If Port does not come from its traditional home it is often called Oporto.

Blackberries and pectic enzyme
The absolute mountain of mashed blackberries used

I am making neither Port or Oporto as I cannot get aguadente, don’t live in Portugal and I’m not using grapes. I do want to make a port style wine that is rich, full bodied, strongly oaked and reasonably sweet to be used as an aperitif and as a Christmas present for Papa Gazette – don’t worry the sausage fingered old buffer cannot use a mobile phone never mind the internet so this will be a total surprise for him.

Dessert gooseberries are too similar to white grapes for this and blackcurrants would create a drink too close to Ribena for my liking. This left blueberries and blackberries as the likely candidates with blackberries eventually chosen for their rich dark taste. I have read about using Damsons which sounds intriguing but I will leave that for another year if I can find some to forage.

CLICK HERE FOR TRADITIONAL BLACKBERRY WINE

Blackberry port must
Blackberry port must is thicker and darker than the traditional table wine.

Compared to a traditional blackberry wine this uses at least double the fruit at 4kg minimum. I actually went with 4.5kg because I am greedy. Making fruit based ports is far less about recipe as constant tinker and adjustment through the fermentation to maximise the alcohol created. The recipe is a guide only and as you are constantly monitoring it during primary fermentation it is a some what organic process. With more juice macerating there is generally no need to add any extra acid and with more skins macerating and 20g of oak chips added for three months there will be more tannin present lengthening the ageing process – this probably need a minimum of 1.5 years to mature and may well get better and better over three or four.

As well as extra fruit there will be extra sugar as it has a higher desired ABV of 18% This is unfortified but the yeast was incrementally feed with sugar to get the highest alcohol it can produce and tolerate. Some choose to use grape concentrates, raisins, extra tannin as tea or malt extract to give various versions of extra body to the port. I have decided to use 500g of raisins as this has done wonders for my traditional blackberry wine and 70g of extra light dry malt, added for flavour – it should be noted this is only for taste rather in beer when it is “mashed” to extract the sugars for fermentation.. I think… I’m not a beer maker. This malt will give a fuller richer taste and hopefully take the place of the aguadente. I am choosing to probably not fortify in any way but some add brandy or vodka or a combination of the two to pump up the alcohol content – I will only really decide when the port has aged just before bottling it.

The start gravity is the usual 1.09 using the hydrometer to measure it. It will be fed incrementally with more sugar added whenever the hydrometer drops to 1.03. In total 2.2kg of sugar has been added through the primary fermentation and there was the larger reserve of ambient sugar in the huge amount of blackberries used. The yeast will eventually be killed by its own bi product – the ethanol it makes as it ferments. When the yeast dies the sediment changes from the cream looking pure yeast layer to a pinkish hue with the yeast and blackberry solids. This is from less agitation because of the yeast dying so the fruit solids can more easily fall out of suspension. With no active yeast I feel no need to use any campden and sorbate to stabilise the wine before bottling – others may well have their reasons to do so though.

BLACKBERRY PORT – 4.5 Litres

Suitable yeast – champagne, port, burgundy styles

.

4kg blackberries (more can be added if physical space allows)

500g raisins

Approximately 2kg or more of sugar

70g light malt

500ml water

Yeast

Pectic enzyme

Blackberry port ingredients
Blackberry port ingredients (precautionary lemon shown – added only if acidity needs adjusting)

Mince the raisins and drop into 500ml boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the malt when when removed from the heat and leave to cool

Mincing raisins for port
Raisins add vinocity

Wash and mash the blackberries (in a sanitized pot is best) then add to the now cooling raisins and water.

Mashing blackberries for port
That is about a third of the blackberries!

Leave to get to room temperature then add a tsp of pectic enzyme and one or two campden tablets to sanitize and leave covered for 24 hours.

If you can get the blackberry pulp into a fermenting bag to stop unwanted plugs and “boil over” occuring during fermentation.

 

Stir in 0.5 to 1kg of sugar so the must is at 1.09 Start Gravity ( Do not add all the sugar)

Add the yeast according to their instructions.

Stir twice a day (and squeeze the bag at least a little if you can)

When the gravity drops to 1.03 add more sugar – 300 to 500g

Repeat until gravity radically slows in reducing.

