Chambord is a supposedly French liqueur made with raspberries. It’s an odd one as the bottle looks like Liberace’s ashtray and the price tag is not far off either. It looks so outwardly gaudy that the drink inside cannot match the bottle and it will all be just a bit Umbongo once tasted. But… Chambord is as lovely as it is gaudy. It is French and made from raspberries with a rich but not overly sweet taste from honey rather than sugar and complimented with herbs and spices. Nice on its own but better with a gin or best of all in a Kir Royale!
I have seen no internet recipe that comes close to it with only rather sweet simple looking raspberry liqueurs on show. I wanted to see if I could get at least close with a drink with a little more character and a lot less sugar.
The main fruit seems to be raspberry though the bottle refers to it as black raspberry which I thought was an American variety only. Looking about it might just be plain old raspberries with a smaller volume of blackberries and what seems a small pawful of blackcurrants too. I have all these fruit at my disposal either through foraging or on the allotment but they can be easily bought.
The base alcohol is said to be Brandy but I think this is only a finishing taste and the fruit macerate in a neutral alcohol like vodka. There was brandy added but this is only about a third of the total which provides a definite character.
Clove is certainly one of the spices used though the official version may have a few extras – a hint of allspice, nutmeg or cinnamon or things altogether more exotic than Tesco’s spice rack. I did not want to stray too close to Christmas spices preferring a summery fruity punch with just a hint of bitterness. One single almond did make it in and I added three strips of Seville orange zest I had stored in the freezer. Most recipes suggest a stronger lemon zest but that would be too citrus and over power the raspberry in my view. I did think of experimenting with orange blossom and may do in the future but not now.
The herb component was the most puzzling. Basil, thyme, sage, parsley etc, seemed too herbal and forward facing which left nothing at all. In the end I went a little off key and used three raspberry leaves to add a little hint of freshness and then just the tip of a bay leaf for a hint of woody depth.
After maceration of about two weeks the fruit was pressed to get all the liquid out and then a syrup of water and honey added. The honey adds extra depth than just plain sugar and compliments the brandy.
SHAM-BORD – 2ish litres
750ml vodka (50% ABV preferred)
300ml brandy (does not have to be expensive)
3 strips of orange zest (no white pith)
3 raspberry leaves if you can
just the tip of a bay leaf (about 1cm in total)
250g honey (good quality)
Rinse the fruit and pour over the vodka and brandy. Leave at least a week to macerate.
Add the herbs, spices and zest and leave another week.
Drain the alcohol into a bowl separating the fruit with muslin. Squeeze as much of the juice as possible from the fruit back into the liquor.
Make a syrup with the honey and water and once cool add half and taste. Add more if desired.
Filter through coffee filters into a clean bottle and then you can use after three days once the flavours have fully muddled together.
Add to gin cocktails or even better make a Shambord Kir Royale with five parts dry champagne/prosecco to one part shambord.
Acid is an essential part of wine having three functions. Obviously acidity is an important taste and works in conjunction with the amount and style of tannins, the sweetness and alcohol content. Even when a wine is dry it can still contain some sugar content, unimplementable sugars like poly saccharides and the implied sweetness of alcohol. Acid balances the bitter and sweet tastes present and highlights fruit flavours though too much acid will start to dominate and over shadow the fruit used. Acidity is a fine balancing act and while there are no magic numbers there are generally accepted ideals. Personal taste is still the simplest determining factor for what a home wine maker wants.
As well as the “art” of acidity and taste, Acid acts biologically as a preservative. A red wine with a pH of 3.4 to 3.6 protects against most spoilage bacteria allowing a wine to age over years rather than months and allows it to develop deeper more complex flavours. In white wines there is generally stronger acidity so the pH is between 3.0 to 3.4.
Acidity is a double edged sword and while acidic wine are more protected from bacterial infection and growth they are more prone to oxidation with white wines being particularly at risk. This is because acid reacts chemically in wine. Oxidation is unwanted but usually the chemical reactions from acids are a catalyst to create tastes and mature wine. Acids bind tannins, fix colour pigments or alter ancoythanins to create ever increasing taste compounds.
TYPES OF ACID
There are many types of acid in wine but the most important is tartaric acid that is the dominant acid in grapes which are almost unique as a fruit because of this. Tartaric acid has a sharp taste giving wine its unique taste. As grapes are unique in this sense tartaric acid is often added to fruit wines via raisins or a direct tartaric additives to ape the characteristics of grape wine. One reason “banana water” is sometimes used to give body is because like grapes they are also high(ish) in tartaric acid. Tartaric acid can be seen as a basis that other combinations of acids sit upon hopefully creating a balance that please rather than pain you as you drink.
Malic acid is dominant in unripe grapes and certain ripe fruit like blackberries, cherries and apples and in a large volume can give a sharp unripe taste to wine. In moderation it is usually in wines but using the ripest fruit you can is important to bring balance. Malic acid will reduce naturally as a product of fermentation and an additional second malolactic fermentation can be done to further reduce it. Malic acid changes into the softer velety tasting Lactic acid during malolactic fermentation where an added bacteria culture ferments the acid just as yeast does with sugar. While lactic acid is a weak tasting acid it moves the wine towards the sourest profile if present in too much quantity creating a sour milk taste.
Tartaric and malic acid make up 90% of pre-fermentation grape wine acidity. Succinic acid is far less present and is created via fermentation and is important in creating esthers and complexity in wine as it reacts throughout the aging process. The taste can add a slight saltiness to a wine as well as bitterness. Levels of sucinic acid can be promoted by certain yeast selections and fermentation temperature and typical levels are 05g/L to 1.5g/L but can be higher, red wine usually has more present than whites.
Citric acid may well be the dominating acid in many fruit wines like blackcurrant, gooseberry or orange wine. It has a dominating “artificial” taste if in excess and especially if added just before bottling when it will not mellow out. Added early citric acid reduces in both taste and strength during fermentation and is seen as a very active biodynamic acid that can promote bacterial growth unlike tartaric acid that is an antioxidant and preservative.
