Elderberry Wine: A Comprehensive Guide to Benefits and Making It

Elderberry wine is a hidden gem in the world of wines. With its unique, full-bodied and slightly tart flavor, it offers a delightful drinking experience for both wine connoisseurs and novices alike. This underrated jewel has been enjoyed for centuries and appeals to those who appreciate the art of winemaking and the intricate flavors it can produce.

Derived from the berries of the Sambucus plant, elderberry wine is a fantastic option for pairing with a variety of dishes. Its bold and earthy undertones complement red meat and game, making it a great choice for steak dinners, hamburgers, or beef stroganoff. Vegetarian options like portobello mushrooms and aged cheeses like cheddar and gouda also pair well with this versatile wine.

If you’re intrigued by the rich flavors and history of elderberry wine, consider venturing into the world of home winemaking. With a basic understanding of the process and a little patience, you can create your own elderberry wine to share with family and friends.

Elderberries and Their Characteristics

Foraging and Identification

When foraging elderberries, it’s essential to identify the plant correctly. Elderberries are the fruit of a bushy shrub of the genus Sambucus. Typically, elderberry plants have compound leaves and large, flat clusters of small, white flowers that later develop into dark-colored berries. To find elderberry plants, look for them along roadsides, forest edges, and moist areas during the late summer or early fall.

Ripe Elderberries

Elderberries are best picked when they’re fully ripe. Ripe elderberries will be dark purple or black in color and will easily detach from the stem when gently picked. Avoid picking green or unripe berries, as they can be toxic.

Fresh vs Dried Elderberries

When making elderberry wine, you can opt to use either fresh or dried elderberries. If you choose to use fresh elderberries, you’ll need to remove the stems and gently cook them with water for a few minutes to release their juices. If you’re using dried elderberries, you can simmer them in water for about 15 minutes to rehydrate them and extract their flavors.

Toxicity and Cyanide

It’s important to note that some parts of the elderberry plant contain traces of cyanide, a toxic substance. The leaves, stems, and unripe berries can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. Only use ripe elderberries for your wine to minimize risks and remove any remaining stems before cooking or juicing the fruit. Additionally, cooking the elderberries helps to break down the toxic compounds, making the finished product safe for consumption.

Making Elderberry Wine

Ingredients and Equipment

To make elderberry wine, gather the following ingredients and equipment:


– Elderberries (fresh or dried)
– Sugar or honey
– Yeast
– Yeast nutrient
– Acid blend (citric, tartaric, malic, or fumaric acid)
– Water
– Campden tablets
– Pectic enzyme


– Primary fermentor bucket
– Straining bag
– Secondary fermentor (carboy)
– Airlock
– Demijohn or glass carboy (optional)
– Hydrometer and test tube
– Syphon tubing
– Funnel
– Corks and bottles
– Thermometer

Preparing the Must

1) Rinse and destem the elderberries. If using dried elderberries, rehydrate them in water beforehand.

2) Place a mesh-straining bag inside the primary fermentor bucket and fill it with the elderberries.

3) Add sugar and one gallon of water to a pot and heat until the sugar dissolves and the water is about to boil. Pour the sugar water over the elderberries in the straining bag; this will become the “must.”

4) Stir the must and let it cool to room temperature. Add the pectic enzyme to help break down the fruit and release more flavors.

5) Mix in the yeast nutrient and acid blend according to your recipe’s recommendations.

6) Add the yeast to the must after the temperature reaches around 70-75°F.

Fermentation Process

1) Cover the primary fermentor with a lid or cloth and secure it with a rubber band; allow the must to ferment for 5-7 days, stirring daily.

2) Use a hydrometer to check the gravity of the must; it should be around 1.090-1.100.

3) When ready, remove the straining bag, squeeze out any remaining juice, and dispose of the elderberry pulp.

4) Transfer the must to a secondary fermentor (carboy) using a siphon tubing and funnel, careful not to disturb any sediment at the bottom of the primary fermenter.

5) Add one crushed Campden tablet to the must, which will help protect the wine from oxidation.

6) Install an airlock on the carboy and let the wine ferment for another 60 days.

Aging and Bottling

1) After 60 days, use a siphon to “rack” the wine, transferring it to a clean carboy or demijohn, leaving behind any sediment.

2) If the wine is still cloudy, wait an additional 60 days before racking again.

3) Once the wine is clear and sediment-free, it’s time to bottle. Use a siphon to transfer the wine to clean bottles, using a gravity filler or a bottling wand for precision.

