This blog is a record of the wine that I make and drink. Each flavour made and each bottle drunk will appear here. You may come to the conclusion that, on the whole, I should be drinking less.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Crab Apple - Bottle B6, 29th December 2011

I brought this bottle with me to Heworth Green. Though we were here on Christmas Eve, I was both ill and driving, so had no alcohol whatsoever. I more than made up for that last night! To the extent that it now (around noon on the 30th) is a bit of a blur.

Whilst Pop enjoyed the crab apple he has just commented that there was a bitter aftertaste. Crab apple is definitely best drunk young, and this is showing its age.

We were fed royally by Mom, with a maple parsnip soup and slices of beef rolled with sausage meat. I think a few weeks of eating plain food is in order

Friday, 30 December 2011

Blackberry - Bottle C3, 23rd-27th December 2011

This bottle spanned Christmas. Our reason was not one of abstemiousness but one of absence. It was opened on a Friday, a night about which I now remember very little. I think a jigsaw puzzle may have been involved. Then on Christmas Eve we were in York seeing my parents, Chris and Rachael - which was a marvelous evening hampered only by feeling washed out with a heavy cold. We spent Christmas in Newcastle and left this bottle back in Leeds, waiting for our return. The bottle was finished as we waited for the Doctor Who Christmas Special to load onto the computer, but Claire pleaded exhaustion and went to bed. So, not a memorable bottle of wine, despite blackberry being my favourite.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas Tutti Fruti - Bottle A1, 25th December 2011

This bottle was served with the full turkey works round a festive table decorated with candles and crackers. My critical facilities had diminished over the course of the evening, so I cannot remember the subtleties of this wine. I was more interested in the food, and this was fabulous. Everything that should be on a Christmas table was, and more besides. Turkey, chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce, forced meat balls, roast spuds, turnip mash, mushy peas, small sausages - some of which being wrapped up in bacon, red cabbage and sprouts (which were as bitter and unpleasant as tradition dictates). Then, just in case we had not eaten enough, Judith brought out the steamed Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas Tutti Fruti - Bottle A4, 25th December 2011

We did not, quite, manage to drink this bottle to Christmas dinner. The potatoes were not browning and the turnip was taking longer than anticipated. Everyone's glasses were empty and Sam had arrived. The only solution, therefore, was to open this bottle.

It is a good wine, but, for the first time since I started this tradition of comparing the old and new Tutti Frutis, the younger wine was better. This batch is drier and had more fizz to it, but it is blander and somehow not as satisfying. It was no hardship, though, to finish the bottle whilst catching up with Sam (who was disappointed I had not brought any elderberry) and trying not to think about being really very hungry indeed.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Christmas Tutti Fruti - Bottle B6, 25th December 2011

With the presents having been opened and two glasses of sherry consumed, Claire wondered whether it was time to open a bottle. It being a respectable time in that boundary between late afternoon and early evening, I sought out the first bottle of 2010's vintage.

We are spending Christmas at 3, The Alders and I poured a glass first for the kitchen crew, Judith and Andrew, who were busy struggling with root vegetables. The rest of the bottle was shared around those of us lounging around reading our Christmas books.

This Tutti Fruit is marvelous - possibly the best that I have ever made. It is light and fruity with more blackcurrant taste than it is due, considering only one ounce of blackcurrants were used in its making. Everyone eagerly anticipated the second bottle and it will be an effort to space the bottles out so that we drink the last one on Christmas Day 2012.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas Tutti Fruti - The Making Of ...

As last year, we are away at Christmas, so I started this wine on 18th December. In place of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Claire stuck on a CD of Christmas Carols from around the world. Unsurprisingly, the majority were European.

As is tradition, I cleared the freezer of its fruit, leaving 8 oz sloes for gin next year and handful of blackberries for crumble. We may now be able to have the luxury of icecubes.

This year there is a greater variety of fruit than previous years, though - alas - no elderberries. I have 1 lb 13½ oz blackberries, 1 lb 10½ oz sloes, 1 lb 2 oz green gooseberries, 12 oz rhubarb, 10 oz grapes from my mother's garden, 9¾ oz blackcurrants, 9¼ oz strawberries, 8 oz red gooseberries, 2 oz cranberries, 1½ oz crab apples and one satsuma. To my calculations, that equals 7 lbs 14½ oz fruit plus one satsuma, which is about right for a double batch. It is currently sitting in its bucket defrosting and I shall mash it all up and add the sugar and water tomorrow.
The fruit before mashing
It is now 'tomorrow', Monday, and the day has not gone as planned. In the night a minor sore throat deteriorated into fever and shivering, and I have spent much of the day in bed. At least today was not a working day. As Brooke North closes at the end of this week I cannot afford to be ill. There is too much to do before our computers get taken on Thursday. What I have managed to do today, though, has been to mash the fruit (making my Christmas wish whilst doing so), add 6 lbs of sugar and pour over 12 pints of boiling water. When the first six pints went in there was a wonderful smell of summer and autumn fruits.

The yeast and one teaspoon each of nutrient and pectolase went in on Tuesday morning. I then waited until Saturday, Christmas Eve, before putting the wine into its demijohns. I timed this so it coincided with the Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge. This has not succeeded in putting me into good Christmas cheer. I am too snotty for that, and I spent most the time feeling desperately hungry - which was remedied afterwards by a cheese sandwich. I could have done with a pint more water in the recipe, as this would have allowed me to discared rather more sludge than I have done.
Two (underexposed) demijohns of Tutti Fruti

Friday, 23 December 2011

Raspberry Wine - Bottle 6, 22nd-23rd December 2011

Finishing work for the Christmas holidays is always a happy occasion, no matter how good the job. This year, though, there is a sadness and emptiness attached. Brooke North has now closed. A firm whose origins go back to 1833, and which I joined 164 years later, is no more. Even though I step into a new, exciting job in January, I wish this had not happened.

We opened the raspberry wine in fondness for things past and raised our glasses to Brooke North. And then we ate bean burgers with salted lemon cous-cous and a tomato sauce flavoured with cumin and garlic.

I finished the last glass shockingly early today (about 4 p.m.) whilst starting the Christmas jigsaw.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Elderberry - Bottle B1, 18th-21st December 2011

When I started drinking this bottle on Sunday, I noticed a slight sore throat. Nothing to worry about, and certainly nothing to interfere with the lamb (actually, mutton) teginne and sour-dough pitta-bread meal that Claire had been intermittently preparing all weekend. As I had earlier bottled the Spiced Beetroot wine, leaving a generous helping for us, we did not finish the bottle and left it as a tasty snifter for the coming days. That night, though, I woke with the feeling someone was sawing into my larynx. And then the shivering began.

So, the week before Christmas has been mostly alcohol-free. Claire had one of the two remaining glasses on Tuesday whilst I was feeling sorry for myself in bed. I finished the bottle on Wednesday, again whilst feeling sorry for myself in bed. Though it helped me sleep between 7-10 p.m., I then lay awake most the night.

Being ill sucks.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Orange - Bottle A2, 17th December 2011

Christmas is fast approaching. I finally got round to writing some cards today and tonight's activity has been making gingerbread men (and reindeers, and spiders, and stegasauri) whilst listening to Christmas carols by Benjamin Britten and Peter Warlock. So, despite everything, I am inching my was towards seasonal cheer.

We drank this orange wine, the last of 2010's vintage, to home made ravioli stuffed with minced pecans, Cheshire cheese, garlic, parmesan, thyme and pepper served in a leek, mushroom and cream sauce. It was absolutely delicious. I bought Claire the pasta maker as a Christmas present the same year that she bought me the wine making kit. Of the two, the pasta machine has been the less used, but on the whole the wine is more fun. Mind you, 'Claire's Adventures in Pasta Making' could be what the world needs.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Sloe Wine - Bottle 4, 11th-12th December 2011

Sunday was the sort of day made for staying inside. The light never rose beyond 'dim' and the weather was dank and wet. We did venture outside, but with great reluctance. This was to do our pre-Christmas supermarket shop, and we timed is sufficiently before Christmas for it not to be hell on earth. It was still pretty bad, though, and when we got home there was the ceremonial locking of the door.

Claire was not enthusiastic about me opening a bottle of sloe to go with our meal of Actively Delicious stir-fried pork and noodles. She admitted, however, that it was better than she had remembered. We saved a good proportion for Monday, mostly because of the large whisky macs consumed earlier in the evening.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Gooseberry - Bottle B1, 8th-9th December 2011

The Ambridge Job Fairy exists in real life and has paid me a visit. Not just a quiet visit with a brief nod of the head, but a raucous visit with a cheery 'Hello' and an armful of presents. Darren has taken me on as his in-house lawyer with bells on. He wants me to train as an accountant too, so that I can throw myself into the financial side of his company. And I am to learn about every aspect of house building so that I understand the business. It is exciting and out of my comfort zone, which has to be a Good Thing.