Other acids present vary from Gallic acid added from oak aging and is as litle s 0.0001g/L, Ascorbic, Sorbic, Citramilic and many others can be present in minute amounts. The variety of acids combine to create a unique combination in your wine of sharp, velvety, mellow, sour, fresh, ripe, green or artificial sensations and even rancid or vinegar if Butyric or Acetic Acid is sadly present.
Acetic Acid is the acid present in vinegar and generally thought of as a wine fault ruining wine. A very talented chef friend and fan of the new Biodynamic Wine school likes a little VA (Volatile Acidity created by acetic acid) but anything more than a whiff of VA will make a wine taste like vinegar and probably turn it into vinegar if given enough time.
Wine acidity can be measured in two ways pH and TA. pH can be seen as a technical measurement to determine if a wine will be stable as it ages. TA measures the taste-able acidity on the tongue. The differing acids in your wine behave slightly differently to each other so one acid can affect pH more than TA and vice versa. The relationship between pH and TA is linked but not absolutely uniform.
pH is the measurement of both the total acids and alkalis present in a wine. It is based on a scale of 1 to 14. Water is neutral so sits in the middle at 7. 7 to 14 are alkaline and acids is measured “backwards” from 7 to 0. This means a high pH of say 6 is a low strength acid, while the lower the pH the stronger the acidity. Between each value the acidity increases by a factor of 10 as the scale is logarithmic. A small amount of alkalis and a lot of acid will be present in wine and that total will push it well into the mid ranges of acidity.
Most wine pH’s fall around between 3 to 4. 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while about 3.3 to 3.65 is best for reds. These are the pH readings pre-fermentation. At the start of fermentation acidity will have a low pH to take account of the ageing of the wine as the various acids are used as catalysts in chemical reactions creating the more complex tastes as it ages. Later when a red wine is popped open the pH will have risen to between 3.5 and 3.8. Whites will have a similar pH rise of about 0.1 to 0.3 pH.
Testing pH is easy either with a pH strip that is centred around the levels you need or using a more complex and expensive but more accurate pH meter. Beware these do need to be calibrated with a neutral solution and have a shelf life so can be expensive for an amateur.
TA – “Titratable Acidity” or “Total Acidity,” is another way of measuring acidity, this time discarding the ratio of alkalinity to acidity and measuring the taste-able acidity only by volume of the wine must. This is far more a measurement of the character of the wine being made rather than the more technical preservative pH measurement. It gives an indication of the genuine taste of the acidity and a hint of what the acids can do in terms of chemical reactions while fermenting and then bulk ageing.
Most red wines will have a total acidity of about 0.6 to 0.7% TA that converts nice and easily to 6 to 7g/L – that is 6 to 7 grams of acid per litre of wine. A white wine will have a higher TA between 6.5 to 7.5g/l and often fruit wines are thought to have slightly lower acidity of 5.5 to 6.5 g/l as they will have a more dominant fruit flavour that is intended to show through the acidity and take account of the generally less acidic nature of most non grape fruit – that is open to debate in my view and often many fruit wines are made with too little acid and taste flabby and thin in my view.
Dry White Grape Wines – 6.5 – 7.5g/L
Sweet White Grape Wine – 7 – 8.5g/L
Dry Red Grape Wine – 6 – 7g/L
Sweet Red Grape Wines – 6.5 – 8g/L
Sherry Grape Wines – 5 – 6g/L
Non-Grape White Wines – 5.5 – 6.5g/L
Non-Grape Red Wines – 5 – 6g/L
The character of a wine will be influenced by the acidity level you choose within the desirable limits of both pH and TA. A lower pH/higher TA will have a sharper acidity with more fruit forward tastes while a wine towards a higher pH/lower TA will be smoother but with less fruit evident. There is no right or wrong only personal preference for your palette. As an example Argentinian Malbecs have a lower acidity (higher pH) to a French Malbec that has a higher acidity (lower pH) Both use the same fruit but climate has determined the sugar and acidity level despite the same grapes being used to make the wine.
Testing TA is done an initially intimidating but actually simple to use kit. A sample of wine is taken. If it is at the start of making the wine and fruit will be macerating get a decent sample and use a blender to pulp the fruit then allow it to settle out – this allows the acidity of both the liquid must and the macerating skins to be tested. If an already fermenting wine is being tested the carbon dioxide must be shaken or boiled out to get an accurate result.
A 3mm sample can be diluted with pH neutral distilled water to make colour change more visible and then 3 drops of indicator solution added. After a little shake to disperse it sodium hydroxide is added drop by drop with good notes taken to remember how may millilitres are added. While the acid is active it will neutralise the sodium hydroxide solution to a clear colour, when all the acid is used the colour sticks. White wines are an easy test as the indicator is a purple colour and easily seen. A red wine requires a little more observation to see the original red wine colour turn to more brick red hue rather than a genuine colour change.
The millilitres of the sodium hydroxide indicator solution used is a direct representation of the TA present. As an example 3.5ml of sodium hydroxide added would be equal to 3.5g/L acid present or 3.5%. If you want a wine with a target of 6g/L acidity 2.5g/L would need to be added. My first use of a TA test kit I worked out that my blueberry wine needed 25grams of acid added to the 10 litres of must to get it to my desired 6g/L acidity.
Adjusting acidity should always be done before fermentation begins to give the yeast the best environment to ferment and multiply in. An unbalanced must can stress yeast and create sulphurous by products in the wine. A balanced wine also gives more time for optimal chemical processes to occur as the wine ferments as all the basic materials are already present to go on to make the more complex taste, aroma and colour elements. While acidity can be adjusted after fermentation or just before bottling this gives less time for it to react chemically and less ability to protect the wine from spoilage.
Tartaric acid is an easy bench mark to use to increase acidity:
1g/L addition will increase the TA by about 1g/L and will decrease the pH by 0.1 pH units.
1g/L of Malic acid will increase TA by 1.12 g/L and will decrease the pH by 0.08 pH units.
1g/L of Citric acid will increase TA by 1.17 g/L and will decrease the pH by 0.08 pH units.
