As a young man in the late 1960's I decided to make dandelion wine. Let me say that the wine I made at the age of 25 was far beyond my expectations. It was delicious, so much so that I had a Long Island doctor wanting to swap recipes for my wine and his private creamy cheesecake recipe. So we did. Seldom do young people get lucky in their first attempt to make a great wine. I did. It was serendipitous, not super brilliance on my part. I happened to find a recipe created by someone else who really did know their way around the subject of making wine. Now, note that I was a chemist, so I was a quick study not only in techniques but also the chemistry behind wine making and the conditions, like pH (acidity) that could make or break a wine. Let's say all the right stuff came together. I did my part. My young children, Ray, Jr. and Patty did also. They picked the dandelion blossoms for one cent each! Such a deal! The results were memorable.
I stopped making all types of wine for a number of years after a notable failure with a batch of concord grapes for making a sweet grape wine in the mid-1970's. Then in the mid-1980's I saw a fine crop of dandelions on my front lawn and I decided to use them to recreate my successes in the 1960's. I figured, I can't lose, so just go do it. My, was I wrong. Something didn't come out right and the cloudy stuff I had at the end of fermentation and racking was certainly not good, let alone great.
I thought about pouring the five gallon batch down the drain. Then I reconsidered, remembering that aging dandelion wine for a few months can certainly improve the quality. I had nothing to lose so I bottled it in 20, one quart mason canning jars and I put them on a high shelf in a basement closet where it was completely dark.
I totally forgot about that batch of wine and I had no reason to open that closet for many years. But in 1992 I did open it and happen to notice all those quart jars from eight years ago. Curiosity got the best of me. I expected nothing good at all. But I pulled out one jar and examined it. It had a deep amber color, which made no sense to me at all. I stored it in our refrigerator to chill it and then poured enough into a shot glass to try it. And now you are about to learn why the recipe title for the dandelion wine has the parenthetic "and more" addition.
Ka Pow!!! I simply could not believe my taste buds or my nose. This stuff was out of this world great. It certainly was no longer dandelion wine. It had aged into nothing less than a very fine sherry, comparable in every respect to Harveys® Bristol Cream, except that my sherry, on testing, was 16 percent alcohol, and Harvey's® is a fortified wine with 20% alcohol. Wow! I then had 20 quarts of excellent sherry as a long aged product of a failed batch of dandelion wine. Today, in 2015, the very last bottle is kept in safe storage by my oldest son, Ray, Jr. Perhaps my progeny will have a toast to my memory when I am gone.
How could this happen? Sherries are made from grapes, not dandelions! Sherries, unlike normal wines, are exposed to air so oxidation takes place, intentionally.
Let me cut to the chase. My dandelion wine was made with a few pounds of raisins included. It also tasted oxidized to me after fermentation, so the fermentation lock clearly leaked. Thus, the flavor that I found to be objectionable after fermentation. Ah, but after 8 years of aging in sealed jars it was a totally different story. The idea is that chemical reactions in wine typically continue to occur after fermentation. In this instance, an oxidized wine of high grape (raisin) content was stored in the dark for 8 long years and the aging certainly did involve further chemical reactions, some due to the oxygen in the wine.
So, why the long story leading to sherry when the objective is to make excellent dandelion wine? I think it is pretty obvious. Sometimes we get lucky and our failures can turn into successes if we are patient. One never knows ...
Now, returning to the present, I happened to think about dandelion wine today and I looked up various Internet recipes to see what was available. Why? Well, my recipe memory is somewhat murky ... it was not recorded and saved. So I needed a refresher in regard to ingredients. I remembered the special procedural steps perfectly well, and I remembered all the necessary ingredients, but I did not remember the exact amounts. Hence my Internet search.
I was appalled at the terrible collection of recipes and instructions provided via the Internet. Clearly no one provided essential procedural steps or any explanation of the role of the various ingredients. Indeed, most of the recipes I saw lacked key ingredients and had utterly useless procedural steps that would have no impact whatever in the final quality of the wine being made. Sheer nonsense! I am sure most of the contributors mean well in their efforts to share, but their recommendations are pathetic. At that point I knew I had to step in and straighten out the mess. You will be able to make excellent dandelion wine with my recipe, and you will know why you are doing the various steps and using the specific ingredients.