The gooseberry wine was opened in celebration and it is only a little disappointing, given the circumstances, that it has acquired the redcurrant dead mouse taste.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Rhubarb - Bottle A2 (?), 7th December 2011

Wednesday night is ordinarily WYSO night. This week it was the WYSO social instead, in celebration of Saturday's concert. Jude invited the orchestra round to her house, and a good proportion from most sections turned up. I had spent the day feeling glum, worrying about the whole job thing, and a party turned out to be the tonic I needed. I took a bottle of Rhubarb wine with me and, as usual, made sure everyone in the room had a taste. Most did a good act of appearing enthusiastic. John particularly so. His adjective of choice was "stonking". My glumness vanished.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Elderflower - Bottle A3, 25th November 2011

Well, 2011 has been a massively strange year. It has been one of extreme highs and lows, and today has been one of the latter. Brooke North, the firm that I joined in 1997, and rejoined in May this year, is closing. Once again I am redundant and my future is uncertain. I made the wrong choice in April. I should have chosen Jarndyce & Snagsby. At time of writing I am feeling surprisingly calm about it all - maybe this is down to the elderflower wine (which is fabulous) and the two enormous whisky macs from earlier in the evening. Or perhaps it is because I have recognised that worrying is a choice. And just at this minute I choose not to.

[NB - This is a delayed posting - and there has been plenty of worrying since!]

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Blackberry - Bottle B4, 3rd December 2011

We have just played in the WYSO December concert, which American themed: Charles Ives, Aaron Copland and Anton Dvorak. Admittedly, that last composer is Czech, but he did write 'The New World Symphony' which is what is currently bouncing around in my head. It was an excellent concert and I suspect I shall sleep badly tonight because of it.

On our return Claire wanted a glass of something and rejected my first suggestion of sloe. My parents came back with us and blackberry proved a more popular choice. I spent the time they were here signing copies of my book. Mom has bought far more than she ought. If I make the best seller lists it will be entirely down to her efforts.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Christmas Tutti Fruti - Bottle B1, 2nd December 2011

A Friday night bottle is always welcome, and this was more welcome than most. It has been an extraordinarily difficult week. [...] Therefore, coming home and drinking most of this bottle quicker than decorum dictates seemed sensible. Much of the drinking time was spent in the kitchen talking over the week with Claire, who is very good at times of crisis - level headed, reassuring and calm. That she is a fabulous cook is an added bonus.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Crab Apple - Bottle C2, 29th November - 1st December 2011

I had planned a week of temperance after Saturday's excesses but took little persuasion to open a bottle on Tuesday. That night's glass was drunk whilst watching episode 4 of the second season of 'The Killing'; a Danish crime thriller. This is not as good as the original series - which examined a family's loss in minute detail after their daughter's murder, but was still an excellent whodunnit. The second series, whilst entertaining and exciting, is straightforward crime fiction.

[The rest of this entry cannot be reproduced here. Maybe in a month or two. Things need to be more settled. I will explain when I can.]

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Redcurrant - Bottle B3, 26th November 2011

I barely remember this bottle. It is now five days since we drank it, and I think that is the longest I have left a bottle unrecorded. There are two good reasons that my memories are hazy. Firstly, it was the third bottle of the evening. Both Claire and Andrew were most insistent that we needed another - they are a mutual bad influence. I had my doubts, but decided that nasty redcurrant could be sacrificed to an alcoholic Saturday night. Secondly, I only had a glass of this - and some of that ended up down the sink. This really is not a good wine.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Blackberry - Bottle A3, 12th-26th November 2011

It is a rare thing indeed that I have a bottle open for a fortnight. However, so little of this was drunk at the Book Launch, that when I got it home I bunged in a cork and left it in the hallway.

This Saturday marked its re-opening and (naturally) completion. Between the four of us (Sooz and Andrew are her post-Thanksgiving) we made swift work of a bottle of Bonfire wine and needed something else to accompany our Turkey Thai Curry. In fact, we made swift work of this too - aided and abetted by a DVD of Ethel Merman and the Muppets, which was delightfully silly. Then someone suggested opening a bottle of Redcurrant ...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Bonfire Wine - Bottle 2, 26th November 2011

I blame Claire. This flavour should have been spaced evenly over a period of twelve months. Instead, we have now had three bottles in November. Sooz and Andrew are here, and Claire was keen to introduce them to chilli wine. In fact, this bottle has been less spicy than the other two, but is still good.

I have spent the day making beer, under strict supervision from Andrew. It is far more complicated than wine, and I suspect that this is a one-off. But then I thought a similar thing about making wine, and look where I am now.

When I have not been making beer, I have spent the day reading 'Pigeon English' in preparation for Book Group (good, but too derivative of 'The Curious Incident ...') and worrying about my future. Happy days.

[NB - There is a lacuna. I shall post Elderflower Bottle A3 when I feel able.]

Friday, 25 November 2011

Blackcurrant Wine - Bottle 5, 24th November 2011

This was our Thanksgiving bottle, although there were several other ones of the shop-bought grape variety. It was a lovely evening with plenty of food. Including Claire and me, we had nine people around the table - which is more than fits comfortably. Claire had spent all day at home cooking, and it was an amazing feast. All the usual suspects were there (turkey, sweet potatoes etc.) together with a wild rice and chestnut dish for the vegetarians amongst us (Richard) and (rather less traditionally) Yorkshire puddings.

I disgraced myself by going to bed far earlier than the guests were ready to leave. It was shortly after ten and I needed to sleep there and then. Social niceties had to take a back seat. Claire saw the guests out.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Orange wine - Bottle A4, 18th-22nd November 2011

I only had one glass from this bottle, so really I should be forcing Claire to write this entry.

On Friday I was out with the Emsleys crowd for Gemma's leaving do at Tiger Tiger. I am a grumpy old sod, though. The music was too loud and it was all too tightly packed with young people. Other than that, I enjoyed it. Then on Saturday I was in Manchester playing 'bumper bassoon' with the Yorkshire Wind Orchestra in a performance of Karl Jenkins's 'The Armed Man'. I was prepared to be sniffy and superior about this, but I loved it. The twenty second silence at the end, followed by a standing ovation, was a special, emotional moment.

My one glass of wine, therefore, was tonight whilst pretending to tidy in preparation for Thursday's Thanksgiving. The house will not be ready.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Bonfire Wine - Bottle 3, 20th November 2011

Suitably, Bonfire Wine has proved to be an explosive brew. This bottle woke Claire up on Thursday night as it popped its cork. Into the fridge it went, until tonight. Then, whilst I was bottling mhy rhubarb wine, it exploded again - causing a certain amount of jumping in surprise and looking for the gun shot.

This is a delicious wine, though. Fizzy (obviously) and fruity, but with a strong chilli taste. It went well with a sausage and brown lentil casserole, served with cabbage, artichoke & potato mash and a suitably hot horseradish sauce. This, after a lazy day of reading the latest P J Tracy, and watching the first episode of season 2 of 'The Killing'. Crime fiction is where it is at.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Elderberry - Bottle B5, 12th-16th November 2011

I could not have had a Book Launch without a bottle of elderberry. It was, after all, this flavour that started me down the river of wine making. However, the only comment I received about the elderberry was that this bottle was too young and it needs leaving a couple of years. That may be right, but I do not have the patience.

My Tuesday night glass was drunk whilst I was feeling sorry for myself. My final wisdom tooth - bottom left - is making its presence known. I had hoped this one would sit quietly in the background, but currently my mouth is in pain. I have made a dental appointment for Monday, and I know she will recommend extraction. At least this has to be the last time - I have no others.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Pumpkin - Bottle 6, 7th-13th November 2011

Pumpkin wine gets no better the longer one leaves it. This was just as disgusting as all other bottles.

I opened it at BBC Radio Leeds, on air, for a live tasting event. It was an example of my worst wine, and I could not have chosen better. The interviewer declared it 'foul' which pleased me mightily. He told me to serve blackberry instead for Saturday's book launch. Of course, I served both, along with many other flavours and dared the attendees to sample the Pumpkin. I think most refused, judging by how much is still left in the bottle (destination: down the sink) but some were brave souls. Apparently Lindsay was the least taken with it, pulling all manner of faces.

I did not drink any at the book launch, but had my obligatory taste (a glass would have been pure masochism) on Sunday night after returning from a fabulous Airedale Symphony Orchestra concert. We played Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony, and my adrenalin was up. Pumpkin wine did not take it down any - so I had a mug of bush tea and a slice of Judith's fruit cake instead.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Nettle - Bottle 2 or 3, 12th November 2011

Well, what a change a year makes. This was the last bottle of wine opened during the Book Launch and was far from Universally Unpopular. I took it along as one of two nasty bottles (the other being Pumpkin, of course) and it remained steadfastly unopened until I noticed my glass had been empty for some time. I sent a minion to bring out the Nettle Wine. Having had one glass, I wondered why everyone had been so damning a year ago. It is herby and unusual, certainly, but palatable. Even Mom thought it was fine, and Judith took the bottle (half finished) away with her on the Sunday morning.