It should be notes that the larger the decrease in pH extra acid will be needed to be added as the pH scale is logarithmic rather than linear. Moving from pH 3.6 to 3.3 may need 4g/l of tartaric acid rather than just 3g/L
Using these measurements pH and TA can be adjusted at different rates if needed in extreme cases – the acids also taste different so careful consideration should be used. Citric acid may well compliment a high malic content in a plum, fig or blackberry wine. Adding tartaric acid may balance out the dominant citric acid in blueberry, strawberry or elderberry wine.
Riper fruit has less acid present so the easiest way to reduce acidity is to check the sugar content before you harvest. A refractometer is an inexpensive though certainly luxurious piece of kit to measure the sugar in fruit. The riper the fruit the more sugar will be shown on the refractometer and in all probability there will be less acid present. Obviously this is at harvest rather than actually making your wine.
If a wine tastes too acidic you may not need to actually adjust the acidity. Back-sweetening may cut through the mouth puckering acidic sensation and making wine is about a balance of flavours rather than numbers on a chart.
Personally I prefer dry wines so adding sweetness is not always an option. Cold crashing is a simple system where a wine is placed in a cold environment of only a few degrees or even 0°C so tartaric acid crystallises and precipitates out falling as wine diamonds. These can simply be left behind when the wine is racked. This methodology is not an exact science though and caution should be used to extract only the acid you need. Some wine makers choose to cold crash as standard and if tartaric acid was added it should be increased to 2g/L rather than 1g/L to take into account of the wine diamonds crystallising.
Potassium Bicarbonate or Calcium Carbonate (precipitated chalk) can actually be added to a wine to reduce acidity. Easy to use it is added as a powder and stirred into the must in several stages over an hour or so. The reaction is quick and clearly visible as a gentle fizz as the acid is neutralised and carbon dioxide is produced with calcium tartrate and calcium malate crystals eventually forming and sinking with the lees. Precipitated chalk is most reactive with Oxalic acid that is present in Apricots, figs, kiwi fruit, plums, red currants and most of all rhubarb but this is generally a rare acid in most fruit. Oxalic acid has a harsh lab made like taste and should always be managed to an acceptable level even if acidity is lowered below accepted levels and may have to be raised with tartaric additions! Precipitated chalk will de-acidify oxalic acid by choice then move onto tartaric acid before others. As it moves down this chain it becomes less efficient at de-acidification and could shift the mix of acidities to be “less wine like”
1g/L of Potassium Carbonate will reduce TA by 1.0 g/L
Calcium Carbonate / Precipitated Chalk: varies and between 0.7 and 1.5 g/L will reduce TA by 1g/L. No more than 17.5g (3 and a half tsp) of Calcium Carbonate should be used per British gallon of wine (4.5 Litres) as taste and residue can be left behind
Malolactic fermentation is both a way to reduce acidity and to manage the acids in the wine. Malolactic cultures are bacteria that ferment acid similarly to the way yeast ferment sugar into alcohol. Generally used in all red wines and an increasing number of white wines like Chardonnay it can also be used by home wine makers for both grape and fruit wines. Malolactic fermentation changes harsh malic acid into the softer velvety tasting Lactic acid that is less sharp on the tongue and promotes natural fruit flavours.
The culture can either be in a powder or liquid form and is easily poured into the wine. This fermentation is almost impossible to start below pH 3.2 and should ideally be done between pH3.2 to 3.4 so using Precipitated Chalk may need to be used to hit those figures. It is best to do after initial fermentation has stopped or at least radically slowed down. The wine should be around room temperature at 20°C and no sulphites like campden tablets should be used as the cultures are delicate and temperamental.
Once begun it will produce a slight barnyard/chicken coop odour and a thin brown film or small brownish clumps will probably form on the surface of the wine. This is totally different to the rotten egg smell of spoiled wine with the milky tendril Lactobacillus spoilage bacteria or white film yeast.
Malolactic fermentation can last as long as three months and in that time it should be left to its own devices – do not rack the wine during this time or add any preservatives. Keep the bungs in place and airlocks topped up. Any surface film or colonies will fall to the bottom of the demijohn with the lightest of agitation. If a few malolactic fermentations have been done over the years a culture may not be needed and spontaneous inoculation with ambient spores in the atmosphere will occur. I was lucky with an Elder and Black wine in which it happened and hope that it will occur in all my wines in the future. The fine lees left after racking from “malo” fermentation can be used to further inoculate other wines but this must be done immediately and the culture cannot be kept.
This has been my most indepth and most researched post so far but Im not a pro – any additions or corrections welcome!
The Novocastrian Vintners Gazette is now two years old and it has pushed me to try refine my techniques, ideas and recipes to get the best I can out of the fruit I use. In all that time blueberry wine seems to have eluded a decent write up despite being a personal favourite. So far I have made some very nice medium bodied blueberry wines that age excellently. Anyone who says blueberry is best drunk young has not waited until it undergoes an amazing transformation at about 18 months into a complex fruity wine with an oddly sherbet undertone.
Now with a little more experience and a lot more ambition I am hoping to adapt the recipe and techniques to make a full bodied red wine managing as many variables as I can to make the best wine I can. Using a Malbec as an influence I plan to create a jazzy little Bluebec with full fruit aged on the leas in an extended maceration, with high alcohol and tannin content, strongly oaked and aged for three years.
Before any grape nerds throw bricks through my window… Yes, I know its not made with Malbec grapes. No, I don’t live in France or South America. Yes, I understand these processes are used in many styles of wine. No, I don’t care that you prefer a different wine. Yes, I know I just made up a name for my wine and its totally meaningless…
So recipe, acidity, temperature regulation, maceration time and pressing the skins have all been updated from the traditional recipe I have used earlier. This will be as much a master class I can do and by “master” I mean my usual cack handed flight into the unknown.