4) Use suitable corks for your wine bottles, ensuring a tight seal for proper aging.

5) Store the bottles in a cool, dark place, and let the wine age for a minimum of six months to a year before consuming. The longer you let the wine age, the better the flavors will develop.

Taste and Flavor Enhancement

Elderberry Wine vs Grape Wines

Elderberry wine, compared to grape wines, has a unique taste profile due to its sweet and tart flavors with hints of citrus. It is a full-bodied wine distinct from many other light, fruit wines. While grape wines might have more recognized tannin content, elderberry wines also contain tannins that can contribute to their complexity and mouthfeel.

Acid Balance

A crucial element in creating a well-rounded elderberry wine is to strike a balanced acid profile. In the winemaking process, you must pay attention to the primary acids in elderberries, including citric, tartaric, malic, and fumaric.

An acid blend can also achieve a harmonious balance between the various acids and flavors in elderberry wine.

Consider the following:

– Citric: Present in elderberries and adds a sharp, citrusy flavor.
– Tartaric: Contributes a more subtle acidity, enhancing mouthfeel.
– Malic: Offers a milder sourness and complements the fruity taste.
– Fumaric: Less common but can add a unique aspect to the acidity.


Back-sweetening is a technique that allows you to adjust the sweetness of your elderberry wine after fermentation. If you find your wine tastes too dry or sharp, back-sweetening with a complementary sweetener, such as elderberry syrup, can create a more balanced profile. Be careful not to overdo it, as excessive sweetness may mask the wine’s natural flavors.


Experimenting with various additives during the winemaking process can enhance or broaden the flavor profile of your elderberry wine. Some popular options include:

– Ginger: Adds a spicy, zesty quality that can offset the sweetness.

– Cloves: Impart a warming, spiced note to deepen the overall taste.

Remember to use a discerning hand with additives, as the aim is to complement the natural elderberry flavors, not overpower them. Make additions gradually and taste-test as you go to ensure you are creating the perfect elderberry wine to suit your palate.

Practical Tips and Considerations

Harvesting and Preparation

When picking elderberries, choosing the right time and location is important. In the UK, the best time to harvest elderberries is during the summer months. Look for hedgerows where the bushes grow naturally and away from traffic pollution. To ensure quality, fully ripe pick elderberries with a deep color and a slightly wrinkled appearance.

Before using the elderberries, make sure to clean them properly by removing any debris, leaves, or insects. A pan of water or a colander can be useful for rinsing the berries. After washing, remove the individual berries from the main stem. A potato masher, fork, or your fingers can help with this process.

Storage and Preservation

If you’re not planning on using your elderberries immediately, you can preserve them by freezing. Spread the cleaned berries on a tray or plate and place them in the freezer for a few hours before transferring them to an airtight container or freezer bag. This method will help maintain their quality and prevent them from sticking together.

Common Issues and Troubleshooting

– Identification: Make sure to correctly identify the elderberry bush before picking the berries. There are plants with similar appearances, some of which could be poisonous. Elderberries have compound leaves and clusters of small, white flowers that later turn into small, dark berries.

– Fermenting: When making elderberry wine, use a fermenting bucket with an airlock to help control the fermentation process. Proper sanitizing of your equipment is essential to avoid contamination or off-flavors in your wine.

– Weather conditions: While picking elderberries, be aware of any changes in weather that might affect the quality of the berries. Sudden rain or excessive heat might cause the berries to spoil more quickly.


Elderberry wine offers a delightful and unique alternative to traditional grape-based wines. Its rich, full-bodied flavor pairs well with red meat, game dishes, and semi-hard aged cheeses like cheddar or gouda. As you explore the world of elderberry wine, you might even consider making your homemade elderberry wine following simple recipes available online.

While elderberry might never dethrone the legendary grape, it has proven to be a competitive option for those seeking something different. Its potential health benefits, such as improved immune function, better digestion, and enhanced mood, make it an attractive choice for wine connoisseurs and beginners alike.

In your quest to create the perfect homemade elderberry wine, remember that patience is key, as the wine requires racking and aging to achieve optimal clarity and flavor. As you embark on this journey, don’t hesitate to experiment with different techniques and combinations, as this can lead to the discovery of new flavors and a true appreciation for the art of winemaking.

So, explore the enticing world of elderberry wine, whether you make it at home or simply enjoy a well-crafted bottle from your local retailer. Cheers to your new adventure!

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