Special mention for the Book Launch must go to Eleanor - who was doing a PhD during my MA and with whom I struggled over Latin. She lives in Roundhay and so walked. Therefore she was in a position to try all flavours, and made a gallant attempt to do so. On questioning, she thought that she had sipped five, or possibly six. Maybe seven. Eleanor definitely gets the prize for most enthusiastic attendee.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Prune & Parsnip - Bottle 2, 12th November 2011

I nearly did not take a bottle of Prune & Parsnip to the Book Launch. This would have been a mistake. Of all the bottles there, this was the one about which I heard most comments. In a Good Way, he added quickly. I suspect this is because it sounds most unusual.

One person who tried it and declared it far better than the elderberry was an 88 year old Auschwitz survivor, who looks 15 years younger and whose recent book about her experiences - The Woman without a Number - has been a runaway success, translated into many languages. I was honoured to meet her, and even more so that she bought a book to give to her son in law.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Hedgerow, Bottle 2, 12th November 2011

This was one of three reds that I took to my Book Launch and (if emptiness of bottle proves anything) was the most popular. The blackberry was hardly touched.

I had a glass of this one; it is a light and fizzy red, and really rather good.

The book shop, Philip Howard Books, has two rooms. I was signing books in the front whilst Claire was being barmaid in the back. There was always the noise of people having a good time drifting out from this back room. Generally there were fewer people in the front, but it meant I had a chance to talk to those who were there. Between about 2:30 and 3 the entire shop was packed. Which I think counts as a success.

Me signing, with a glass of Hedgerow to hand

Monday, 14 November 2011

Strawberry - Bottle 3, 12th November 2011

Strawberry wine was always going to be a popular wine at the Book Launch. Whilst I was setting up (and waiting for the books) I opened this and gave Ros a glass. By the end of the event, the bottle was more than half gone and I left the remainder with Ros as a 'thank you' for hosting the event. Maybe I should get her some flowers too.

It was a terrific afternoon. I think I sold 45 books (though Judith bought ten, and Mom another four) and the shop was stuffed with people I knew - most of whom appear in the Book. Being centre of attention, next to eating cake, is one of my very favourite things and, a day later, I still buzz.

In the book shop with Ros at the end of the Launch

Gooseberry - Bottle (unrecorded), 12th November 2011

My first customer at the Book Launch chose gooseberry wine for his initial glass. He was called Barry Hartley and had seen the article in the Yorkshire Post. I was delighted. My efforts at publicity had worked. In fact, he was the only person who came that I did not know. But actually, that didn't matter. One person is a success, and that he was first was even better. Ros played a fanfare on her computer as he bought the book.

The gooseberry wine was one of the most popular during the day - I did not get a glass - and as Ruth and Paul left we told Ruth to take away her favourite. She chose this.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Rhubarb - Bottle A3, 12th November 2011

This was the first bottle that I opened at my Book Launch (not counting the Crab Apple, which opened itself). I needed a stiff drink when I arrived at the book shop. There were only 20 minutes to go before the official start time and the books HAD NOT ARRIVED. Ruth had rung to say they were running late. Of all the disasters I had imagined, this was not one.

One large glass of rhubarb wine later I was a little calmer, and I started opening bottles of wine. If people had to wait then the least I could do would be to ply them with alcohol.

In fact, the books arrived only five minutes late, restoring nerves that until that point had been shattered.

Trying to look relaxed before the books arrived

Crab Apple - Bottle C3, 12th November 2011

Disaster. The salad tray in the bottom of our fridge is swimming with crab apple wine. I put this bottle in our fridge overnight to cool for the Book Launch. There was no room to stand it up, so I laid it on its side. That proved to be a Mistake.The cork popped some time during the night and I have yet to clear up the mess. I considered keeping the bit that was left (about a third of the bottle) for home consumption, but quickly rejected the idea. After all, I was sacrificing 12 bottles to the Book Launch and I suspected (correctly as it turned out) that this would be too many. So, taking a near-empty bottle of crab apple rather than a full one proved to be the right action.

This bottle was finished during the day, but only once we brought it home again. There was so little left that it would have been rude not to.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Blackberry - Bottle C4, 7th-10th November 2011

This was one of two bottles opened live on BBC Radio Leeds, whilst I was being interview by Wes Butters to promote the Book. I took this, as an example of my best wine, and Pumpkin as an example of my worst and, despite it being not-yet-eleven, convince the interviewer to sample them both. He was suitably complementary about the blackberry, at least.

It was an interesting and fun experience - I felt myself relax into the role of interviewee, and listening to myself afterwards was not as mortifying as I had expected. I do have a posh and ever-so-slightly camp voice, though.

As Wes Butters had only drank a sherry glass full, I made sure I took the bottle away with me and it has been drunk slowly during the week. Wednesday's portion was after the best WYSO rehearsal we have had this season. Finally, finally 'Buckaroo Holiday' from Rodeo is starting to make sense. And the first and last movements of 'The New World Symphony' are just fab.

Monday, 7 November 2011

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame ...

This is a quick break to my normal posting, but I have just been on BBC Radio Leeds, and the link is here. I suspect this is only available to those in the UK, but I may be wrong - and it is only available until 14 November. My bit starts at 1:45:30 through.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Bonfire Wine - First Bottle, 5th November 2011

This bottle of wine was doubly appropriate. We drank it both on Bonfire Night and on the occasion of Ellis's first birthday celebration. I had a 190 mile round trip to the party, so could only drink half a glass, but that half glass was marvelous. It is a dry, fizzy red wine with many flavours including a strong taste of chilli with just a hint of heat. The assembled guests, of whom there were several, all said they enjoyed it too (though, curiously, I did not see any having a second glass).

Keith, Lee and Robert ushered us into the garden and set off a gazillion fire works which fizzed and hissed and banged and exploded into an array of colours, leaving the air thick with smoke. It was a lovely day and evening, and the best part of it was seeing Keith and his family so happy and settled.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Elderflower - Bottle B3, 3rd-4th November 2011

During the drinking of this bottle I mostly spent my time reading 'The Angle of Repose' by Wallace Stegner. This was our Book Group book and I have been reading it for the last six weeks. Ordinarily books don't take me that long, but I got lost in the middle of this one and kept on being distracted by shiny objects. However, over the last week (and with Friday's deadline as a spur) I rediscovered its beauty and ate up the final 200 pages. It is a tremendously well written book, about lost dreams and making do, mostly set in the last nineteenth-century American West, and ultimately I thoroughly recommend it. As I do the wine: crisp, dry with a hint of warm summer days.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Elderberry - Bottle A6, 30th October - 1st November 2011

There is currently no law about the amount one may drink before playing the bassoon. This is a Good Thing. On Sunday night I was playing nonets in Guiseley, but was driven by Madeleine, so I took the opportunity to have a glass and a half with our meal of lamb & chick pea stew. This left enough in the bottle for the wine to act as a prop for a photo that may appear in next Wednesday's Yorkshire Post. I was being interviewed as publicity for the Book, and the photographer had me kneeling in front of the table, gazing adoringly at a glass of wine. Which sounds like an ordinary Saturday night in. As it was not yet eleven in the morning, I poured the glass back into the bottle. One has standards, after all. I did, however, press a thimblefull of wine on both the reporter and the photographer, and they declared it 'tasty'.

My final glass was after orchestra on Monday, where we rehearsed Bill Kinghorn's violin concerto with the soloist. It has difficult 5/8 and 7/8 rhythyms which mostly I just guess. Claire finished the bottle while I was in Ilkley.


I must put in a quick word for Jack Keller and his wine blog. He was kind enough to advertise my blog, and since then, the number of visitors to this blog has pretty much tripled. So, thank you Jack. You are a gent. And you have a blog that is interesting, useful and fun.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Crab Apple - Bottle B4, 26th-28th October 2011

On Wednesday after a difficult WYSO rehearsal (will we ever get 'Buckaroo Holiday' from Rodeo right?) I was prepared to open a bottle of Nasty Redcurrant, but Claire pointed out that we had just finished a bottle of Disappointing Hawthorn and asked if we could have something nice instead.

My Thursday night glass followed my final session with Ian's Sextet, which - at long last - I have left. I know that I have complained bitterly about this in the past, and leaving is the right decision, but I shall miss its delight in playing badly, the lovely people and - of course - the half time biscuits.

I finished the bottle on Friday whilst Claire was out playing quartets, continuing with Wallace Stegner's 'Angle of Repose', which is beautifully written, but dense and long and (dare I say it?) just the teensiest bit dull.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Hawthorn Blossom - Bottle 3, 20th-25th October 2011

We opened this on Thursday when I was glum - though I cannot now remember why. Possibly because my finger hurt after I had crushed it on two consecutive days in exactly the same manner. Anyway, Claire thought that I needed both chocolate and wine. Which was a mistake. There is something about Hawthorn Blossom Wine that goes very badly indeed with chocolate.