The recipe has been overhauled with 200g extra of blueberries taking it to a total of 2kg of fruit per British Gallon of wine. To add extra vinocity the raisin content has similarly increased from 250g to 400g with a stronger tea brewed to add tannin. The raisins and tannin both add body that will play off against the higher fruitiness of the berries. It should be noted that as I am Britain I am using European blueberries that are considered to be less flavourful than US varieties and most blueberry wine recipes I have seen have been American based using less fruit.
Acidity has been monitored more closely and adjusted with tartaric acid used rather than the citric acid from lemons. Acidity seems to be one of the dark arts of wine making that an amateur can hope to adjust but not massively monitor. Traditionally I have used citric acid by squeezing a few lemons into my must. Citric acid is only present in grapes in low quantities with tartaric acid being far more dominant. As grape wine informs the general taste and sensation of fruit wines I have decided to ditch citric acid entirely. Citric acid that can be described as too sour at a basic level and too “fresh” or “artificial” in taste. The tartaric acid will soften the taste of the acidity but still provide enough stability for the wine to age for a decent enough time. Compared to tartaric acid, citric acid is more volatile than other acids and well liked by bacteria that can convert it easily to acetic acid creating a vinegar taste in low quantities or out right vinegar in extreme cases. There are acid blends that have a mix of tartaric, malic and citric acid in a 2:1:1 ratio which I may look into in future but that will need a lot more investigation.
Temperature management was used through out making the wine and will continue to do so as it ages in the coldest part of the house to try and match a cellar at 15°C. Initially the blueberries had a cold maceration for 5 days. The cold soak allows water to penetrate the skins to extract flavour, colour and aroma before the yeast is pitched and it enters fermentation and an alcoholic maceration begins. To do this have a sterile pot for the fruit, cover it with as much water you can and add a campden tablet as insurance against wild yeasts and bacteria. Cover the surface of the water with cling film to stop new bacteria entering and minimise the chance of oxidation. Sitting at 7° C for five days will allow a head start for certain compounds like anthocyanins and phenolics can be extracted just like grapes in a traditional wine.
After the cold maceration the berries were mashed and the remaining water, minced raisins and pectic enzyme added. As the pectin broke down over 24 hours the must was allowed to naturally rise to room temperature of 21° C. Sugar is added to achieve a Starting Gravity of 1.08 and then the R56 yeast added. I did one additional dose of sugar and nutrient four days into the fermentation to further raise the ABV to a potential of 14% as it fermented. The natural rise in temperatures, stepped sugar addition and yeast nutrient addition when the yeast could possibly need it were all intended for a easy fermentation with no peaks to shock the yeast in their environment.
Red wines are generally fermented “hot” between 25 to 30° C but lacking a Mediterranean climate I cannot usually hope to get to those temperatures naturally. I have invested in an immersion heater to raise it gently towards this point but in the current summer weather I was lucky enough to be getting 26° C shown on the adhesive thermometer and the partying yeast will probably have added a degree inside too. Stray too close or over 30° and you can “cook” the fruit for off tastes or stress the yeast creating sulphur dioxide. In the colder months when I make an elderberry wine I may well need the heaters though.
Thrice a day the must was gently stirred to mimic a pump over in a commercial winery. Just enough to agitate the fruit and re-submerge to keep it moist. As fermentation started to radically slow I needed nerves of steel to add another new process with an Extended Maceration. The idea is simple with an extra three days sit the crushed fruit gets an even longer window for more flavour to be extracted. There is also possibly the chance of a little micro oxygenation to aid tannin binding as the carbon dioxide given off lessens and there can be a small amount of contact with oxygen. During this time I chose not to stir the fruit or open the primary fermenter as less carbon dioxide is available to protect the wine – more agitation means potential oxygen dissolved. The extended maceration has its pros and cons as it not only allows extra fruit flavour to be extracted from skins but also more tannin with even harsher tannins extracted from the seeds. The micro oxygenation is risky as it is done totally on faith with out any way to monitor it as an amateur. The idea is that small levels of oxygen allow a greater level of flavour complexity to build and tannins to bind with richer colour extracted and fixed. Leave it too long and micro turns to macro. Full on oxygenation will simply ruin the wine turning it to sour vinegar. Luck and the more stable tartaric acid should aid it though.
Pressing the fruit allowed me to extract every last drop from the blueberries to get a rich thick juice as it entered secondary fermentation and bulk ageing with the 10g of oak chips. The colour is richer than I have ever managed to get with blueberry with a lovely thick red hue. The wine will sit for one possibly two months as I wait for the lees sediment to settle with another rack and possibly a malolactic culture added if it does not happen spontaneously.
BLUBEC BLUEBERRY WINE RECIPE – 4.5litres
Full bodied tannic red wine at 14%ABV. Red wine yeast needed (I used R56) Aged with oak chips and open two or three years after making. Suitable for malolactic fermentation.
2kg of blueberries
400g of raisins
1kg-ish sugar – aiming for max 1.10 SG through a stepped addition.
Tartaric acid to 0.6g/l
1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
1/2 tsp. yeast nutrient
Cold soak the blueberries for 5 days in fridge with as much of the water as you can with a campden tablet to kill any possible infections. Stir once a day and keep the surface covered to stop infection and oxidation
On the fourth day mince the raisins to the 3.5 litres of water as it boils. Leave covered to cool
Pour the blueberries into primary fermenter and crush with a sanitised potato masher. Add the water and raisins then the pectic enzyme. Leave for 12 to 24 hours to get to room temperature.
Add the tea and sugar aiming for 1.08 SG using a hydrometer to measure.
Adjust acidity to 6% then add the yeast according to the sachets instructions.
Cover and leave to start fermenting. Stir three times a day with a gentle punch down to resubmerge the fruit.
On day 4 add additional sugar to raise gravity by 0.2 and add half a tsp of yeast nutrient to aid the yeast.
Monitor fermentation and leave for three days once gravity reaches 1.01 or lower. Do not open or stir the wine after this for an extended maceration.
Squeeze or press the pulp getting as much into an airlocked demijohn for bulk ageing.
After five weeks to two month rack away from the lees and add 10g of medium oak chips and leave a further three months to age. If wanting a malolactic fermentation add the culture at this point.