Transfer to secondary fermentation vessel and squeeze as much juice from the fermentation bag if you used it. Add the air lock and leave in secondary fermentation.

Rack if sediment gets to 1.3cm deep or after 5 weeks which ever is earlier. Top up with santisied water or grape concentrate.

Rack again at 13 weeks old, then 25 weeks.

Back sweeten to your own taste!

Bottle or if you can leave to bulk age for 3 to 6 months then bottle.

Probably needs at least two years to mature.

 

References:

http://winemakersacademy.com/davids-blackberry-port/

http://www.thehomebrewforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=14136

THE GOOD, THE BEET AND THE UGLY!

Last year I made about 9 differing red and white wines that all differed with the base fruit used and if they were foraged or bought ingredients. Some were sweetened just before bottling and some were left to ferment to dryness. A few of the heartier reds like the elder and black and blackberry wine were aged on oak chips while others like the elderberry were not. A few recipes were refined versions of previous wines I have made while others were totally new and experiments.

Oak leaf wine tasting
Light and refreshing oak leaf wine

OAK LEAF WINE RECIPE

About a year ago decided to make oak leaf wine simply because it sounded interesting and unique. I think it was the first blog post I ever did and I have now been able to taste the results. Fermented totally dry it is a light crisp wine with a slightly woody herbal taste and quite different to what I was expecting when picking the leaves. There are are often dire warnings of how tannic it can be but this seems to have mellowed nicely. The next bottle may not be opened for another six months to allow it to mature even more and as I am experimenting with walnut leaf I may not make another batch. The neutral-ness that errs towards the herbal may mean it could be a good base wine for a vermouth so I may well experiment with it further though.

Rowan wine bottled
Lovely colour but questionable character!

ROWAN WINE RECIPE FOR THE BRAVE

The rowan wine is a far stranger beast and I have no reference to what it should taste like as no one has described it in online recipes. Rowan is hardly a regular in any kitchen as it is generally bitter and often thought to be poisonous due to the parasorbic acid in raw berries. Fermentation and freezing removes the acid but the wine is still very bitter though an age away from the must that was like a fermenting battery factory. It might well age out and with some back sweetening be a genuine surprise but lets be honest there may well be a reason no one has described the taste. When I open a bottle this could be the first wine I do not drink but at pennies to make it will be no great loss. Lovely colour though!

Beetroot wine
Beetroot claret!

CLICK HERE FOR THE BEETROOT WINE RECIPE

Although not yet ready to bottle the beetroot wine has had a final rack. In three months it will be thrown into a bottle for a years ageing. When young the beetroot wine was earthy and unpalatable with a zinc-ish bite but that is changing steadily to be a more pleasant umami with an almost raspberry like after taste. It certainly seems like a far better experiment than the rowan. There is not much I can do with it but wait as it seems unsuitable to oak even though it is a red wine so only time will tell if this is a recipe worth repeating.

Quince and rose petal wine bottled
Quince and rose petal just before an 18 month nap.

My quince and rose petal also seems to be a success but I have to wait 18 months to really see what happens and it that time the slight rose infusion will blend with the quince. Tasting the still young wine it was still as if there were two flavours competing rather than complementing each other. It has given me a few ideas to test if I make it again next year or the year after – I may age it on the lees using battonage to give a fuller mouth feel and also oak it ever so slightly even though it is a white wine.

WALNUT LEAF WINE

Walnut leaf wine 6 days old
Walnut leaf wine: six days old entering secondary fermentation.

English walnuts can be be added to the list of English things that are not English just like tea, fish & chips and the royal family. English walnuts – Juglens Regia are probably from Persia, adopted by the Greeks then Romans and can be found all over the world including England.

Walnut leaf
Walnut leaf

Iran is not that big on wine making but there are various uses of green walnuts in liqueurs like Italian Nocino or Orahovac from Croatia with almost every European country having a variant on it. The French make Vin De Noix again with green walnuts but in red wine rather than a spirit base. Mature walnuts can be used for amaretto/frangellico like liqueurs. There are several black walnut bitters from America to add a deep smokey tobacco-esque taste to cocktails and finally the leaves can be used to make wine. Walnut trees really do seem to be the unsung hero of DIY drinkers.

