A Homemade Elderberry Wine Recipe You Must Try [Full Instructions Included] - Wine Turtle
This post was updated on: December 1, 2019

A Homemade Elderberry Wine Recipe You Must Try

elderberry wine recipe

The elder is one of my favorite plants to drink, so make sure you keep reading to see one of the most delicious eldberry wine recipes you have ever tasted. In the summer, its creamy white flowers produce the most fragrant white wine, and in the autumn, the ripe, purple berries can be turned into a rich red wine that could almost pass for a port.

It always amazes me how different elderflower wine and elderberry wine really are, despite the fact that they both come from the same place. In fact, the only thing they really have in common (apart from their parentage) is how easy these wines are to make.

Like elderflower wine, elderberry wine requires very little work and it is practically impossible to make a bad batch. Personally, I prefer a more ‘mature’ elderberry wine (left for a year or more after bottling) as the natural tannins in the berries draw out a depth of flavor that rivals the dark red grapes of the Duoro Valley or Bordeaux. There is a reason why elderberries are known as the ‘Englishman’s grape’.

Elderberries thrive in slightly cooler climates, and for hundreds of years there was a thriving elderberry wine industry in Great Britain, southern Argentina, coastal Australia, Germany, Austria and Romania. Elderberry wine is still a pretty big deal in central Europe, and it’s starting to catch on with home winemakers across the US and Canada as people realize how easy (and delicious!) it is.

If you’ve made elderflower wine, then you have no excuse not to at least try making elderberry wine – trust me, you won’t regret it.

Just read on for a foolproof guide to rich, sweet, full-bodied elderberry wine that gets better year after year.

Section 1: What equipment you will need to make elderberry wine

Like elderflower wine, all you need are the basics when it comes to making elderberry wine. As the berries are so dark, they will stain porous containers, so I recommend choosing glass demijohns and a brew bin which is made from either non-porous plastic or even metal.

Like blackberries, elderberries will stain your hands pretty quickly, so I’d also suggest you pick up a pair of powder-free latex gloves, or use a potato masher to mush up your berries during the preparation stage.

Deluxe Homemade Wine Starter Kit

Quick Tip: If you're new to making wine at home, and don't want to purchase all of the equipment separately, make sure you check out our Homemade Wine Starter kit. This contains all the equipment needed to get started right away!

For full list of equipment, see our elderflower recipe.

Section 2: What ingredients you will need to make elderberry wine

  • ​3.5lbs (1.6kg) of elderberries (that’s the weight of the berries ONLY, not the stems)
  • 3.5lbs (1.6kg) granulated sugar
  • One heaped teaspoon of citric acid OR the juice of one lemon.
  • Wine stabilizer/stopper
  • Campden tablets – these will be used for sterilizing your equipment between uses. For more information on sterilizing, read our ‘Note on sterlizing’ in Section 5 of our elderflower wine recipe.
  • Red wine yeast

Get Your Ingredients Below

A Note on Alternative Ingredients

Alternatively, you can use 1.75lbs (800g) of dried elderberries which have been soaked and rehydrated as per the pack instructions. Just make sure you buy WHOLE dried berries, not the powder or freeze dried versions, as you will be missing out on a lot of the flavor and body of the berries by buying them in pieces. In fact, I’m not sure you could even make a halfway decent wine out of elderflower powder, so avoid at all costs.

Section 3: Quick step by step instructions on making elderberry wine

STEP ONE – Finding your elderberries

Elderberry Delight

If you’ve already started making elderflower wine, then you will know exactly where to look for your elderberries. Elderberries are the fruit of the elder plant, and they start to appear a few weeks after the scented white blossoms of the elderflower have disappeared from the branches.

In the US and Europe, elderberry season usually starts in mid-August, and can last until mid-November, if the weather is mild. Seasoned foragers will know that this is the best time of the year to gather fruit from the trees, so while you’re out collecting your elderberries, keep an eye open for any other goodies on nearby trees. While I was picking my elderberries this year, I also picked up a good haul of blackberries and crabapples as well, which were then turned into blackberry wine and crabapple chutney, respectively.