Rack again if needed and bulk age. A year after starting all carbon dioxide should be expelled and no manual degassing needed.
Bottle. Keep in a cellar like environment and open the first bottle at two years of age.
I started the blackberry port as bit of a joke and not really expecting anything of real quality but sadly its turned out a real treat and will only continue to get better. It has surpassed my expectations and Ms Gazette happily sipped through the last drips I could not squeeze into a bottle. I am thinking of it aging for another year but she may sneak a bottle earlier. Two bottles are intended as gifts and I may try to limit myself to just one bottle a year to see it really mature. As the alcohol is 20% ABV so it should last until it is five years old. Once opened it may need to live in the fridge though.
As it is almost pure juice the blackberry gives a rich fruity kick with a lot of oak tannins from the 20g of chips it sat on for about 6 months. Colour is rich and deep and the texture matches a true grape port feeling syrupy and velvety as you drink. Light malt usually used for beers was added which bumped the sweetness to an almost destructive level when first added at the end of fermentation. The tannins now compliment the sweetness bringing it into balance. I will certainly keep a closer eye on the incremental sugar additions next time… and there will be a next time making this! Possibly another blackberry though I may be able to forage a small fortune of damsons or try a white greengage port form a friends plum tree. Actually I think I might do at least two this year.
The Novocastrian Vintners Gazette is now two years old and making elderflower wine inspired me to start making wine and eventually writtering aboot it azwell! Elderflower is a nice familiar ritual that kind of kicks off the year as fermentation starts I need to think about bottling the older wines I made last year to make way for any new plans I have now. The wine has a few detractors but almost all sane people know it is an easy delicious wine to make, has a refreshing fresh summery taste and is excellent for the beginner.
This year I am making my first elderflower champagne rather than my more traditional still elderflower wine. It will have less punch using only 25 flowers rather than the 30 or even more I use usually as the bubbles will be the main attraction. Another difference is using 250ml of white grape concentrate rather than raisins I use for body. Substituting citric acid for a more wine like tartaric acid which I plan to do for all my wine form now on will hopefully give a mellower less “artificial” sour taste. There is certainly nothing wrong with using citric acid if that is all to hand though.
Flowers were picked and plucked of their petals on a hot morning to maximise the pollen content and then steeped in boiling water and left to cool. The CY17 yeast is a white wine yeast so I have used a large metal pan as my primary fermenter to dissipate heat and keep the yeast from over heating and boiling off aroma and flavour. To further keep it cool and create a long(ish) ferment it was kept in the coolest part of the house – the cupboard under the stairs. As elderflowers are so aromatic and delicate I wanted to keep as much as I could in the wine. With the grape concentrate substituting the raisins for vinocity there was only a small crown of petals that did not need a stir to agitate back into the must. A small shuffle of the pan soaked the leaves without a need to open the lid and expose it to possible oxidation and contamination.
Initial fermentation took a leisurely 10 days and it is now gently rolling along in an airlocked secondary demijohn. Racking in two months will remove the finer leas as the exhausted yeast settles the the bottom. When the wine is six months old I intend to add an EC1118 yeast and sugar solution to get a traditional “Methode Champenoise” carbonation in bottle. If you want this chemical additions like campden should be kept to a minimum and as I boiled my must and opened it only a few times without the need to stir my wine has no sulphites so far.
ELDER FLOWER CHAMPAGNE 4.5litres
Suitable yeasts – white wine yeasts like EC1118, CY17, SN9, CL23
25 elderflower sprays
1kg-ish sugar to 1.08SG
250ml white grape extract (or 250g of raisins roughly chopped)
1/2 mug tea
1 and 1/2 tsp tartaric acid (or zest and juice of 3 lemons (no pith)
1 tsp yeast nutrient
White wine yeast (plus another for chaptalising at six months)
4.5L boiling water
Pick 25 elderflower heads as early in the morning as possible on a warm day.
Pluck the elder flowers from the stems removing as much green as possible.
Place the elderflowers, (and the chopped/minced raisins & lemon zest if using) in pan and pour over the boiling water, add half of the sugar and stir in thoroughly so the flowers are submerged.
Leave to cool to room temperature then fine tune to the desired starting gravity of sugar at 1.08 or Add the wine concentrate, citric acid and a cup of strong tea made with one tea bag.
Ferment in a covered primary container in as cool an area as you can. Agitate to submerge the flowers once a day (if using raisins a stir with a sanitised ladle will need to be done)
Rack and filter to secondary though muslin to remove the solids when fermentation starts to really slow. This will be at 7 to 10 days after pitching the yeast. Squeeze the muslin thoroughly to get all the taste you can!
Rack at about five weeks then another 10 to 12 weeks after that.
When I was young conker trees used to be my favourite but as I am now older and wiser elder and walnut trees probably tie for first place as you can make booze from them. Walnuts come from a tree with many names “Common Walnut,” “Persian Walnut” or “English Walnut” which are all the same and in Britain there is the even rarer Black Walnut tree imported from America. Last year I started a walnut leaf wine that promises to be not only unique but far better than my oak leaf wine I have previously made. The leaf can also be used in bitters and liqueurs.
Best of all the young fresh nuts can be used to make an assortment of liqueurs too. The French make Vine De Noix with a red wine base and also created nocino that has travelled to Italy to be perfected into its own regional variation. Nocino is part of a larger family of liqueurs that use a spirit rather than wine to infuse the walnuts. Similar drinks can be found with walnut Ratafia from Spain, or Crotian Orahovac that is brandy based, some recipes even use rum. Both common and black nuts can be used to make Nocino but the Black Walnut is probably too tough to pickle and eat – I have only ever seen them off limits to foragers in parks anyway.
With its neutral base of vodka Nocino has an unmistacably rich warm walnut taste with a hint of rounded spices and zest. Cloves are sometimes used but I prefer to use allspice that pairs better with the walnut and vanilla and moves it away from the more mulled wine style spice mix. The nuts give a rich first run, then they are recycled for a lighter second run both in taste and colour, then the almost spent nuts can be crushed into a chutney maximising their use.
