Herbal wines are made from an infusion of the chosen herb often referred to as herb tea or tisane. The spent herbs must be strained out of the infusion. A remnant of net curtain or muslin can be made into a bag and the herbs placed inside. The bag is then pressed to extract the full flavor.
Learn to Make Homemade Nettle Beer in Part 1 of this series
The most welcome modern adjunct to home wine making is concentrated pure grape juice. Old recipes for herbal wines usually add dried grapes, often picturesquely described as ‘raisins of the sun’. Grape concentrate is a trouble free substitute and gives an excellent vinosity. There is an enormous variety available.
The mixture of liquids to be fermented is called the must.
Yeast: Fermentation is caused by the addition of yeast to the must. If you have been browsing through old books you will be familiar with the recommendation to float brewer’s yeast on toast in the liquid—this should be avoided at all costs. A vigorous fermentation can be obtained using dried baker’s yeast, but it is preferable to use a true wine yeast (available from home wine kit suppliers.) There are several quick-acting, general purpose yeasts which produce reliable results. To work effectively, the yeast needs to be sustained by the addition of certain salts. These are bought already mixed as a yeast nutrient (available from home wine kit suppliers). Use more or less nutrient in relation to the quantity of fruit juice you use. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, as these will vary.
Yeast works best in an acid medium. Herb infusions may be low in acid. By adding the juice of lemons or oranges or crystals of citric acid this can be remedied.
Sweetener: Honey was the traditional sweetener of the herbal wine maker. In wines made with bitter herbs the dual taste of the sharp leaf or flower and the soft sweetness of honey is a gastronomic delight. Whenever you can—use honey in place of sugar to sweeten your wine. The wine is then called a Melomel.
Equipment: The basic equipment needed for home wine making is extremely simple and costs very little. Some of the items may already be in the home.
9 liters/2 gallons (20 pints) boiling container
9 liters/2 gallons (20 pints) plastic pail with a lid
4.5 liter/1 gallon (10 pints) fermentation and storage jars
Airlock for each fermentation jar.
A siphon tube at least 1.2m/4 ft long
Corks and Corking tool
Nylon strainer—at least 15cm/6 inch in diameter
Funnel—at least 15cm/ 6 in diameter.
Do not use any equipment made of iron, steel, copper and brass as these will spoil your wine. In all wine making it is essential to keep equipment clean and sterile. The method for all the recipes given here is basically the same.
Pick the dandelion flowers on a warm sunny morning. Shake out any small insects. Then holding he yellow petals with one hand, twist off the calyx and stem. These are too bitter for wine and should be discarded.
5 cups Dandelion petals
½ can *commercial grape concentrate
1 teaspoon Citric acid
¾ cup infused tea or grape tannin
3 cups Sugar or clear Honey
Wine yeast and nutrient
*/can grape concentrate refers to the size sold to make 4 ½ liters/1 gallon (10 pints) of wine.
Place everything except the dandelions and the yeast into a bucket. Make an infusion of the dandelion flowers and allow to stand for about half an hour. Strain the infusion into the bucket and stir thoroughly until all is dissolved. Allow to cool to 24 C (75F) and add yeast.
Fermentation: The bucket should be placed in a warm room for the first fermentation which should last from three to six days. This is the aerobic (in the presence of air) fermentation, nevertheless the bucket must have a lid or be fitted with a clean cloth held in place by a firm band.
As the yeast starts to work considerable bubbling and frothing occurs. The must will change to a milky color as the yeast grows. Once the fermentation gets under way the must should be transferred to a fermentation jar. This should be topped off with water and a fermentation or air lock fixed.
Keep your eye on the fermentation lock for the first few days to make sure there is always water present to maintain the trap. Evaporation may necessitate topping off daily. The temperature should be maintained at about 21 C (70F).
Fermentation will gradually decrease and after about four or five weeks the line of bubbles around the top of the container will have died completely away—if not wait another few days to make sure no gas is being given off.
Storage: Dead yeast and perhaps other solid matter (the lees) will by now have settled at the bottom of the fermentation jar. If left their unpleasant flavor may be imparted to the wine, so they should be removed.
To do this, the wine has to be siphoned into a second sterilized container with a siphon tub. Stand the wine container on a table and set the second container on the floor. This process is called racking the wine and must be done several times. The lower container should be topped with cooled boiled water if necessary, as it is preferable to have the minimum of air space remaining.
Crush one Campden tablet per 4.5 liters/1 gallon (10 pints) of wine and add before sealing the container with a solid bung or safety lock—these tablets act as a preservative and help to stop further fermentation. Store in a cool dry place.
Rack off the wine into a clean container every eight weeks or so, to remove sediment until the wine becomes clearer.
Bottling: When the wine is clear, only then is it ready to be bottled. For each 4.5 liters/1 gallon (10 pints) of wine you will need six sterilized bottles and corks. Always label your bottles. The wine should then be stored from three to six months although, like herb beer, it will improve for keeping a month or so longer if possible.
Many flowers can be used instead of dandelions. Broom, clover, coltsfoot, cowslip and roses all make delightful wine. Some flowers such as carnation, elderflower, chamomile and wallflower have a more pungent taste and should be used sparingly. No more than 0.5 liter/1 pint (2 ½ cups) flowers should be infused for each 4.5 liters/1 gallon (10 pints) wine. Any herb that makes an herb tea or tisane can be used as a basis for wine. Lemon balm, sage, rosemary, raspberry leaves, borage and comfrey are recommended. Young blackberry shoots also make a light wine. There is always lots of room for experimentation.