Leaving the wine in the fridge until Sunday improved it, but even then it is only nearly nice. There are floral, honeyed overtones which should be delicious, but there is something lurking below which makes the entire experience a failure. Still, a glass on Sunday watching QI and another in a bath tonight were just about welcome.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Quince Wine - The Making of ...

I am gradually ticking off the letters of the alphabet in my wine making activities and today I reached the letter Q. I suspect that the letters I, V and Z will prove difficult.

Last week at Quintet, Jenny mentioned that Callum's parents were giving away quinces and was I in the market. I gave her an enthusiastic yes, despite this October having been particularly busy on the wine making front. We arranged, via e-mail, that Jenny would leave a bag of 20 quinces on her front doorstep on Monday night for me to collect after ASO. So, under cover of darkness (and a good deal of rain) I picked up a bag of fruit at 10 p.m. and drove off into the night.

20 Quinces, pre grating
I started making the wine on the evening of 18th October. Claire helped by cutting up the first 10 quinces for me to grate (using the food processor) before she retired to have a bath. I put these in 4 pints of water, brought it to the boil and boiled it for 15 minutes whilst I cut up the remaining 10 quinces, ready for grating. I then repeated the exercise.

Quinces are an ugly fruit - taking the worst part of lemons and pears and mixing them together. However, they emit a delightful fragrance when boiling.

The recipe says that I should strain the liquid onto 3 lbs of sugar, but it was getting late and this would have taken ages, so I just poured the whole lot into the bucket and planned to strain it on Sunday. I also added the grated zest and juice of two lemons. As is usual, the yeast and teaspoon each of nutrient and pectolase went in the next morning.

20 Quinces post grating (and in the bin)
I strained it all into its demijohn today, 24th October, rather than Sunday because we returned from a weekend in York relatively late. Straining was a faster process than I had anticipated, and I listened to Radio Leeds whilst doing so in preparation for my appearance in a fortnight. The questioning is hardly Paxmanesque, so I should be okay. Once in the demijohn I was worried this wine was not fermenting, and when I had a sip of the remaining liquid (of which there was at least a pint and a half too much) it was far too dry. I poured in two tablespoons of sugar into the neck, and this got everything bubbling away happily. Its colour is the usual dull and murky biege.
A murky biege wine

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Blackberry - Bottle C6, 22nd October 2011

Mom has recently returned from the States, so we took the opportunity of a free Saturday night to stay over in York. I brought this bottle and Mom's copy of 'Ben's Adventures' with me. Between us (and Erica, who dropped in and stayed to eat) we quickly polished off the bottle. It was really very good - one of my best. And the evening was delightful - even if my mother did start reading Gerald Manley Hopkins to us. Talk about an impenetrable collection of random words. Either I am not bright enough for poetry, or I have no soul.


Quick Advert - If you are in Leeds (and I know some people reading this blog are) and want to taste some of my wine, come along to my book signing session on 12 November at Philip Howard Books on Street Lane, Roundhay, Leeds between 2pm and 4 pm. You don't even need to buy a book (though are encouraged to!). Come for the wine and to say 'hello'.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Christmas Tutti Fruti - Bottle A5, 21st October 2011

We have a bottle of Nasty Hawthorn Blossom in the fridge, and I had been anticipating drinking that whilst on my long walk home. However, Claire persuaded me to open something better - and this fitted the bill.

I drank more than my fair share and consequently am feeling woozy. Christmas Tutti Fruti has matured nicely, though. This had more depth than previous bottles.

The most exciting aspect of today was failing to injure my finger (see Gooseberry). Actually, that is a lie. I avoided crushing it between chair and desk, but I had to plaster it after a paper cut. Dexterity Ben lives.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gooseberry - Bottle B3, 18th-20th October 2011

I have been in a poor mood during each of the three evenings on which this bottle has been consumed. It is mostly unspecific miserable old sod syndrome. Tuesday night was busy with Quince wine assembly, which was unjoyous faff. More excitingly, Wednesday and tonight's grumpiness has been caused respectively by my injured finger and my even more injured finger. Both days, around lunchtime, I have trapped my left little finger hard between my chair and desk. On Wednesday the middle of my fingernail turned blue. Today completed the process and I am sure it will fall off in time. Both occasions were massively painful. One day it will be a funny anecdote. But the finger throbs too much for that day to be today. The wine helped somewhat.
An unimpressive photo of my blue nail

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Crab Apple & Soft Fruit Wine - the making of ...

I started making both Crab Apple & Strawberry, and Crab Apple & Blackcurrant wine on 9th October.

As is usual, I have been storing fruit in the freezer for several months. Unlike other years, though, this has partly been by design for October experiments. In July, Claire suggested that I try making Crab Apple & Strawberry as a flavour. Then, when I picked our blackcurrants and got 1 lb 10 oz, I thought some of that could go towards Crab Apple & Blackcurrant. Pleasingly, this particular wine is entirely from our back garden (unless one counts the yeast, sugar, chemicals and water of course - which I don't).

The basic recipe and method is the same for both wines - 1 lb of soft fruit, 4 lbs crab apples, 3 lbs sugar and 6 ½ pints of boiling water.

I picked 8 lbs of crab apples in the drizzle after an irritating Sunday lunchtime visit to Sainsbury's to buy sugar. There are still plenty of apples on the tree and these will either be turned into jelly or left for the birds. I suspect the latter. I spent Sunday afternoon boiling water, crushing fruit, whizzing apples through the food processor and weighing sugar. As the soft fruit was frozen, I poured half a pint of boiling water over each variety whilst it was in its respective bucket, and then mashed them. This made the process easier. I spent the time, whilst the food processor was not spinning loudly, listening to the CD that I was involved in recording back in May - the St Dogmael's Shakespeare one. I recognise that this is a little narcissistic.

The strawberry version in its bucket
I added the yeast and one teaspoon of nutrient and pectolase to each bucket the following morning and stirred.

Both varieties went into their demijohns on Saturday afternoon, 15th October. The day proved to be a busy one: in the morning I drove my bassoon over to Crossflats for its annual MOT, and in the afternoon I helped Julia pick hundreds of apples from four of her trees.

The blackcurrant version in its bucket
The strawberry version is fermenting aggressively, and has begun its bid for freedom out of the demijohn (which is why I keep it in the bath at this stage). I have put the somewhat tamer blackcurrant version into a darkened demijohn.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Orange - Bottle B5, 14th October 2011

It has been an alcoholic day. Not only have Claire and I finished this bottle tonight, I went for lunch with Rodney. Lunch with Rodney always means at least a bottle of wine - sometimes each, though today I let him drink the lion's share (well, 60%).

I had been planning to put two batches of wine into their demijohns and bottle the Dandelion this evening, but putting it all off until tomorrow sounds like a far more attractive proposition. Instead, I have spent the evening worrying - a favourite activity and one at which I am particularly good. I am worried about the Book's reception. Not amongst people I don't know, but those I do. I have been catty about Music Club and some people are likely to feel hurt. Too late now.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Elderberry - Bottle A2, 11th-13th October 2011

I have just failed the British Citizenship Test. Luckily, this was only on the Guardian website, so there are no deportation papers heading my way. But I got a woeful 13 out of 24. Maybe I can blame the wine. Which is a good bottle, and has been drunk slowly through the week.

On Tuesday I had a glass after Madeleine's quintet - we worked on the Taffanel and are starting to gel as a group. Tonight's glass was drunk during a rare night in to a Lentil Farmer's Pie (which is like Shepherd's Pie but without the meat). Claire needed fortification after having donated a pint of blood. I felt queasy listening to the details, but I have never been good with gore.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Crab Apple - Bottle A5, 9th October 2011

Having spent much of the weekend turning crab apples into a variety of wines, this bottle was the natural choice to drink. The sun was only just past its official six o'clock yard arm when I removed the cork, but using a modicum of self-restraint this bottle has lasted the night.

I spent much of the evening talking to Todd, who I have not spoken to since February. It was lovely catching up with him - he is a kindred spirit. The rest of the evening has involved eating fabulous curries prepared by Claire - one of which contained the last of this year's tomatoes, and watching QI on insects and other invertebrates. It is an appealing programme, and closely related to Radio 4 panel shows.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Crab Apple Wine - The Making Of ...

It is currently about half past seven in the evening on 2nd October, and I am exhausted. The day has been one of solid chores. Book Group is to be held at our house on Friday (‘Frenchman’s Creek’ by Daphne du Maurier – Absolutely Dreadful) and as I’m out every night this coming week, today is really the only opportunity to get the house in order. So, I have spent the day putting things from places they shouldn’t be to places they should. Which sounds easy enough, but by one o’clock I was thoroughly bored and hungry. Then I got unreasonably cross making pancakes – it all went wrong as soon as the batter hit the pan and refused to spread evenly into a pleasing circle. At least I had the wine making to look forward to.

