Greetings

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.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Rhubarb & Elderflower 2013 - The Making Of ...

Like everything else this year, elderflowers are late to bloom. It is 24th June and they are only just coming out now. Our rhubarb is starting to look a little old, so a couple of weeks ago I pulled several stalks from our two main patches - though mostly from Shirley's plant. These were weighed (3lbs 2oz), cut into pieces and shoved in the freezer. I removed them this morning and picked elderflowers on my way home from work.
Elderly Rhubarb
My not-quite-four-mile walk has a section through woodland, and I cross Meanwood Beck then walk along a path adjoining a field. It is a delightful journey and partly (though only partly) the reason I don't catch the bus. And there are elder trees dotted all over.

On my walk to work
This evening I picked a few in the woodland and some along the patch, but I planned mostly to get them from the field. I knew the field had horses, in much the same way I knew it had buttercups. After climbing over the wall I noted the horses were all under one elder tree so I made my way to the other some distance away and started picking. There was a definite sound of trotting behind me and it was getting closer. I turned to find three surprisingly large horses running at me enthusiastically. I think they were hungry. Making 'Good Horse' noises and patting one particularly insistent one on the nose, I continued collecting elderflowers. Until I felt my backpack being nibbled. I made my apologies and withdrew.
A field with buttercups, elderflowers and horses
 At home, half an hour's stripping of flowers left me with half a pint, and I put these in the bucket with all the rhubarb, 3lbs sugar and 6½ pints of boiling water. I left it all over night and put in the yeast and a teaspoon each of pectolase and nutrient the following morning.

A mix of rhubarb and elderflower in its bucket
 I sieved out the fruit and flowers, putting the liquid into its demijohn on Friday night, 28th June, after having spent an evening drinking beer with Matthew. The wine is in a brown glass demijohn, in an effort to preserve its candy-floss pinkness.
A brown demijohn preserves the colour
If you want to see how this wine turned out, click here

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Blackberry Wine - Sixteenth Bottle (A4), 21st June 2013

We are in Newcastle. Apart from the one near miss that left my legs shaking with adrenalin, it was a pleasant drive up. The evening sun bathed everything in yellow and the large skies reminded me of driving in America.

When we got to 3, The Alders, Bob poured the strongest gin & tonics ever and I had to keep diluting mine. We managed to polish off this bottle of blackberry, however, together with much of a second. The blackberry fizzed, which I like, but I am please it didn't explode whilst I was going seventy miles an hour. That would have been messy and dangerous.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Exotic Tinned Fruit - Third Bottle, 18th-19th June 2013

I was out on Tuesday night with Darren and Nigel, eating what the menu promised was 'The World's Hottest Curry'. When Darren suggested we try it I attempted to dissuade him, but collapsed under the argument "Where's your sense of adventure?". I did insist, though, that we only got a starter portion to share. In fact it was entirely edible. Either my tastebuds are shot to pieces or the menu was guilty of hyperbole.

Whilst I was experiencing this, Claire was experiencing Exotic Tinned Fruit Wine, and we finished it together on Wednesday after WYSO. I spent the time trying to recruit flutes and oboes, with varying degrees of success. The wine was good, though, and I think was the best bottle of this flavour so far.

The restaurant I was at

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Guest Post on Lovely Greens


I was honoured a few weeks ago to be asked by Tanya, who runs Lovely Greens, to write a guest post for her blog. She is running a series of articles written by other people on the theme DIY Homesteading. They have all been fascinating, and varied. From building chicken coops and using chicken tractors to running off solar power in South Africa, stopping by handy hints for growing a garden economically, all have embraced the theme. I'm not certain that 'Ben's witterings on how he makes and drinks wine' compares. But Tanya says it does, so she is probably right.

