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 at least possible 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.
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 underneath all citrus skins will ruin any wine. Peeling thinly means just that.
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 tannin and yeast nutrient and stir well. Add yeast, 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. [Author's own recipe]
Dandelion wine is typically a light wine lacking body. The recipe above uses white grape juice concentrate to build body.
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. 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.
Dandelion wine is light and invigorating and suited perfectly for tossed salad, baked fish (especially trout), pasta, or fowl. Sweetened, it goes well before or after dinner. 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 if you are adventurous enough to try it.