And making the wine was good. It started off with Claire cutting branches off our tree – the top ones with the ripest, most laden fruit. I held the ladder and caught the foliage as it came down. This produced seven pounds of apples, which only left another five to pick in the slower, more traditional method. (I am making a triple batch – 18 bottles).

I think the crab apples are riper than they were at this point last year. The fabulous Indian Summer may be helping. It is hotter now than it was at any point in July and records are being broken. Many of the apples have been invaded by some insect, but I did not investigate too closely in case it was something that stung. I left the affected apples where they were. There were also several ladybirds in evidence, and I wonder if the two are related.

Anyway, after picking and weighing the apples, I sliced them with the food processor, added 3 lbs of minced sultanas and 9 lbs of sugar. I poured over 21 pints of boiling water and stirred it all up. The bucket is close to full, and standing in the middle of the kitchen being vaguely incovenient (though Claire argues against the use of the adverb in that sentence).

I added the yeast and two teaspoons each of pectolase, citric acid and nutrient on Monday morning, 3rd October.

It all went into its demijohns on Saturday afternoon, 8th October. This was a long process - about ninety minutes - but I had a Radio 4 dramatisation of Chandler's 'High Window' to keep me company. Not that I could follow the plot. The amount of water this year has proved perfect but as always, I fear a huge sediment. The colour is its usual browny pink.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Rhubarb - Bottle B1, 6th-7th October 2011

This bottle was waiting my return from playing a Beethoven trio with Madeleine and David Wilks. We are performing it at Music Club on 4th February, which gives us time to get it right: time that is badly needed. When I got home, glass of wine in hand, I helped Claire with a pleasingly spoddy project of cataloguing our Book Group books that we have read over the last eight years or so, though I had become bored by the letter I.

We finished the bottle, with Rachel Blackeby's help, on Friday during Book Group at our house, where we were discussing 'Frenchman's Creek' - which no-one much liked and I thought was sub-Mills & Boon overwritten drivel (so a Thumbs Down from me). Mostly, though, we drank champagne (well, Cava) to celebrate the arrival of 'Ben's Adventures in Winemaking'. I am now a published author!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Sloe - Bottle 5, 2nd October 2011

This was the bottle that would decide whether I would ever repeat this wine. So, no pressure there, then. And, in fact, it is Not Bad. It is also not an All Time Classic, but I can't hold that against it.

Sloe wine has a lovely colour - rosé with a hint of purple - and this bottle was clear until the last glass. It benefits from being chilled, so it is not a red, and maybe it is drier than ideal. But on the whole, it is a qualified 'Hit'. I probably won't make sloe wine this year, though; I have too many experiments planned with Crab Apple, but this bottle has removed sloe from the potential blacklist of 'Never To Do Again'.

We drank it to a fabulous nut loaf, with roasted cauliflower, onion gravy, a beetroot and red cabbage mix that was as tasty as it was colourful, and beans and potatoes from the garden. Oh, and to the series finale of Doctor Who.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Blackberry - Bottle B3, 30th September - 1st October 2011

We have had a purposively sober week, after drinking far too much during our week's holiday. Being out every night but Friday helped. Ordinarily I would have opened this bottle within minutes of getting home from work, but I had a floppy gin & tonic instead and waited for Claire to finish her viola playing. During which time I tidied - our front room looked like the aftermath of a raucous student party.

We drank most of the bottle to the penultimate episode of Doctor Who - which involved cybermen. The last drop was finished tonight after we came back from Opera North's excellent (but eye-wateringly expensive) production of Ruddigore. Gilbert & Sullivan at its joyful best.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Elderberry - Bottle B1, 20th September 2011

I opened this bottle in St Albans whilst staying with Lou and her family. This is the first time I have met my first cousins once removed - Adam and Daniel - and they are already ten and seven.

Mike had asked me to bring a bottle of elderberry, and I think both he and Lou enjoyed it. Adam had a (very) small glass, claimed he liked it, but then tipped the majority into my glass. Daniel had one sip and pulled a face.

It was a lovely evening, full of family gossip and news. We got through too much wine for a Tuesday night, but Claire and I are on holiday - and neither of us had a hangover for the following day's Eurostar trip to Brussels.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Prune & Parsnip - Bottle 6, 18th-19th September 2011

Walking long distances was a feature of this bottle. On Sunday we walked 10-and-a-half miles up Pen-y-Ghent, and on Monday it was 12 miles to the Norber Boulders and back. Both walks started from the cottage we were hiring in Horton in Ribblesdale, and both had their own pleasures. Sunday's walk was in rather better weather with good views - but had considerably more 'up' and wetter feet. The final stretch was along a river path, but it was not clear where the river bank ended. Monday's feature was over-riding drizzle but was peppered with limestone pavement and lush green lanes.

The bottle was our last of rather too many on Sunday night (12 miles feeling delicate is not great) so we brought the remainder home and each had a glass to the final episode of a massively silly season of Torchwood.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Strawberry - Bottle 5, 17th September 2011

This bottle helped complete an excellent day, despite initial misgivings.

We are staying in Horton in Ribblesdale and had planned to spend all daylight hours walking long distances. However, the morning was brought to us by Persistent Heavy Rain. I would have stayed in all day reading, but Rachel suggested the waterfall walk from Ingleton. It was a superb idea. The extraordinary rain means extraordinary waterfalls. Water exploded down them, churning and boiling with raw power in the pools below. And the noise was huge - a great and continual roar of industry. In contrast, the weather brightened and much of the walk was through woods in dappled, damp sunlight.

The strawberry wine was our first of many bottles of the evening, before any hint of food, and was - as always - delicious.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Elderberry - Bottle B2, 16th September 2011

[Quick aside - I have been away for a week, so have been tardy in posting my bottles on here.]

I brought this bottle to Horton in Ribblesdale, where we are staying in a holiday cottage for a long weekend with Rachel, Duncan and Nick.

The drive from Leeds took longer than expected and the final stretch from Settle seemed impossibly long. The road bent and dipped and climbed and, in the dark, this was less than fun. Hence opening a bottle as soon as we arrived was the first priority.

We mostly drank the wine whilst unpacking. Between us, we have brought enough food for a medieval castle to withstand a month-long siege. Happily, this includes alcohol, and tonight we polished off three bottles.

This batch of elderberry is promising. It is a little young and there is the unsurprising faint taste of metal. I think the others liked it more than I, but it is definitely drinkable.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Elderflower - Bottle A6, 15th September 2011

This bottle has been brought to you by 'Dissolute Thursdays'. But, in fact, drinking half a bottle tonight felt appropriate. I did not get home from work until quarter to nine - though waiting for the world's slowest bus contributed to the late hour. It has been several years since I worked an 11-and-a-half hour day and I can't recommend it. By the end my typing was inaccurate and my interpretation of lease clauses questionable. It was, therefore, delightful to be handed a cool glass of elderflower wine within minutes of stepping through the front door. Actually, the back door. We only ever use the back door.

Only one more day of work to go, though, and then we are on holiday with all sorts of exciting things planned.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Crab Apple - Bottle A2, 11th September 2011

What an exhausting, yet fabulous day it has been. Today was the Tannhauser 'Open Rehearsal' - the end event of the Northern Wagner Orchestra weekend. So we had a huge orchestra, a full choir, a raft of professional soloists and, best of all, a set of off-stage horns. I want a set of off-stage horns as a permanent attachment: every time I did something or had a good idea, they could play a suitable fanfare in an adjoining room. It would be fabulous.

We drank this bottle shorlty after coming home and to a meal of salmon steaks, parsley sauce and large numbers of vegetables from the garden. It was followed by possibly the best Doctor Who of Matt Smith's reign that I have seen: 'The Girl Who Waited'. Imaginative, simple on the surface, but with complex issues and plenty of emotion. Excellent.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Elderberry Wine - The Making Of ...

Things do not bode well for this wine. And I am cross. Only 12 bottles-worth! For years I have been making triple batches of elderberry wine, yet this year it is only a double. It would not even have been that had Claire not convinced me that 5 lbs 6 oz of fruit was only a little way from the 6 lbs that I really needed, and that freezing what I had picked would be inconvenient. She pacified me with cake, but I am still cross. I predict a thin, sub-standard twelve bottles of elderberry wine. But we shall see.

Anyway, Autumn has come early this year - the trees were starting to colour in mid-August and all fruit is early. As I am Doing Stuff for the next few weeks without a break, today - Monday, 5th September - was the only convenient time to begin this wine. I might struggle for elderberries if I had left it another fortnight.

I drove to Hetchel Woods and decided to do the three-and-a-bit mile walk associated with this wine rather than go straight for the elder trees. It was, after all, a sunny Autumn day. Or it was for about the first twenty minutes of the walk. I watched the light dim rapidly as heavy rain clouds accumulated. I then stood under a tree for ten minutes, pretending that this gave me adequate shelter as water cascaded around me. I should have known then that not all was going to plan for this wine.