Anyway, if you are stopping by from Lovely Greens, welcome. Feel free to leave any comments or questions you want (he said, with large puppy dog eyes expressing "Love me, love me")  and certainly have a browse. The way I imagine this blog can be useful is to choose one of the tags (in the right hand column) which contains a flavour of country wine, and click on it. You will then (probably - assuming you choose a flavour that I have both made and drunk since I started this blog in April 2011) get verbal snapshots of a year or two of my life - in reverse order - describing the bottles of that flavour and ending with how I made it. I try to be honest in my reviews of the taste, but you will see that mostly I treat the wine as a secondary aspect and talk about events, people and (very occasionally) ideas.

The other way that the blog is useful is to click on the tag saying 'making wine', as this will bring up all my recipes. Indeed, if you want to avoid the padding and get to the facts, that is probably what you should do (but you won't avoid the padding entirely).

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then I encourage you to stop by Lovely Greens. Tanya is a talented and enthusiastic blogger, who deals with all that is lovely and green. She is an ex-pat American, living on the Isle of Man (somewhere I must go one day - it looks beautiful) and her blog is simply a joy.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Orange Wine - Fourth Bottle (B6), 16th June 2013

This batch of orange wine is one of the best that I have made. There is an absence of bitterness, and it has a clear, open taste. It was our Sunday night bottle and unusually our meal was 'The Sick and the Weak', postponed from Friday because that was my birthday. The elderly vegetables were transformed into a Chinese stew with noodles and Actively Delicious Bean Curd (shallow fried with a flour and pepper coating). Orange wine goes particularly well with Chinese food, and I am unsure as to why this should be.

After eating we finished the bottle to a couple of episodes of Absolutely Fabulous. It was a birthday present. I had asked for the first ever episode of Doctor Who but Claire couldn't find it, so bought this as a substitute. I suspect motives of self interest.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Elderflower Wine - First Bottle (B3), 15th June 2013

I am pleased to report that this elderflower vintage is exactly the same as all others. So it has a crisp, dry taste which is distinctive, and the clarity is excellent.

I took it to York with me for an evening of chatting to Rachael and playing with Myles. Paul has just finished his exams so was out celebrating, Pop was at Guy Dodson's Memorial Dinner and Mom is in Nebraska. We drank wine and at fish, chips and spinach, and generally put the world to rights. When Rachael presented me with a bowl of sliced potatoes and asked me if this was enough, I asked "For one person?" She cut up another one and we had plenty, filling up on chocolate cake, what with it having been my birthday the day before.

*

If you want to read about how I made this wine, click here

Friday, 21 June 2013

Strawberry Wine - Final Bottle (3), 12th-13th June 2013

Rosie introduced a new word into my vocabulary during the course of this bottle: 'Hangry'. It is the feeling of inexplicable irritation when one has not eaten for some time. I am often hangry, and the conversation arose as I was serving our main meal at quarter past eight on Thursday night. Spanish omelette takes an age to cook, and this surprises me every time.

I opened the final bottle of strawberry as an example of one of my best wines, and of the three flavours Rosie got to try during her four day stay with us she said this was her favourite. That was the plan. Strawberry is an excellent wine - it has a strong taste of its base fruit, but is also a dry rosé wine that is a close cousin to the real thing. And of course the colour is delightful.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Prune & Parsnip Wine - Sixth Bottle (B2), 10th-12th June 2013

This bottle has been strangely better than the last few of this flavour. It has a definite taste of sherry - a point made by Rosie who arrived on Tuesday and is staying to observe a Leeds school as part of her forthcoming 'Teach First' teacher training.

I sneaked a glass of this on Monday after Airedale, believing that it would be the only taste I would get. I had imagined that Claire and Rosie would finish the rest between them on Tuesday whilst I was out in Ilkley playing wind quintets. However, Rosie is far too polite and well behaved for that, and indeed she did not try any until Wednesday night, when we returned from WYSO. It was a good evening - the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth is starting to work. Then getting home and chatting to Rosie about the extended family was just lovely.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Crab Apple & Blackcurrant Wine - Fifth Bottle (5), 9th June 2013

We celebrated the Eve of the Feast of St Ithamar tonight. In past years we have observed the feast day itself, but in 2013 it falls on a Monday, and that is incovenient.