British green walnuts are generally in season in late June and maybe into July if you can find trees to forage or a specialist farm to get them freshly picked, packed and delivered. I foraged half of mine and picked them around the 20th of June though the traditional day to harvest is the 24th – St John’s Day. The other half were bought mail order though some Turkish supermarkets do get them occasionally. If foraging keep an eye on the growing nuts and occasionally pick one and slice open. The nut inside should be distinctive but with no hard shell forming inside. To do that you will need to find a walnut tree so look out for a stout tree with small trunk with sets of long symmetric leaves in sets of about eight with a single leaf on the end. The leaves have a distinctive nail varnish aroma when rubbed.
1 Litre of 50% ABV vodka
30 green walnuts
1/2 vanilla pod
zest of 1 lemon
4 all spice berries
1/3 of a cinnamon stick
First of all cover everything. Walnuts used to be used as a dye and they will stain everything – Fingers, benches, clothing, the cat, antique flooring and partners. Use rubber gloves if you can.
Wash a two litre kilner jar then chop the walnuts into quarters and throw them in. Add the vanilla pod, all spice (no need to crack or grind) cinnamon and the lemon zest as long strips. Pour over the vodka and then seal the lid.
Leave for eight to ten weeks giving an occasional shake to disperse the flavour and aid the slight oxidation needed to darken the liqueur.
After the eight weeks pour through muslin to separate the solids from the vodka. Sweeten the nocino with a simple syrup. To make this gently heat the water and sugar with a squeeze of lemon juice and stir for 10 minutes on the gentlest of simmers. Leave to cool and then add two thirds and stir in. Taste and add more if you want to sweeten further.
Seal the nocino and leave it to age until December when it can be decanted into bottles. Coffee filters and a funnel can remove much of the tannin that settles in this time.
This will keep indefinitely due to the high alcohol content though it mellows creating a more subtle flavour as time progresses.
SECOND RUN NOCINO
1-ish Litre of 50% ABV vodka
the 30 green walnuts used earlier
1/2 vanilla pod
zest of 1 lemon
4 all spice berries
1/3 of a cinnamon stick
Simply repeat the process but only use enough vodka to cover the walnuts this time. When it is time to sweeten use less of the simple syrup initially as there is less bitterness to match with sweetness.
The second run nocino is lighter than the initial one made but the flavour is subtly different. The walnuts have naturally lost a lot of flavour so the second run is not as dark or so powerfully nutty and as such needs only enough vodka to cover the nuts. I chose to remove the old spices and zest and replace with a new ones to give a fruitier punch which Ms Gazette prefers to the dark almost treacle like first run, other people simply reuse all the ingredients.
DRUNKEN WALNUT CHUTNEY
Originating in India chutney was morphed by the British into a preserve used to keep fruit for the lean winter months. It may look unappetising but it is a rich thick spiced sweet “jam” that can be paired with all kinds of cheese or used in sandwiches. There are hundreds of recipes and it is infinitely malleable to your own tastes. Generally the rule is that 1kg of fruit and vegetables should be mixed with 300g of sugar and 300ml of vinegar. The fruit and vegetables give the flavour and texture, the vinegar preserves the fruit and the sugar also preserves and counters the sourness. My recipe already has the spices present from the nocino maceration and preserving power of the alcohol so it has relatively little spice added.
The 30 green walnuts used earlier
2 red onions
zest of half an orange
1 inch of ginger
½ tsp ground corriander
300g light brown sugar
350ml cider vinegar
Use a blender to mince the green walnuts into a small chunks and add them to a thick, heavy bottomed pan. Add all the ingredients with the onion diced as thinly as possible, the apple and pear pealed cored and diced similarly. Stir the sugar and vinegar through until it dissolves and then start to heat the ingredients.
Once the vinegar starts to simmer adjust the heat to keep it at this temperature and stir every couple of minutes to turn the solids. The heat should allow a light simmer which will reduce and pulp the apple and perhaps pear. The mixture will reduce as the vinegar penetrates the fruit and vegetables to preserve them over the course of an hour.
Five or six jam jars and lids should be boil sterilised for 10 minutes to store the chutney. I find placing the jars submerged in a pan of cold water and bringing it to a boil 30 minutes into making the chutney is best.
In the closing minutes reduce the heat and stir more often so that the thickening mixture does not stick or burn. When there is no free running liquid and the mix is nicely bound remove from the heat and ladle into the boil sterilised jam jars. The chutney will cool and contract the lids to form an airtight seal.
Leave for the flavours to merge for 3 months and then serve as an accompaniment to a well earned cheese board. Once a jar is opened it will keep in the fridge indefinitely. A sealed jar can live happily on a shelf for 18 months of more.
If you have spare walnuts after starting the Nocino they can be pickled for another potent accompaniment to cheese.
500ml malt vinegar
250g light brown sugar
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cloves
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp whole peppercorns
½ tsp fresh ginger
1 garlic clove
Just like using walnuts anywhere else. Cover all work surfaces and use gloves if you can. The juice stains giving you tramp fingers.
Give the walnuts a rinse and remove any remaining stems. Prick with a fork and drop into a glass bowl. Use half the salt to make a brine that will cover the walnuts and then leave covered with cling film for a week in a cool dark place. After a week pour the dirty water away and then cover again with a newly prepared brine and leave for another week. (The walnuts may turn black – this is normal and not a bad sign.)
Pour the brine away and rinse the excess off. Cut the walnuts into thick slices and leave on a tray to dry for a few days – they will certainly blacken now but the salt will have preserved them.
Pop the walnuts in a heave pan with the spices and vinegar and get to a low simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes. Ladle into cleaned jam jars (jar and lid boiled for 10 minutes) and cover with the vinegar mixture. Close lips tightly and then leave at least three or even better six months before eating with a luxurious cheese board.
I have made dandelion wine before but it was a disaster. The flowers were damp and the taste once I eventually opened a bottle was a bit like licking a carpet. It has taken a few years for me to pluck up the courage to return to it. Having started this new batch I have a bit more understanding in wine making and a bit more of a willingness to experiment with the recipe.