Okay, let's get on with the making of very fine dandelion wine. The recipe below is for making five gallons of wine in one five gallon glass carboy. I will explain the role of the various ingredients in the directions section. Do note that I am reconstructing my recipe from memory plus reading online recipes. I may have to make a batch or two to be certain everything is exactly right. And I will get back to you via this recipe in terms of any later changes that I decide are necessary. Anyway, have at it ... this recipe should work very well. And it may improve later.
Makes five gallons of dandelion wine
1 ten quart bucket of freshly picked dandelion blossoms, compressed, with no stems or leaves.
2 quarts of boiling waterPreliminary preparation: Pour the boiling water over the blossoms and mix the water with the blossoms. Cover the bucket and allow the contents to cool. Use a sieve and pour the bucket liquid through a funnel into a sterilized five gallon glass carboy. Press the blossoms hard in the bucket to extract as much liquid as possible for the carboy. Discard the blossoms.
15 pounds of sugar
12 ripe oranges, sliced thinly
6 large lemons, sliced thinly
3 one pound boxes or bags of Sunkist® brown raisins
1 packet of champagne yeast
Wash the oranges and lemons thoroughly before using them in this recipe to remove any chemical coatings designed to retard molds and fungus growth. After slicing the fruit it is best to squeeze the slices to produce juice that is then added to the carboy. Push each slice of pressed fruit into the top opening of the carboy.
Similarly, the three pounds of raisins should be rinsed thoroughly and then added to the carboy.
Put about two cups of warm water (110 degrees F) into a two cup glass measuring cup. Add one tablespoon of sugar and the packet of yeast and stir thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved and the yeast soaked. Cover the measuring cup with plastic wrap and set it aside in a warm place for thirty minutes. At the end of that time the yeast culture should be noticeably foamy. Stir it and recover and let it sit for another 30 minutes while you do the remaining steps of completing the carboy contents.
The use of 3 pounds of sugar per gallon of wine is very much on the high side, but necessary to create a sweet wine with up to 16 percent alcohol by volume. It is essential to not add the sugar all at one time. Instead, heat one gallon of water in a two gallon pot and gradually add the 15 pounds of sugar while stirring, the idea being to have all the sugar dissolved in to water to form a thick syrup. Dispense three quarts of the syrup into three one quart mason canning jars and seal them tightly.
Pour the remaining syrup from the pot into the carboy via a funnel.
Add two gallons of fresh water (not chlorinated tap water!) to the carboy and swirl it to mix the contents well.
Add the yeast culture and mix the carboy contents well.
Now estimate how much additional water you need to add to the carboy to bring the total volume up to 4 and 1/4 gallons. Add that amount of fresh water and mix well.
At this point there should be enough space within the carboy to later add the remaining three quarts of refrigerated sugar syrup. They will be added at four day intervals, one at a time, with mixing of the carboy contents after each addition, followed by careful wetting and reseating of the fermentation lock.
Put a fermentation lock on the top opening of the carboy and store the carboy in a dim or dark room with the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees F.
Store the three quart jars of sugar syrup in the refrigerator. They will be used individually later as described above.
The process of using yeast to convert sugar into alcohol, etc., will not proceed properly if too much of the sugar in this recipe is added all at once. That is why you make a sugar syrup, use one fourth of it initially, and make one quart additions to the carboy every four days. That gives the yeast time to ferment the sugar present and be ready for more sugar syrup, leading finally to a wine with a high alcohol content of 16 percent. If you fail to follow the instructions the wine alcohol percentage may only be around 7 percent and the wine will be sickeningly sweet, which is not what you want. That is called a stuck fermentation, which for this wine is the end of the road, and a nasty end at that!
Okay ... you made your last sugar syrup addition. Now you watch the progress of the fermentation. When bubbles no longer pop up in the fermentation lock, about a week or two, the fermentation is complete. At that point the best procedure is to rack (siphon) the wine into another five gallon carboy using plastic tubing ... and avoiding picking up the dead yeast cells and other gunk left in the original fermentation carboy.
After racking, put the fermentation lock on the second carboy, making sure it is wet first to assure a good seal. Then let the wine age for three months.
After aging the wine should be very clear. There should be a small amount of residue at the bottom of the carboy. Again siphon the wine away from the residue, only this time siphon it into individual bottles. Seal the bottles well and store them in a dim or dark place. You may then chill and drink the dandelion wine whenever you want it.
If you followed the directions carefully you will be drinking a very nice wine.
Enjoy! This wine goes very well with fresh fruit, crackers and cheese. It is also fine by itself.
Remember that dandelion wine is a sweet wine so it is best served very cold. It is not served with meal entrees. It is more like a dessert wine.