How to make elderflower sparkling wine

Sparkling elderflower wine is a delicious addition to any summer party. Try these recipes for the best possible tipples.

I was convinced that I was going to make my millions as a producer of elderflower fizz, but, unfortunately, during very unscientific trials in my kitchen, I came to the conclusion that it’s just too unstable to make in large volumes. Realisation dawned as a dozen swing-top bottles blew their tops and foaming, sticky ‘elderflower champagne’ poured all over the cellar. My advice? Stick to the excellent cordial, or, if you’re making the fizz, do as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall does and go outside.

Elderflower cordial (makes 2.5 litres / 4½ pints)

Pick the elderflower heads on a warm afternoon, when the sun has been on them for a good few hours and their scent is mild and musty-they shouldn’t be damp.

2.5kg caster sugar
35 elderflower heads (shake gently to get rid of any insects)
100g citric acid
2 unwaxed lemons, sliced

Heat two litres of water, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Set aside to cool.

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Stir the citric acid into the cooled syrup and add the elderflower heads and the sliced lemons. Place a muslin over the pan and allow to sit for at least 24 hours and up to two days, gently stirring the mixture occasionally.

Sterilise enough bottles with tightly fitting lids. Glass ones are best for keeping, plastic for freezing.
Strain the cordial through a muslin and decant it into the prepared bottles-leave a little space in each bottle as the cordial will expand when frozen.

If stored in a cool, dark place, the cordial will keep for a few months. To serve, dilute it with ice-cold, sparkling water and a slice of lemon.

River Cottage sparkling elderflower wine, quick and reckless recipe (makes about six 75cl bottles)

This method for making spark-ling elderflower is the one that can result in all that collateral damage, but it’s very straightforward. I’ve enjoyed two-year-old elderflower sparkly made this way, so even though it’s rough and ready, it can keep quite well. Whenever you drink it, serve it chilled and pour carefully-there will be some sediment at the bottom of the bottle from the continued fermentation.

800g sugar
Florets from eight elderflower sprays
Pared zest and juice of four lemons
Half a teaspoon yeast nutrient
5g sachet Champagne yeast

Dissolve the sugar in two litres of hot water in a fermenting bucket, then top it up with three litres of cold water. Allow to cool. Aerate and add the elderflower florets, lemon zest and juice and the yeast nutrient. Pitch the yeast or, if you like a bit of excitement, don’t. Elderflowers come ready stocked with wild yeasts and it can be interesting to see how things turn out. Leave to ferment.

If you didn’t add yeast and fermentation hasn’t started after three days, then it’s time to give the thing a kick-start with a packet of Champagne yeast.

After six days of fermentation, strain the must through boiled muslin into a fresh fermenting bucket, leaving the lees behind. Cover the bucket and leave for a few hours, then siphon into your bottles of choice.

Your sparkly is about ready to drink after a week and, in any case, a week is a good time to check to see how things are going. You can release a little excess pressure by easing the lid off, although this will be a little tricky if you’ve used Champagne bottles.

If you’re still worried, put the lot in the fridge to stop the yeast making any more carbon dioxide and drink it as quickly as you can.

From ‘Booze: River Cottage Handbook No. 12′ by John Wright (Bloomsbury, £14.99)