The dandelions seem to be more of an undertone to the wine providing a gingerish base that is quite subtle and certainly less pronounced than an elderflower wine. Nettle, birch sap and rhubarb are also meant to be similarly subtle. To add a bit more depth lemon and/or orange zest and juice are added and some even add an inch of ginger for a kick. Body can be added with tea, raisins or white grape concentrate and I have an old recipe that threw in whole plants so the bitter roots would create a more beer like taste.
As the recipe is more of a guide I went with equal measures of lemon and some Seville orange juice and zest I had frozen. 500G of raisins added body and I relied on calyx rather than tea or tannin extract for the tannin content. As I plan to make this into a sparkling wine in 6 months I added enough sugar to get to SG 1.08 so that the extra EC1118 yeast and sugar ferments when added just before bottling. This is the first wine where I have added demerara sugar as a quarter of the ratio rather than just plain white table sugar and I imagine it will compliment the dandelion flavour.
Dandelions are the most well dressed of flowers with their mop top of yellow petals that turn into an wig of doom when the seeds blow off to disperse the seeds. Because their seeds are an indiscriminate carpet bomb that can take over a garden or allotment my neighbours were more than happy to let me pick all the fresh dandelion heads I could get my hands on. I try to stay away from parks that might have sprayed with weed killers or worse dog pee.
Try to hunt them out in a warm spring morning when the pollen is at its highest to get as much flavour as possible. Bees love dandelions as they are one of the first flowers to blossom so try not to take them until a range of flowers are in season. If you see any that are not perfectly round give them a miss as slugs will have nibbled them. An equal volume of loose petals to the demijohn you will ferment in are needed though you can get by will a few less or a few more.
Once the flowers are picked the petals need to be saved and the green calyx thrown away. A few bits of calyx will inevitably be picked and these add a little tannin but try to remove as much as possible. There is a knack to efficient separation and this needs a firm squeeze of the base of the flower to pop the petals off as you feather them away. This is long hard work so get some good music playing or practice your Zen And The Art Of Wine Making mantras. I sadly had the neighbours kids arguing for a solid hour. At the end you will have stained fingers like a chain smoking tramp – probably best not to do this on an unprotected work surface.
As the taste is light and subtle I wanted to keep as much as possible for the bottle. Some choose to boil the dandelions twice once at the start and again at he end of the steep but I chose to simply blanche them with the boiled water and let them steep. I also fermented in a stainless steel pan (don’t use aluminium as the acid in the must will oxidise the metal!) to dissipate the heat and slow the fermentation so that aroma does not “boil off.” Once in the demijohn I am placing it in the cupboard under the stairs which is the coldest part of the house to keep a long slow and cool ferment. In six months I will turn it into a sparking wine and hopefully next spring it will ready to drink.
DANDELION WINE – 4.5L
Light floral white wine suitable to turn into a sparkling wine. EC1118, CY17 or any white wine yeast is suitable. Alternatives: Divide the lemon content between lemon and oranges. Ginger can be added for a kick, tannin or tea for more body and sugar can be divided between light demerara and white table sugar.
The petals from enough complete dandelion flowers to loosely fill a gallon container
4.5 litres of boiling water
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Zest and juice of 4 lemons
500g chopped raisins
Pick enough flowers that would loosely fill a demijohn.
Remove petals. Some green is good for taste but remove most.
Boil four litres of water and pour over the petals. Cover and leave for 2 days for flavour to seep. When the water is cold pectic enzyme can be added to destroy pectin and reduce haze.
Boil another half litre of water and add the lemon/orange juice, zests and chopped raisins.
Sieve out the petals then combine them
Stir in the sugar until 1.090SG.
Once cool add the yeast and yeast nutrient and cover in primary. Stir twice a day.
Rack into secondary when fermentation slows and rack again when it has totally stopped at about five weeks.
Rack again if sediment builds and bottle after 6 months
Elderberry wine seems to be the hardest to master but the most rewarding in terms of flavour that I have tried. The berries give a very grape like taste and seem very dependent on process as well as recipe and I imagine they can be made into a range of dry to sweet, medium to full bodied wines.
Opening the 2016 “vintage” was an opportunity to test the changes I had made to the recipe to reduce the harsh tannin content. To do this I pressed the berries earlier than previous attempts so that the rising ethanol during fermentation did not extract the harsher tannins from the seeds. A cold maceration has always been part of my elderberry recipe to allow lots of colour to be extracted so an early press still gives a deep almost black wine!
The wine certainly seems to have benefited with this early press with less harsh tannins giving a more balanced wine with a fruitier taste than previous. I may increase the ratio of fruit to push it from a medium body to a full bodied wine. It does need to breathe a long time after being opened so this could mean I need to leave it longer in bulk aging to allow even more carbon dioxide to dissipate out.
Another aspect I plan to do is a double splash back on the first rack to encourage a little oxidation to promote more complex tastes to develop. The subsequent racks will be less energetic to allow as little oxygen exposure as possible. This is partly influenced by one of the 2017 demijohns having an airlock that totally dried out and rather than damaging the wine it seems to have helped it and compared to the other fully enclosed demijohn it seemed more balanced. I have no idea how long it was exposed but I am hoping the double drop when racking can simulate this again as a controlled and repeatable process.
Acidity continues to be an issue and I intend to change from citric acid that really seems to retreat over time to either a blend or tartaric acid as found in grapes. Sadly, this means I need to get my feeble brain around how acids develop tastes and what acids are present in elderberries. 2018’s experiments will happen before I open another bottle as I plan to age at least another 6 months or maybe even 12.
October to March is apparently the best time to plant a grape vine in Britain. Unfortunately I missed this window when I ordered the vines. They did arrive earlier than expected when I was still building my greenhouse that will house the Pinot Noir vine. The Pinot and Chardonnay have been sitting in a pots patiently but as Titus Amdromadon sang, “Pinot Noir, leather bar. Oh, so close and yet so far. Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, Pinot, Pinot, Pinot, Pinot Noir, you’re a star,” it seamed I might never get things sorted and have two dead vines on my hands and have to wait till next season.