When I got to my usual field, the rain had stopped but my feet and legs were wet. There were plenty of elderberries and, according to past instructions, I picked a plastic bag and a half's worth, knowing that this would be nine pounds of fruit, and wandered back to the car - ignoring several opportunities to pick more.

Back home I started stripping the berries from their stalks and became monumentally bored in the process. Radio 4 helped a little. Weighing the elderberries was depressing. I didn't even pick enough for a double batch. Not really. Bah! So I have mashed what I did pick with greater ferocity than usual, on the basis that this may release more juice, and I have covered the resultant pulp with 12 pints of boiling water.

I added the yeast and a teaspoon each of nutrient and pectolase the next morning. I was going to strain the elderberries and add the sugar on Thursday night, but I came back from Madeleine's at 10. The process would have taken an hour and a half, so I thought "Sod it" and just added 5 ½ lbs sugar, leaving in the elderberries. I doubt it will make much difference.

I sieved this into demijohns on Monday morning, 12th September - which took less time than anticipated. I had to top each demijohn up with about half a pint of water. It is a fabulous dark purple colour, so at least something has gone right.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Rhubarb - Bottle A5 , 9th-10th September 2011

Wagner was a dominant feature of this bottle. It is the NWO weekend, where playing Tannhauser (this year) takes up most of our waking hours. We rehearsed Act One on Friday night and I brought home a mezzo called Sam. That sounds dodgy. What I mean is that we agreed to provide accommodation for one of the singers.

Anyway, Sam saw the bucket of fermenting elderberries and appeared interested, so I gave her a (small - at her request) glass of Rhubarb wine. She said it was interesting.

Claire and I had the rest of the bottle over two nights - Claire's was consumed with paracetemol as her mouth is in pain with a sore at the base of her tongue.

Today, when I have not been playing, I have been editing The Book. Its is now back with the Good Life Press - so I am another step closer to being a published author.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Redcurrant - Bottle A2, 6th-8th September 2011

I opened this bottle on Tuesday as a minor celebration. A major celebration would have called for something better. The first draft of 'Ben's Adventures in Wine Making' has come back from the publishers. Commenting that this is a month after I had expected it and three weeks before planned publication would be churlish. I am very excited and have spent most spare minutes (which have been remarkably few) proof-reading it. So far I am not quite halfway through.

Then, on Wednesday - and during glasses 'two' and 'two-and-a-half' from this bottle - I mopped our kitchen floor, which was disgusting and is now slightly less so. This is 'in advance' cleaning in preparation for the singer that will be staying with us on Friday. It was late night cleaning - the first WYSO rehearsal of the new season preceded it,, where we mostly played the first movement of the New World Symphony.

Tonight I have finished the bottle after playing wind quintets and taking an executive decision not to follow my recipe for elderberry wine - making the whole process about two hours less faff.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Gooseberry - Bottle A2, 4th September 2011

Today has been the first Northern Wagner Orchestra rehearsal of 2011. This year is the turn of Tannhauser and I have spent much of the day sitting in Leeds University Student Union Building behind my bassoon playing either long notes or complicated rhythms. I think it is more tuneful than much of the Ring Cycle, but without the singers it is difficult to tell.

This gooseberry wine was chilled in anticipation of a heavy day's blowing and we drank the first half in the garden during the last of the evening sunlight whilst Claire planted kale, broccoli and broadbeans. The rest accompanied stir-fry pork in a fabulous homemade plum sauce - courtesy of Julia's allotment. Far better use of plums than plum wine.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Hedgerow - Bottle 1, 3rd September 2011

Sloe is the dominant fruit. Claire disagrees and argues that it is gooseberry. Whichever, this is a pleasing mixed fruit wine - rather better than Christmas Tutti Fruti 2009. It is also fizzy and I am surprised at the lack of exploding bottles. Actually, scratch that. It has been the coldest summer for two decades, so the lack of popping corks is to be expected.

This bottle has been a reward for a busier Saturday than usual. I had to draw up a list of Jobs To Be Done, and have yet to reach its end. The remainder will wait till tomorrow. But I have cooked and shopped and washed up and picked fruit and made wine and practised the bassoon and washed up again. In fact, that doesn't sound onerous, but it has taken all day. Tomorrow, though, will not be a day of rest. It is the first rehearsal for Tannhauser.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Blackberry Wine - The Making Of ...

It is that weekend of the year again, the last in August, where blackberries call to me from York Victorian Cemetery, advertising their all-round plumpness.

This year my parents are away, so I only had Claire's extra pair of hands to help me pick. Fearing our journey would be delayed by Leeds Festival, we set off for York on Saturday before 1 p.m. I am very glad that we did - not for reasons of traffic (which was barely above normal) but because of the weather. We got an hour's picking in the sunshine before it began to tip it down. This was not a gentle shower, but full scale cats and dogs. Whereas April 2011 resembled August, August is definitely channelling April.

The picking, as always, was pleasant if one discounts the many nettle stings. I found a fabulous patch of blackberries around graves of those who died in 1907. Tom Parker and Barnard Rickman provided particularly lush fruit. Claire plucked her brambles from Amos Howe Harris and, of course, Thomas Douthwaite. In fact, we had competition at Mr Douthwaite's grave stone from a mother and daughter who were picking for jam and puddings. I also came across two French women collecting blackberries, but other than saying a quick 'bonjour' I did not engage them in conversation.

Back home I weighed the fruit. Between us we picked 11 lbs, 14 oz, which is just two ounces short of that required by my recipe for a triple batch. I decided that this was not statistically significant so have put them in a bucket, crushed them with a potato masher and poured over 16 ½ pints of boiling water. I added the yeast and two teaspoons each of nutrient and pectolase on Sunday morning.

The fruit was sieved out tonight, Wednesday evening, 31st August. This was not the ideal night to do this. We have been for a curry with Claire’s colleagues and so I began my wine jobs at 8:45 p.m. It is now 10:45, and I have yet to iron tomorrow’s shirt. The heaviness of my eyelids suggests that I will do it tomorrow.

I sieved the liquid into three demijohns, washed and re-sterilised the bucket, added 7 ½ lbs sugar, poured the liquid back in and stirred until the sugar was dissolved. I shall transfer it back into the demijohns on Saturday – when I shall also upload a few photos onto this blog.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Blackcurrant - Bottle 3, 28th August 2011

Christian is leaving for Saffron Waldren this week to become 'Artist in Residence' at a Quaker Boarding School, so Julia cooked a 'Goodbye and Good Luck' Feast for eight. This bottle of Blackcurrant was the first of far too many drunk, and it really is one of my best.

The food was grand and the company convivial. Towards the end of the night Julia and I disappeared into her cellar and came back up clutching bottles labelled 'Pear 93', 'Raspberry 92' and 'Gooseberry 76'. I have never drunk a bottle of wine comfortably into its mid-thirties. It had matured into a dry sherry and there was no hint of its original fruit. The Raspberry was non-descript, and I am pleased to report that the Pear was nasty.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Blackberry - Bottle A6, 27th August 2011

Tonight's bottle could not have been anything else but Blackberry. I have the bramble scratches and nettle stings to prove it.

Much of the day has been spent in York's Victorian Cemetery - a beautiful, peaceful and somewhat overgrown place - picking blackberries. And most the remainder has been spent turning them into next year's wine. If it matches this batch I will be delighted. Whilst I note I was disappointed with the last bottle, this one has been excellent: drier than previous years' blackberry wines but just as packed with fruit. Maybe Batch A of the 2010 vintage is better than Batch B. Or perhaps my expectations were more realistic.

We drank this bottle to a fabulous meal of haloumi fried with chilli and lemon juice, courgettes stuffed with rice soaked in pomegranate syrup and possibly the last of this year's salad from the garden. And then we watched the first of the new series of Doctor Who, which - unlike the last episode of the last series - was entirely satisfactory. Smiley Face.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Elderberry - Bottle B2, 25th-26th August 2011

It is a Friday night and I am pleasantly wibbly. Whilst I write I am eating a mixed fruit cobbler (only a little burnt because we failed to hear the pinger during Torchwood) and slurping a mug of bush tea.

I opened this bottle after coming home from Ian's Dreadful Octet - except this time Mary and Patrick were missing, so we played sextets badly instead. But with six of us, rather than eight, there were fewer versions of the tuning note. I left half an hour earlier than usual on the excuse (which was true) that I had barely seen Claire this week. Therefore, our first glass was drunk, lying in bed reacquainting ourselves.

The remainder was drunk tonight on a lazy, pleasant Friday evening where nothing much has happened in a thoroughly satisfying way.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Raspberry - Bottle 4, 21st August 2011

I brought a bottle of Raspberry Wine with me to Newcastle in the mistaken belief that this would be a new flavour with which to treat the in-laws. However, I see that I had exactly the same instinct two bottles ago. Oh well. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, although Sooz said she preferred the Hawthorn Blossom.