Try to pick your elderberries on a warm, sunny day, when the fruit is plump and juicy. When ripe, elderberries are so purple they almost appear to be black – this is the perfect time to pick them. Any earlier, and you will find that your wine has a slightly bitter edge and requires a lot more sugar than my recipe suggests.

Try to pick your elderberries on a warm, sunny day, when the fruit is plump and juicy. When ripe, elderberries are so purple they almost appear to be black – this is the perfect time to pick them. Any earlier, and you will find that your wine has a slightly bitter edge and requires a lot more sugar than my recipe suggests.

In the ingredients list above, I’ve suggested that you use 3.5lbs of elderberries, but it’s always better to pick more than you need as you will inevitably end up throwing some away, and discarding the stems. My nearest elderberry bush gives me elderberry heads that weigh just under an ounce, with the stem on, so I pick at least 40 full heads to make sure I have enough.

When you’ve finished picking your berries, get them back to your kitchen as quickly as possible, before the lovely juice starts to run out and the berries start to ferment themselves!

STEP TWO– Preparing your elderberries

Elberries in bowl

There are two quick and easy ways to remove your elderberries from their stems:

  1. Take a fork and gently 'comb' the berries off the branch
  2. Leave the elderberry heads in the freezer for at least an hour, then take them out and simply shake the berries off.

While you’re removing the berries, check for bugs and large specks of dirt and discard any berries which have already started to go mushy, or any which have split. Otherwise, don’t worry too much about washing the berries right now, as you don’t want to lose any of the lovely dark color from the skins. And anyway, the next stage will deal with any leftover creepy crawlies.

STEP THREE – Cook them up!

Put your berries into a stock pot or big saucepan and start mashing them up. You can use your hands or a potato masher, but be warned – these berries stain something serious! Elderberry juice can stay on your hands for days after you’ve handled them, so if you have an important meeting or a job as a hand model, wear powder-free latex gloves during this part.

When the elderberries are good and crushed, add five pints of cold water to the pot so that the berries are just covered and slowly bring the whole mixture to the boil.

When the mixture starts to boil, turn the heat right down and add the sugar and citric acid (or lemon juice), then stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.

You might notice some scum rising to the top of the pot at this point – that’s just the microscopic bits of dirt that once lived on your elderberries. Skim it off with a metal spoon and discard.

Add another three pints of cold filtered or bottled water, stir it in to cool the mix down, and then transfer it into your brew bin. Then add the red wine yeast and stir, before covering the mix and leaving it to ferment.

The yeast should make the berry mixture foam up almost immediately, but things will calm down a bit over the next few days. By Day Four, you should have a relatively stable, dark red liquid topped with a thick layer of mushy elderberries. If the mixture still seems to be foaming at this stage, leave it for another day or two before moving on to

PRO TIP: If you are using a hydrometer, now’s the time to bust it out! Elderberry wine should have a Finish Gravity reading of between 0.995 and 1005 (the higher it is, the sweeter the wine). If the reading is too low, add some sugar. Once you are happy with your reading, you can add wine stabilizer to your mix to ensure that fermentation stops immediately.

STEP FOUR – Straining and moving

banana racking

​You’ll know when fermentation has stopped because your berry mix won’t be foaming any more. Now you just have to strain out the berries and any other residue from the brew bucket, so that you’re left with the clear red liquid which will become your wine!

Secure a clean straining bag (or muslin sheet) around the edges of a freshly sterilized bowl, then simply pour in the berry mix. When it’s all in, pull together the corners of the straining bag and twist them together then wring out every last drop of the liquid inside.

Repeat this process once more, using a new straining bag and another sterile bowl – this will catch any little ‘bits’ that escaped from your straining bag the first time around.

Now using a funnel, pour the elderberry liquid into your sterilized glass demijohn. You will probably find that the wine doesn’t quite reach the one gallon mark, so top it up with a few splashes of bottled or filtered water, and around half a cup of sugar. Elderberries are a naturally bitter fruit, so don’t worry about the volume of sugar that’s going into this wine – you’ll be grateful for it later!

Once your demijohn is full, fit the airlock and bung as tightly as possible. Leave the demijohn in a cool and dark place, and wait…

STEP FIVE– Get ready to rack!