As part of our celebrations I cooked a SNAPE (Something New And Possibly Exciting) which I have not done for an age. This time it was Delia's Mexican Chicken Chilli, and was superb (if I do say so myself). We also had the first of this year's salad-from-the-garden, and washed it all down with a bottle of crab apple and blackcurrant.

The wine has matured well. It has a sparkle, and a strong fruity flavour. Our blackcurrant bushes are looking promising this year and I can imagine worse uses of their fruit than this. I should have spent this evening tidying in preparation for Rosie's visit on Tuesday but never mind.

The first garden salad of the year

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Peach and Banana Wine - The Making Of ...


This wine was entirely unplanned. My wine making muscles have been twitching over the last week. We are now at 8th June and there are no hints of elderflowers or roses, and the gooseberries are a long way from ripe. I knew I wanted to rack my Kiwi fruit wine today, and I always like to do two processes at the same time to make efficient use of my sterilising solution. Therefore, when I walked into Noshis for our weekly fruit and veg shop, and saw they were selling manky peaches and bananas past their first flush of youth off cheap, I siezed the moment.
Manky fruit in soft focus

I made this wine five years ago and remember it as being rather lovely. However, buying ingredients in the summer does feel like cheating - so once every five years is probably about right. In all I bought six peaches (for a pound) and five bananas (for 60p) and added a sixth banana from our fruit bowl. In weight this accounted for a pound and a half per fruit, after getting rid of stones and skins. This may not be enough. Last time I had twice the peaches but two thirds the bananas. We shall see.

I chopped the peaches, discarding the stones, and put the fruit in the bucket with 3 lbs sugar. I peeled and chopped the bananas and put these in a pan with 2 pints of water. This was brought to the boil and I simmered it for 15 minutes. During this time I mashed the peaches and sugar. Then I poured the bananas and water into the bucket and gave it all a good stir. A couple of hours later I added four pints of boiling water and left it overnight. The yeast and a teaspoon each of nutrient and pectolase went in on Sunday morning.

Peaches and sugar in the bucket
I left this until Thursday and then put Rosie - my first cousin once removed - to work. She transferred the liquid into the demijohn while I bottled the elderberry. I could have added another pint of water to the process. The wine's colour is currently an attractive golden yellow.

'Attractive golden yellow' or 'Dishwater grey'?
If you want to see how this wine turned out, click here.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Rhubarb Wine - Second Bottle (B6), 8th June 2013

It has been a lovely Saturday. The sun has shone all day and we have had little that we must do. In fact we did quite a lot but we did it voluntarily - and that is important. I started an impromptu batch of peach & banana wine and Claire baked shortbread and a tea loaf (alas for a Music Club committee meeting rather than for me). We had a trip out to Saltaire where there was a Vintage Bric a Brac sale in Victoria Hall. Some of it was tat, and I struggle to include "The 1980s" into my definition of vintage, but we bought a cushion from Jude for our chaiselong and some bowls for Mom.

At home I opened this wine and Claire cooked four fabulous curries - the chicken one being the highlight. The wine as less pink than usual but still tasted as it should - dry with a hint of white wine.

A Splanky Designs Cushion - but not the one we bought

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Crab Apple Wine - Third Bottle (B2), 5th-6th June 2013

We came back from WYSO on Wednesday humming The Sound of Music, which Nick describes as 'the Stepford Wives of musicals'. As part of our upcoming Pontefract Castle concert (300 tickets sold so far - yikes), we are playing a school arrangement of this, and it is relentlessly jaunty. Nick has promised that next week we will end with something more sophisticated. Mozart's 40th, perhaps. A glass of crab apple wine afterwards helped remove some of the sugar.

We finished the bottle on Thursday after I returned from a WYSO committee meeting. Lots of exciting things are planned for next year, including an all Beethoven programme, something Edwardian and light, and a concert dedicated to the letter F to celebrate the Tour de France. Bizarrely, in 2014 this will start in that well known French city and centre of all that is Gallic - Leeds.