It has been an absolutely lovely day. Claire and I spent much of it at Andrew's new house - the conveyancing of which started in January and did not finish until July. The house fits Andrew perfectly - it is a terraced 1910s worker's cottage with quirky angles and plenty that needs fixing. Then I spent the evening at 3, The Alders eavesdropping on a string quartet whilst I read Charlotte Gray.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Hawthorn Blossom - Bottle 5, 20th August 2011

We are up in Newcastle staying with Sooz. Today's entertainment has been a lesson in how to brew beer. This is, perhaps, not a great idea - bearing in mind the extent to which making wine has taken over my life (and the house).

Sooz took me to 'The Elderberry Home Brew Centre' in Whitley Bay, where we met Andrew. There, the owner - a garrulous Australian - talked me through the basics, but in a baffling, scientific way. Sooz was much clearer back at her flat, boiling stuff and putting it in a bucket. During this process I opened this bottle of Hawthorn Blossom, but decided it was not one of my greatest. Andrew, who took a glass home (he was driving) has just texted in his report:

"Wine improved lots for breathing, smooth but still faintly meady. Perfectly drinkable though [smiley face]."

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Crab Apple - Bottle C4, 19th August 2011

Perhaps it was not the best idea to drink an entire bottle of Crab Apple wine tonight - particularly as we also finished half a bottle of Blackberry. Currently my head is somewhat swimming and the words on this page are not entirely stable.

It has been a lovely evening, though. Much of it was spent in the best way a Friday evening can be spent; preparing food and chatting through the week with my wife. The meal (when it eventually appeared - shortly before 9) was delicious, with much of it from the garden. And then we watched Torchwood.

The mug of bush tea has helped a little in sobering me up. But only a little.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Blackberry - Bottle A4, 18th-19th August 2011

Goodbye Blackberry 2009 - you have been a marvellous vintage.

Claire is oficially on holiday (until Tuesday) which authorises a bottle of wine. She had two glasses on Thursday, compared to my one, which was drunk after Trios with Pat and Peter. I made up for it though tonight. I came home after completing my favourite client's purchase of a large building in Leeds for a cool seven figure sum (which called for celebration) and failing to get any closer on saving a football team from liquidation (which did not) and drank most of the rest of the bottle whilst Claire was playing her viola. Shockingly, we then finished a bottle of Crab Apple

Monday, 15 August 2011

Rhubarb - Bottle B6, 14th August 2011

I am sipping a mug of bush tea felling emotionally drained. I have just finished watching 'The Lives of Others', which is a fabulous, gripping, intelligent film which discusses the redemptive nature of art and still has time for a gut-punching ending. On the surface it is understated, but there is complexity below.

The only connection to rhubarb wine is that we happened to be drinking it at the time. Unlike the film, it is light and bubbly and slips down nicely without any thought. It really is the best Rhubarb wine I have ever made, but perhaps something darker with a more complicated palate would have been better suited to tonight.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Elderflower Wine - Bottle B1, 11th-13th August 2011

I tried to convince Claire that we should drink beer on Thursday - I still have my birthday bottle of Lavender Beer - but she was having none of it. Most of the bottle, though, was drunk on Saturday following an afternoon with Paul and his parents.

I had not seen Paul for two years - the longest I have gone without seeing him since I sat next to him in a Maths lesson when I was twelve. It is reassuring and comforting that I can immediately click back into the solid friendship that has been there for twenty nine years, yet it seems impossible that it could be that long. Whilst not quite yesterday, surely it was only a few weeks ago that we were teenagers interrailing around Europe?

It was a lovely afternoon, only marred by an irritating trip to Sainsbury's on our way home. Why do I get stuck behind people who quibble about cereal? This was made better by a tube of salt & vinegar Pringles and the remainder of the elderflower wine.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Orange - Bottle B4, 8th-10th August 2011

I am no longer a policeman. I never was, of course, but I am no longer employed by West Yorkshire Police. This has nothing to do with the riots sweeping much of the country over the last few days (Leeds being an exception). More with concentrating on the Brooke North job, and the police finding a replacement for me. It has been an excellent job - varied and slightly off-the-wall. Much of the time I was making things up as I went along, but it all seemed to work - and the police constables for whom I did the work were surprisingly grateful.

The bottle of orange wine was started during my last day there and drunk slowly throughout the week, with my last glass in a hot bath listening to eighteenth-century scandal on Radio 4.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Christmas Tutti Fruti - Bottle B3, 7th August 2011

Sunday night was the last night of our week off and, naturally, this required a bottle of wine. Claire fancied a red and opted for this from the available flavours. After the meat-feast that was Rydal cooking, we drank this to a courgette and herb quiche, with runner beans and fried potatoes. All ingredients but the potatoes were from our garden. Actually, that is a lie. The courgettes, beans and herbs were. The eggs, cheese, garlic, butter, flour and milk were not. Still, it was a fabulous quiche. The wine, though, was a little thin - which is a feature of this batch of Tutti Fruti. I don't know why - it was made from shed-loads of fruit.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Gooseberry - Bottle A4, 6th August 2011

I had not been planning on drinking tonight. It was our first day back from Rydal, and Rydal is always seven days of excess. Except Claire had enjoyed a relatively sober week - sticking to two pints of dark ale every night, and she felt a bottle of wine was in order. So we drank it to a Thai curry, using some of our green bean glut (which may not be an authentic Thai ingredient) and then to an episode of Torchwood, which is getting better if more gruesome. The wine was delicious, though - the best bottle from this batch of Gooseberry so far.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Blackberry - Bottle B5, 5th August 2011

Friday was the last proper day of holiday at Rydal Hall. And what a grand holiday it has been. We have played eight symphonies, eight overtures (including 'The William Tell' no less than three times) and
innumerable pieces of lighter music. I have been on three long walks and played one and a half games of croquet. And I have eaten more food than seems decent.

I saved the Blackberry Wine for the last night and it was ever so slightly disappointing. It was Good rather than Exceptional. Maybe it needs more maturation time. But the last night was a riot of quizzes and party games. Watching twelve people play 'Monkey Trombone' (which is similar to 'Paper Scissors Stone' but on a grander, sillier scale) was the most fun I have had for a long time. Until I saw a vicar do his Dolly Parton impression.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Crab Apple - Bottle B5, 3rd August 2011

Wednesday was an energetic day at Rydal Hall, and this was my partial reward. I spent the day walking the Fairfield Horseshoe, which was more than ten miles from beginning to end and involved a huge amount of Up. The weather was glorious and the views from the top terrific. Then the evening was spent playing Tchaikovsky's Second Symphony.

A bottle of crab apple wine went down nicely - and again I force fed it to others, requiring them to say how much they liked it. Actually, most of them did - particularly Sally - but it was less popular than the elderberry.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Elderberry - Bottle B3, 1st August 2011

This was the first of three bottles of 'Ben's Wine' that I took to our annual week with the Genin Orchestra at Rydal Hall. It was also the most popular. I fed it to as many people as possible, in an insufferable, show-offy way. Everyone appeared to like it - though that may have simply been politeness. However, I am certain that the Reverend Robert Clack enjoyed it. He insisted on a second glass and enthused about its chocolate and plum undertones in a very vicarly manner.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Prune & Parsnip - Bottle 3, 28th-29th July 2011

I am now officially on holiday. Three cheers. It does translate, though, into a busy week before. Tonight, I got away from work at 7, and I shall try not to think about it over the next eight days. I shall, of course, fail. But I came home, knowing that a glass of Prune & Parsnip would be thrust into my hand as I walked through the door. And so it proved.

My first glass tonight was drunk as we harvested the last of the blackcurrants. This year our bushes have yielded a pound and ten ounces - which is not nearly enough for a batch of pure blackcurrant wine, but it does mean that I am liable to experiment with Crab Apple & Blackcurrant come October.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Crab Apple - Bottle E6, 26th-28th July 2011

And so Crab Apple 2009 - all 30 bottles of it - comes to an end.

This bottle has coincided with a busy week at work and a hefty dose of Man Flu. Because I am on holiday next week, work has predominantly been spent trying to get things ready for my absence. Unusually, I have mostly remained calm - apart from a brief strop about the absolutely rubbish biros that are standard issue. This is despite spending the last three days producing phlegm at an alarming rate and generally feeling run-down. I predict that I shan't be walking from Helvellyn to Rydal Hall on Wednesday next week. But I am getting better, and I think Crab Apple Wine can only have helped.

Tonight's glass was drunk to a fried concoction of home-grown potatoes, bacon, onions, garlic, tomatoes and parsley which was simple, colourful and tasty.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Peapod Wine - the making of ...

