Lilac Wine

lilac wine, make it now, drink it later

Who knew?  In my experience, most home made wine is awful and the stuff that’s good is only good in an everyday sort of way. But home made lilac wine – the only kind available, far’s I know – is terrific! (if you wait long enough).

Two very dusty bottles came with Bill when we set up housekeeping together back in 1991, and somehow instead of being cleaned off and consumed they got put in the cellar. 

Until the end of January, when for reasons I no longer remember we decided to open one. Revelation. We kept looking at each other, not quite believing.

It was sweet and not sweet at the same time, full-bodied but not cloying, wonderfully aromatic of lilacs, sort of like – well, not like anything. Saying Sauternes isn’t accurate and neither is saying Sherry, although it was quite powerfully alcoholic.

We kept having a little more and a little more but saved about a fourth of the bottle in the fridge for friends who couldn’t come taste until the next day. Didn’t do anything about excluding air. Big mistake. Like a lot of old wines it was fragile; oxidized and flat by the time we shared it, drinkable but a mere ghost of its former self.

Whether that would be true of a younger vintage I don’t know and Bill doesn’t remember. The bottle that gave us such pleasure was 30 years old.

what's left of the label

what's left of the label

French Lilac Wine

( Bill’s recipe, or rather Bill’s extremely sketchy notes that will be enough if you’ve done this before.  If not, read up before proceeding. He always used the instructions in H.E. Bravery’s Successful Wine Making at Home. It’s no longer in print but Bookfinder offered 76 options when I checked just now. )

 4 quarts lilac flowers, petals only

3 lb. sugar

juice of 2 lemons

1 oz. Montrachet yeast (available from winemaking supply stores)

 1. Put the flowers in a large crock. Pour on 3 quarts boiling water, cover and let sit for 2 days.

 2. Pour 1 pint boiling water over half the sugar to dissolve. Cool. Strain lilac mixture, squeezing. Return to crock with sugar water and lemon juice. Inoculate with the yeast.

 3. Ferment 1 week. Strain into gallon jar.  Dissolve remaining sugar in a pint of boiling water, cool and add. Fit with fermentation lock and ferment until all activity ceases. Bottle.

Food styling note: Bill took the photo a couple of days ago, without opening the other bottle ( I’m in Maine; I would have killed him). The liquid in the glass is green tea, brewed to a pretty close approximation of the right color.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Add to Google


  • Lynn Said,

    That seems amazing. Beautiful Photograph too. Our lilacs are gone here in central Va. but this is the best year in a while for climbing roses. Peonies are also liking this cool spring (ok a couple of 90 degree days but only 51 at 8:30 am.

    I have a question about a tree – my mother says its a live oak -but I never see any that are big enough to be the traditional kind(and she calls a lot of trees that). This tree is not unlike a crepe myrtle in structure, several (5?) thin trunks, small evergreen leaves, no acorns or flowers, dark bark.
    Her neighbor cut theirs down and it has sprouted several new stems – which it was always doing- I pulled up several of those sprouts. Some are attached to long horizontal roots. How should i treat these? Plant them in the place I ultimately want them to be? Grow them in a pot for a season – or a temporary place? Thanks!

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Lynn

    I’m afraid the couple of 90 degree days hit us, too.
    not good. and then last night a touch of frost… oh well; good climbing roses can make up for a lot ( ours got majorly killed back, I’m sorry to say).

    From your description, you’re certainly right about the tree; whatever it is, it’s not a live oak, but after that I’m in the dark on the ID front. A local nursery can probably tell you what it is if you bring them a branch with leaves ( and maybe a snapshot of what sounds more like a shrub than a tree).

    It also sounds very robust and willing to make more of itself. You should be fine just planting the rooted sprouts wherever you want them – only thing to watch out for is making sure there ARE roots. Some plants send out long runners with sprouts on the end that remain dependent on the parent plant for nourishment.

  • Lynn Said,

    Thank you so much for the advice. Hmm runners vs roots. Will have to experiment.
    I miss your voice in the Times. Do you have a column somewhere else? Besides the blog, which is great – thanks for doing it.
    Honeysuckle going crazy today, smells heavenly. Weeds aren’t all bad. I don’t care what the neighbor says.

  • leslie Said,

    Hi again Lynn,

    Glad you’re liking the blog, because it’s unlikely there will ever be other columns; I’m retired from killer deadlines.

    Make that retired from killer deadlines that don’t include the freedom to say whatever I like at whatever length that turns out to be… Until the next book starts being due and then


    Being that you’re a fan of fragrant invasives you might enjoy the post on Autumn Olives. Ours will almost surely open as soon as the current rain stops.

  • Morgan Said,

    So i tried this recipe out, being inspired by the song “Lilac Wine” by Nina Simone. I have to say that i was extremely disappointed with the outcome. It tasted nothing like the heady smell of lilacs, instead having more flavour of boiled leaves and wood. Any flower-based liquor recipe that I’ve tried that calls for pouring boiling water over the flowers has resulted in a barely drinkable product. If anyone has any advice on how to get true flower flavour in a fermented, please let me know at


    Welcome Morgan
    Or I guess I should say welcome back. I’m sorry to hear your wine was so disappointing – and hope that someone who’s really into this will respond – to all of us! – with tips about flower flavor.
    I’m certainly no expert in this department or indeed any department related to wine and beer making, but given the vintage of the wine that so delighted me, I wonder if yours might improve with a few more years of aging. How that would make it more flowery I can’t imagine, but time might well mellow the wood, and that in turn might allow masked flower aromas to emerge. Just a guess, so let’s hope the people who do this a lot will write in with more info.

  • Morgan Said,

    thanks for that advice. i might do some more research and try another batch this spring. for now, it’s all about the apple and quince and pomegranite liquers! huzzah.

Get a Trackback link

Leave a Comment on Lynn