Both the Chardonnay and Pinot vines are self fertile so they can be divided between two locations. The Chardonnay will be outside in my back garden against an ideal wall. The Pinot Noir will be grown under glass in a green house on my allotment. If you are lucky enough to have two vines together plant them 1.2m apart. If you are spoiled rotten and have lots of vines then the rows need to be 1.5 to 1.8m apart.
The greenhouse faces into the morning sun so the vine will have the maximum sunlight to get the maximum sugar from the grapes. Sunlight rather than heat is needed for the grapes to mature. Temperature will be controlled though ventilation in the base opened to allow cold air if needed and roof vents to allow warm air to escape if the greenhouse becomes too hot. These vents can also be used to control airflow for pollination and moisture control too. The vines will have to be trailed using a Guyot system over the next few years but I already have allotted a space for them with 2.2 x 1.8m of wall then the roof as space for them to trail against. Although the training system is not yet in place I intend to get this done well before it is actually needed and may start building the base next month.
While the vines are inside the roots are not and have been planted externally with the vine slanted to grow into the greenhouse through a hole in the wall – a method favoured by thinking ladies man-crumpet Monty Don. This allows the thirsty roots that were grafted to the fruiting vine to get all the water they need externally and not have a complicated watering schedule to screw up if I planted wholly on the interior. The roots will fan out and downwards searching for all the water they can spanning for at least a meter and a half and maybe far far more if they are happy.
At least two other vines are within three allotments of mine so it seems it is possible to grow them but preparing the ground was a back breaking work. My soil is thankfully acidic as grapes prefer a pH of about 6.5 to 6.8 though can tough it out in a range of soils but the drainage was not as great as I was hoping. Although grapes are thirsty they need to be in freely draining earth so they roots do not get waterlogged or promote botrytis – a wine hating fungus that ruins the fun.
Rather than just double digging the soil I dug down till I hit clay and then lined this base with gravel so water could soak through. If you do this go at least two feet (60cm) deep and further if you can. A mixture of the original soil, extra compost and a little well rotted manure was added for nutrition as well as horticultural grit to aid drainage further. After the earth was level a small depression was made with blood and bone meal added to give the newly establishing roots a good feed as they acclimatise to their new home. The vine had a dark mark where it had been planted previously which acted as a handy guide. A further thick layer of compost was added and compacted around the base to keep it stable with a layer of wood chip to keep moisture in the soil and away from the graft where the top reaches the root stock which could rot. Manure was not used as a top dressing as this could “burn” the young stem though well rotted manure or compost will be added next season.
Over the next few days the exterior of the greenhouse will be finished to enclose the vine as it enters the greenhouse and I may build a drip guard to ensure that too much water does not drip down the greenhouse sides onto it encouraging botrytis. Ms Vintner then added few bricks to demarcate the lovely prepared earth and keep us from stepping onto it. Now all I have to do is get the Chardonnay planted next to the wall, create the supporting structures for both and then prune, nurture and love them enough to get fruit!
Last year I got my hands on some grapes grown in South east London and started to make my own sparkling wine which is yet to be bottled never mind tasted. The grapes were pretty much feral but it has so far been a success with sugar and acidity adjusted. This prompted me to think about growing my own wine tree for a regular supply of grapes. With almost perfect timing Ms Gazette and I inherited an allotment – lots of nice space and as it was so over grown it was hacked back to be a blank canvass.
Growing grapes in London may seem folly but my little corner of Walthamstow did used to have a a vineyard (and dolls hospital!) in the 1660s with notorious party animal and parmesan burier Samuel Pepys saying of Lady Batten’s wine “the whole company said they never drank better foreign wine in their lives.” I doubt Lady B had an allotment and it was reputedly grown on the less soggier parts of Walthamstow to where I am but it seems the climate is suitable.
Both white and red grapes can be grown in Britain but the general consensus is that these only make decent white wine. Red wine is still not possible but difficult in Britain though climate change may make it possible in the future – lets hope it doesn’t though. Grapes can be grown in pots or freely in the ground, few can happily sit exposed in a garden so they either have to be trailed against a south facing wall to warm and protect the vine or be grown under glass in a green house or conservatory. Choosing how to grow them will be determined by the variety you grow.
Due to the cool climate early harvest grapes are best suited with champagne grapes like Chardonnay, Pinots Noir and Meunier being popular. Wrotham Pinot is a British variety descended from Roman grapes brought over to Britain 2000 years ago. A vine was found at the start of the post war wine revival in Wrotham and it has since become recommended due to its disease resistance and suitability for the English climate. Fragola grapes are an oddity as they taste like strawberries and are the only that will grow in an exposed location but I am unsure of the suitability for wine.
I found choosing the grapes to be difficult as many are advertised with a name that does not correspond to to any particular wine I recognised with names like Boskoop Glory sounding intriguing but ultimately of no use in helping me choose. I eventually chose online form a supplier with more traditional grapes. Vitis Vinefera are grapes for wine and have seeds making then unsuitable for eating, some grapes can be suitable for both the table and wine making but they are usually suitable for one or the other.
My aim is to grow two varieties so make a blended champagne and I have gone for the two classic grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sold as a “kit.” The grapes are both self fertile so they do not need to be grown next to each other to pollinate. Because of this they are being grown by two different methods. The Chardonnay will be against a wall in the back garden and will be exposed to the elements unless I need to build a cold frame around them. The wall offers shelter and will keep them warm as heat radiates off it. The Pinot Noir are better suited to being grown in a green house with higher temperatures to keep them happy – these will be down on the allotment.
A vine can be delivered either bare root stock or in a pot which gives a little extra time to get them planted. The ideal time to plant is between October and March so I am a little behind in getting them in their final spot. Growing a grape vine is an investment with pruning and trailing needed to get the best results. The eraliest retuen in investment will be three years with more growth and grapes for 20 years to come. Over the next few weeks I will have the ground prepared, green house completed and vines planted.