This wine is another experiment, and one that could go horribly wrong. If it follows the rule of thumb for wines beginning with the letter P - Potato, Pumpkin, Plum, Pear and Peach - it will at least be memorable. Actually Pineapple wasn't bad, and Prune & Parsnip is one of my regulars, so I may be lucky.

The reason I am making it at all is thanks to Julia. This year has been fecund in the pea department and she asked if I could put peapods to good use. I consulted my books and saw that I could. Julia quickly brought round three pounds of peapods and, because C J J Berry's recipe calls for five, I put them in the freezer. And there they stayed, much to Claire's irritation. We have, officially, the world's smallest freezer, and three pounds of peapods filled about half of it. This meant several meals of 'fruits from the freezer' within a week of the peapods arriving.
The world's smallest freezer
Anyway, Julia dropped in again today, 23rd July, with another pound and a bit, and I decided that this was Good Enough. Therefore, this wine has 4 lbs, 2 oz of peapods and 3 lbs of sugar, together with a mug of strong black tea as I have yet to replace my tannin powder.
The peapods being washed
I have boiled the peapods in 8 pints of water (but in two stages). Both times I brought the water containing the peapods up to the boil, and the first lot got about 25 minutes whilst the second got 45. I sieved the peapods out and poured the liquid into the bucket over the sugar and added the tea. The colour is currently a greeny-brown.
In the bucket before the yeast was added
The yeast, nutrient and citric acid went in the same night, on our return from Kayla's evening wedding party, where the music was Too Loud but the meat was plentiful. C J J Berry's recipe calls for a whole tablespoon of citric acid, which strikes me as excessive, but that is what I put in.

I put it all into the demijohn on Wednesday evening, 27th July, while listening to 'The Firebird' on Radio 3, and suffering with a heavy cold and sore throat. The wine is now an attractive yellow. I could have used half a pint less liquid.
The wine in its demijohn (but the colour is distorted)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Blackberry - Bottle A3, 22nd & 24th July 2011

We drank half of this bottle mostly watching Torchwood, which continues to be entertaining. The second half was drunk after possibly the most joyous concert I have ever played. WYSO performed Handel's Water Music on a platfrom in the middle of a swimming pool in Bramley. We had an audience swimming around the stage, as well as one being more conventional and peering down from the balcony. At the end the swimmers formed a circle around the stage, preventing us from leaving until we played another Hornpipe.
The stage (without an orchestra)
You can read more details on my other blog, and there is a photo on the Yorkshire Evening Post website.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Orange - Bottle A1, 21st-22nd July 2011

This certainly beat the Redcurrant in deliciousness stakes. Whilst that would not be difficult, this was a particularly good bottle of Orange Wine. As I walked through the door, after a long week at work, Claire was handing me a glass. All thoughts of bassoon practice (which, it must be acknowledged, were few) melted away.

I drank this evening's ration to a particularly colourful salad containing chive, nasturtium and borage flowers, plus a healthy dose of guacamole, followed by Lentil Farmer's Pie. This is a close relation to Shepherd's Pie, but no animals were harmed in the making.

A colourful salad

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Redcurrant - Bottle A1, 19th-21st July 2011

There is something that says 'Dead Mouse' to me about this wine. For approximately seven nano-seconds I get a fine, sharp redcurrant taste and then the experience decays into rank mustiness. So, not my best ever wine, then.

Over the three days this bottle has been open I have developed a hypothesis that I am allergic to Handel. Or possibly Vivaldi. Last week I came home from WYSO with a headache. This week I came home from WYSO with a headache. Both nights we played Handel, in preparation for Sunday's swimming baths concert. Only those who do not believe in conspiracy theories could argue that this was a coincidence.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Elderberry - Bottle C6, 17th July 2011

This is how Sundays should be. The furthest from the house I have ventured is the blackcurrant bushes, harvesting individual berries. I have made bread, washed up, written my November Home Farmer article and otherwise been entirely idle. Sometimes I need a day like this. Writing the article, though, was akin to medieval essay writing. The words trickled from my fingers and each sentence required thought. But unlike my MA essays, I struggled to get enough words, rather than agonising over which words to leave out.

The elderberry wine, which - incidentally - is a fine batch, was chosen to go with leg of lamb. We have not had a Sunday roast for an age, and today's October-like weather required a large slab of meat. Our first beans were harvested too - allowing us one and a half beans each.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Strawberry - Bottle 1, 16th July 2011

I can understand why this flavour always does well at my wine parties. It is both fruity and dry, and unmistakably strawberry.

This bottle was opened after a late afternoon session of bassoon quartets. I warned next door that they would be subjected to loud and comical sounds for nearly two hours (in fact it was more) but Lily e-mailed back to say she was looking forward to it.

We had a splendid time, playing pieces inappropriately arranged for four bassoons. Everything from Mozart to Mancini. Claire mostly remained in the kitchen cooking a wonderful meal for afters, and described our efforts as mass farting at a wasp convention. But in an entirely loving way.

Rhubarb - Bottle A1, 15th July 2011

Hurrah. Torchwood is back. I have spent either all week or two years looking forward to its return. The last series was so perfect and had such a dark ending that part of me thinks they should have stopped there. But the rest of me is greedy for more and I am delighted to see it back on our screens. Tonight's episode was, admittedly, silly - but the set up that no-one can die is promising and I will definitely stick with it. None of which, of course, has anything to do with Rhubarb Wine - which I finished whilst watching Torchwood, and started whilst lying, bedraggled, in bed. In between, we had a 'Bring Round' curry and I'm pleased to report that feeling vaguely ill has not killed my appetite for food. Or wine.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Elderflower - Bottle B2, 14th-15th July 2011

I think my unrelenting busy-ness is starting to wear me down. On Wednesday evening, halfway through a WYSO rehearsal, I discovered a headache - though slept it off. Then on Thursday - coming home from what proved not to be my last day working for the Police - I recognised that I needed to spend the evening in bed feeling sorry for myself. Claire's Hot & Sour Soup, together with many glasses from this bottle perked me up somewhat. As did the first courgette from our garden. Also lying in a hot bath chatting amiably with my wife. But none of it stopped me feeling generally washed out and planning to take things more gently until we go to Rydal.
The first courgette and lots of chard

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Blackberry - Bottle D3, 10th & 11th July 2011

Sunday was a day of rest. This, of course, depends on one's definitions. But it was full of dull yet comfortable domestic chores. Washing up, bathing, supermarket shopping, making wine and harvesting soft fruit from the garden all figured and it was glorious not having to rush anywhere, play anything or be sociable. Which makes me sound like a grumpy old man - though the cap fits.

We did not finish the bottle until Monday, but Sunday's portion was drunk to home-made pitta bread and our first tiny potato crop from the garden. Purple-skinned, sweet and delicious.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Strawberry Wine - The Making Of ...

Yet again, I struck lucky with the weather for my annual strawberry picking. Sunday, 3rd July has been virtually cloudless and hot. Accordingly, I covered all exposed bits with Factor 40, donned my Hat and set off.

The first surprise of the day was that there was a sign at the entrance setting out fees for picking. Not the cost of the fruit, but a price for proceeding past the notice. I was ready to get indignant. The fruit is expensive enough as it is - I could get it cheaper at the market, but picking my own reaches out to my inner hunter-gatherer. And I have been coming here for years. However, the woman at the desk read my face and waved me through, explaining that it was to stop coach parties who arrived, ate, and left again.

The second surprise was how thin on the ground (literally) the strawberries were. Unlike previous years' egg-sized fruit, the strawberries were small, sparse and mostly either over or under-ripe. I suspect that this is partly down to over-picking, but also the exceptionally dry spring may be a partial explanation. It took an age to pick all I needed - I wanted an extra 2 lbs for a future 'Crab Apple and Strawberry' but came away with 5 lbs 9 oz.

Some slightly out of focus strawberries
Once home I weighed 4 lbs of fruit, pulling off the greenery as I went and chopping out the mankiest bits, whilst listening to 'The Admirable Creighton' (Crichton?) on Radio 4. Once in the bucket I mashed the strawberries, poured over 4 pints of boiling water and added 3 lbs of sugar.

Some rather more in focus strawberries
On Monday evening, after a barbeque in Guiseley with the Airedale Symphony Orchestra, I strained the liquid into a demijohn, keeping back the pulp. As dictated by the recipe I mixed this with two pints of tap water and let it stand whilst I washed, rinsed and resterilised the bucket. I then strained it again into the bucket, sloshed another half pint of water round the pan that had held the pulp, and then poured the contents of the demijohn in. I added yeast and a teaspoon each of nutrient and pectolase, but I have not yet added any tannin as I have run out. By tragic coincindence, I have also run out of tea.

I put the wine into its demijohn on Sunday, 10th July, which is two or three days later than I would normally have done this. But the last week has been manic and I have been out every night. There was a pint too much liquid (I added a mug of cold tea on Wednesday morning). and the taste I got at this stage was insipid. Which is disappointing.