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The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has long been cultivated for food, herbs and tea, but most Americans consider them weeds and collectively spend an enormous amount of time and money to eradicate them. Thought by some to have been brought to America from Europe, at least two sources report that several North American Indian tribes have traditionally used the dandelion for food and medicine. Thus, it seems likely that the dandelion inhabited both the old world and the new.
For those who do not yet know, the wine is made from the flower petals only. Pick the flowerheads mid- to late-morning and then wash your hands (they get sticky while picking the flowers), sit in the shade and pull the petals off the flowers. Some people have told me they use the flower heads (as allowed in the second recipe) without excessive bitterness, but I always depetal the flowers.
The recipes below call for 2-3 quarts of dandelion petals per gallon of wine. I know of many recipes calling for less. I just don't use them. If you want another way of measuring your dandelion harvest, Layk Thomas of Angola, Indiana reports that one quart of loosely packed dandelion petals weighs 80 grams, while one quart of tightly packed petals weighs 100 grams. Whole blossoms weigh 110-120 grams per quart.
Of the recipes below, I have never used the first recipe as printed, but have used it with less dandelions. I have used the second recipe many times and started using the third recipe last year. I have never made a bad batch of dandelion wine but I know people who have. Invariably, they either left too much green material on the flowers or did not peel the citrus fruit thinly enough. The white pith in all citrus skins will ruin any wine. Peeling thinly means just that.
Pick the flowers just before starting, so they're fresh. You do not need to pick the petals off the flower heads, but the heads should be trimmed of any stalk. Put the flowers in a large bowl. Set aside 1 pint of water and bring the remainder to a boil. Pour the boiling water over the dandelion flowers and cover tightly with cloth or plastic wrap. Leave for two days, stirring twice daily. Do not exceed this time. Pour flowers and water in large pot and bring to a low boil. Add the sugar and the peels (peel thinly and avoid any of the white pith) of the lemons and orange. Boil for one hour, then pour into a crock or plastic pail. Add the juice and pulp of the lemons and orange. Allow to stand until cool (70-75 degrees F.). Add yeast and yeast nutrient, cover, and put in a warm place for three days. Strain and pour into a secondary fermentation vessel (bottle or jug). Add the raisins and fit a fermentation trap to the vessel. Strain and rack after wine clears, adding reserved pint of water and any additional required to top up. Leave until fermentation ceases completely, then rack again. Set aside 2 months and rack and bottle. This wine must age six months in the bottle before tasting, but will improve remarkably if allowed a year.
This is the traditional "Midday Dandelion Wine" of old, named because the flowers must be picked at midday when they are fully open. Pick the flowers and bring into the kitchen. Set one gallon of water to boil. While it heats up to a boil, remove as much of the green material from the flower heads as possible (the original recipe calls for two quarts of petals only, but this will work as long as you end up with two quarts of prepared flowers). Pour the boiling water over the flowers, cover with cloth, and leave to steep for two days. Do not exceed two days. Pour the mixture back into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the peelings from the four oranges (again, no white pith) and boil for ten minutes. Strain through a muslin cloth or bag onto a crock or plastic pail containing the sugar, stirring to dissolve. When cool, add the juice of the oranges, the yeast and yeast nutrient. Pour into secondary fermentation vessel, fit fermentation trap, and allow to ferment completely. Rack and bottle when wine clears and again when no more lees form for 60 days. Allow it to age six months in the bottle before tasting, but a year will improve it vastly. This wine has less body than the first recipe produces, but every bit as much flavor (some say more!).
Pick and remove petals from the flowers ahead of time and freeze petals until you have enough. Put the petals in a nylon straining bag, tie closed, and bring the water to a boil in large pot. When water boils, place nylon bag in water, reduce to a simmer, and cover pot with lid. Simmer for 20 minutes and remove from heat. When cool, drain petals (squeeze lightly) and return water to a low boil. Add the sugar and the peels (peel thinly and avoid any of the white pith) of the lemons and orange. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour, then pour into a crock or plastic pail. Add the juice and pulp of the lemons and orange and the white grape concentrate. Allow to stand until cool (70-75 degrees F.). Add yeast and yeast nutrient, cover, and put in a warm place for three days. Strain and pour into a secondary fermentation vessel (bottle or jug) and fit airlock. When wine clears, rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock every 60 days as long as even a fine dusting of lees form. When wine stops throwing sediment for 60 days, rack into bottles and age six months before tasting. It will improve remarkably if allowed to age a full year.
Dandelion wine is typically a light wine lacking body. One of the recipes above used raisins as a body-builder and another uses white grape concentrate , but you could use dates, figs, apricots, or rhubarb instead. Whatever you use will affect the color, so golden raisins, golden figs or dried (unsulfited) apricots are usually used with dandelions (all are usually available in bulk at Sun Harvest, Giant Foods, or many other stores).
Two of the recipes call for 3 lbs granulated sugar per gallon of wine. If you like dry wine, use 1/2 lb less sugar. If you like sweet wine, these recipes should serve.
Dandelion must is a milky yellow color. The milkiness comes from the pigments, pollen and other extracts of the flowers and the dense population of yeast (as many as 10 million yeast cells per drop of must). After several weeks, the wine will "fall clear." When this happens, it will be over quickly and you will probably miss seeing it happen. In all the batches of dandelion wine I've made, I've only caught it happening once.
It will start at the neck of the jug or carboy (by james key). The wine will suddenly begin to clear as the pigments and yeast "fall." Within 15-30 minutes, the whole batch will "fall clear" and a thick layer of very fine lees will settle across the bottom of the secondary. Do not rack the wine until it falls clear as described or you could seriously damage the wine by making it difficult to clear at all. In winemaking, patience is the highest virtue.
Dandelion wine will clear very well all by itself, but even more so if racked at least three times. If fined with Sparkolloid or Isinglass, the wine will rack brilliant. I have never had to filter dandelion wine.
If you omit the body-building ingredient, dandelion wine is light and invigorating and suited perfectly for tossed salad and baked fish (especially trout). If you ferment with a body-enhancer but shave the sugar, the wine will serve well with pastas, heavier salads, fish, or fowl. Sweetened, it goes well before or after dinner. In any form, when chilled to near iciness it is one of the most refreshing drinks I know of on a very hot summer afternoon. Nothing else tastes like it.
Finally, dandelion wine is well-suited to make into a sparkling wine and may even do splendid if kept semi-dry to semi-sweet. In that case I'd use no more than 3/4 lb of raisins per gallon if you use that recipe -- you don't want too much body weighing it down.