 

Many leaves can be used to make wine with oak, grape, bramble, maple, beech, lime or birch. Walnut leaf and particularly black walnut leaf wine are meant to be the best of the lot and I have been wanting to make it for a while. Finding walnut trees is tricky in Britain – English walnut trees are rare and American/black walnut trees (Juglens Nigra) even more so. Around Vintner HQ there happened to be a tree that was sadly next to Walthamstow’s busiest road. I don’t really want to make walnut & diesel soot wine. As if to rub it in there was a tree on common land that was too small to harvest leaves from. I want 6 bottles of wine but do not want to kill a tree in the process. Then there was a black walnut tree in a park so off limits… Mother Nature seems to be bit of a tease it seems. It has taken over a year to track down trees that are both suitable and possible to forage. Sadly these are just English walnut trees… but they are walnut trees!

American black walnuts
Juglens Nigra: the black or American walnut tree

Walnut trees are wide stocky lads with stout trunks and large canopies. Early in the year there have distinctive catkins and small walnuts start to form in late May. The leaves are pinnate with Ameican and English trees having slight variation in size and shape but they both have a very distinct scent. Rub the young leaves and they will smell like a lime flavoured nail polish… mmmmm!

English walnuts
Juglens Regia: the English, common or Persian walnut tree (Londinium Orientalis Hipsterus can be seen sheltering under the tree)

These pungent leaves are far stronger than others that make wine. Oak leaf wine needs 3 to 4.5 litres of leaves picked to make 4.5 litres of wine, walnut only needs a fraction of that at ¾litre so picking is far easier. There are spring and more tannic autumn harvested oak leaf wines but walnut leaves should be harvested only when they are young and fragrant in May or June. The recipe is essentially the same with oranges and lemons adding some acid with their juice and also flavour with the zest. I have chosen to use raisins to add body though some prefer to leave this out for a more esoteric brew suited as an aperitif, while others use white grape concentrate or even a malt extract. If you do want the more aperitif like wine use light brown demerara sugar instead of regular white sugar to the same amount.

CLICK HERE FOR THE OAK LEAF WINE RECIPE

Spring time oak leaf wine is herbal and light but with the young walnut must there is currently a smooth caramel like taste that is certainly richer. I am hoping the walnut leaf will be a stronger with a warmer nuttier taste coming through. Using my oak leaf wine as a guide I will need to let this mature for at least 18 months or possibly even two years. Six months from now I will have four bottles sealed and aging and the remaining 1.5 litres will sit in a small demijohn to oxidise. The idea is that this will make a fino like sherry as they often have nuttier tastes – there is no way I am investing in any flor yeast or moving to Jerez so lets agree to call it a Faux-no.

Before you start cover every surface that might come into contact with the leaves. Walnuts stain and were a traditional source of dyes and the leaves have the potential to stain wood and clothing.

WALNUT LEAF WINE – 4.5 litres
Suitable yeasts – white wine like CL23, SN9 and others

Up to 1L freshly picked walnut leaves
200g raisins
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Juice of 4 oranges and zest of 2
Juice of 2 lemons and zest
Yeast
Yeast nutrient
4.5l water

Walnut leaf wine ingredients
Walnut leaf wine ingredients

Pick and then rinse the leave to remove any hitch hiking spiders. Pour over the 3.5L of boiling water and leave for 24 hours. Any longer than one day soaking will release far too much bitter tannin that will dominate.

Walnut leaf wine infusing
One pan of leaves the other of zests and raisins

As the leaves steep boil the roughly chopped raisins and lemon and orange zest in the remaining litre of water.

Orange and lemons zested
Two oranges can be left un-zested

Sieve the leaves out of the water once the 24 hours has elapsed and combine with the raisins and zest. Add the sugar, lemon & orange juice and stir till the sugar has dissolved.

Soak strain mix ferment
Clockwise top left: Steeping leaves, strained away, added to the zests and raisins then in primary fermentation.

Add the yeast & nutrient according to its instructions. Leave to ferment in primary and then transfer to an air locked demijohn when fermentation slows after five to 10 days leaving the raisins and zests behind.

Walnut leaf wine end of primary
Lid removed just before being transferred to secondary fermentation.

Rack if sediment builds and certainly at one then two months to remove the settled yeast.
Leave to bulk age in a demijohn for as long as you can – six months at least.
Bottle and open a minimum 18 months after starting.