Bottle with wine

After approximately six weeks, you’ll notice that the tiny bubbles have stopped forming in your wine, and that a thin layer of sediment has gathered at the bottom of the demijohn. That means your wine is ready for the next stage – racking.

Racking your wine simply means that you move all the good stuff (everything above that thin layer of sediment) into a new container, so that you have a clear, professional-looking wine in the end. You do this by taking your two demijohns – the full one should be sitting on a flat surface a few feet off the ground, and the empty one should be on a flat surface below – and using your vinyl siphon to transfer the liquid.

Get things started by dipping the siphon in the full demijohn and sucking on the other end until you taste something resembling wine, then quickly pop it into the empty demijohn below and watch it fill up. The other benefit of using the siphon like this is that you get to actually *taste* your wine for the first time. It is by no means ready for general consumption yet, but you should start to get an idea of how the flavor is developing. If it’s very bitter and tannin-heavy, you can add some sugar syrup (just add it a little at a time and keep tasting the wine until you’re happy), and if it’s too sweet somehow, add some bottled water to dilute it a bit.

Now all you have to do is put the airlock and bung on top of the newly-full demijohn, and leave the wine in a cool, dark place for up to six months. Yes, six months. Elderberry wine gets better with age, so try to leave it for as long as you can possibly manage. Around two weeks after racking, you can start tasting the wine to see how it’s going. You don’t have to be a world-class sommelier for this bit – it’s your wine, you made it and you decide when its ready and when it isn’t. You’ll know when you’re happy with the taste, and that’s when you start moving it into the bottles.

STEP SIX – Into the bottles

Rack your wine one more time before you start bottling. As before, use two demijohns (one full and one empty but sterilized) and siphon off the clear liquid, leaving behind any tiny grains of sediment at the bottom of demijohn number one.

​Once this is done, use the same siphon tube to move the wine from the demijohn into your bottles. Spillages are practically guaranteed during this part, and they are absolutely heartbreaking given the amount of time and love that’s gone into the wine up to this point! Minimize spillages by preparing all your bottles in a row ahead of time, and getting a friend to help. And just in case, put a towel down, or just do it outdoors.

​When the wine is in the bottles, use your corker to seal the bottles and you’re done!

​Most wine-lovers agree that elderberry wine gets better the longer you leave it to sit, so this next bit is going to require a LOT of patience. I recommend leaving the wine to mature for at least one year, and maybe even (if you can manage it), two years. Trust me, it will be worth it.

​Elderberry wine is an unusually warming and sophisticated drink which you will be dying to show off to your friends and family. Serve it in a port glass with a plate of good stilton, or add it to a gin martini for a new twist on an old favorite.

I always tend to drink my elderberry wine around Christmas time with a couple of ginger biscuits, and it also pairs beautifully with cinnamon and cardamom flavors. Try out a few variations and let us know what works for you. Add your recipe suggestions in the comments below, and tell us how you’re getting on with your elderberry booze.

Section 5: Conclusion

Wineglass

Elderberry wine is as rich and filling as elderflower wine is refreshing and light, and they are both just so simple (and cheap!) to make at home. The hardest part is the waiting period – especially that agonizing wait for your elderberry wine to mature after you’ve bottled it all up and put it into storage. If you enjoyed making this berry wine, why not spend that time working on a new batch of younger, lighter wine such as dandelion wine, rhubarb wine or – you guessed it – elderflower wine.

I hope you enjoyed this elderberry wine recipe, and we have some great homemade wine recipes elsewhere on our site as well. Have a look and let us know which ones you’re making, and which ones we’ve missed. Most fruit wines are made from traditional recipes, so there are slight variations from place to place – if you have a unique way of making elderberry wine (or another fruit wine), please do share it with us. In vino veritas, after all.

Leave any feedback in the comments below, and if you like this article, please feel free to share it with all your drinking buddies!

About the Author

Although not having any formal training in wine, Tim has developed an irrefutable love of wine and interest in anything related to it ever since he was a little kid. Coming from a family of wine lovers, it was from a young age that he got exposed to wine and the culture that goes with it and has been addicted ever since. Having traveled to dozens of wine regions across the world including those in France, Italy, California, Australia, and South Africa and tasted a large selection of their wines, it is with great joy that he hopes to share those experiences here and take you along on the journey.

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