A Photo from our concert at Pontefract Castle last year

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Elderberry Wine - Ninth Bottle (A5), 2nd June 2013

It being my mother's birthday today I have not only spoken to her but both her brothers. My vague and half-formed plans of going to Nebraska later this year look like they may become reality. It has stopped being one of those jobs that I am forever putting off for no good reason (other than I have yet to do it) and I am now starting to get excited.

My mother and uncles can all talk for a very long time, and during each conversation I had a glass of elderberry wine to hand. By the time it was Quin's turn I was well on the way to Tipsy. The wine has matured nicely, and has a rich, deep taste. We drank it to a spicy sausage and lentil casserole followed by a Queen of Puddings with stewed rhubarb instead of jam. All delicious, and now I must sleep.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Rhubarb & Elderflower - First Bottle (4), 1st June 2013

I have been looking forward to this bottle of wine for some time. Almost since I started making it a year ago, and certainly since I bottled it at Christmas. It has not disappointed. Rhubarb & Elderflower is a glorious pink-bronze colour and (until the last couple of glasses) absolutely clear. There is a slight fizz and the taste is excellent. It does not have the single (albeit pleasant) note of pure elderflower and is more complex than rhubarb. On the basis of this bottle I will definitely make it again.

The day has been a pleasant, undemanding one. Much of it was spent writing a guest blog post for Lovely Greens and some involved drinking tea and eating scones with Julia and Ros. It being the first of June, we had a summer meal of various salads, griddled courgettes and an asparagus & horseradish quiche.

                                                                   *

If you want to see how I made this wine, click here

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Elderflower Wine - Eleventh Bottle (B2), 31st May 2013

The very best bit of Friday was standing in Julia's allotment enjoying the late evening sun. It has been the coldest spring for 50 years and some days we still rely on the central heating, but Friday was lovely. I was at the allotment to net her redcurrants. The pigeons have been causing havoc and I hope to make redcurrant wine this year. So when I got a call for help I drove over immediately.

The rest of the evening was spent getting slowly sozzled while listening to Radio 4 and spending quality time with Claire. This is how Fridays should be spent.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Quince Wine - Fourth Bottle (3), 29th-31st May 2013

I went out on Wednesday for a WYSO social, allowing Claire quality time with her viola and a bottle of quince wine. On my return I noticed that only a glass-worth had been removed. Quince is proving to be a less than lovely wine.

We each had some on Thursday, once I was back from Pat & Peter's, making sure the wine was laced with syrup. Then I finished the bottle on Friday.

Its problem is that it is too dry, it has failed to clear, and there is a bitter undertaste partly obscured by the floral taste of quince. Actually, that is three problems, and a three problem wine is best avoided.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Some Technical Stuff (for Lovely Greens)

I am honoured to have been asked to write a guest blog for the Lovely Greens website. If you haven't come across it, click on the words 'Lovely Greens', and you will be taken there. Where my blog is a one-trick pony, Tanya's is an amalgam of all sorts of useful and interesting information about simple living, making stuff, wildlife and beyond.

Anyway, my guest blog will appear at some point within the next five weeks, and I will let you know when. The purpose of this blog post is to cover some of the technical stuff which I refer to in that post, but didn't have the room to put it in. Call this a very long footnote.

Sterilising Equipment

The way I sterilise equipment is by getting a teaspoon of sodium metabisulphite, and dissolving it in a pint of cold water. I then use this solution to cover all the equipment that I plan to use for whatever wine making stage I am at. So, I will generally start by siphoning it from the measuring jug into a demijohn or bucket. This way, the inside of the plastic tubing gets sterilised. Then, once the solution is in the demijohn/bucket, I will swill it around to make sure all surfaces that may touch the wine/ingredients are covered. There is no need to soak it - just a simple covering seems to do the trick. I then pour the solution back into the measuring jug, and pour it over anything else I plan to use (spoons, sieves, mashers, lemon juicers, bottles). Once finished, don't discard the solution. Instead store it to one side so that in the event (which is frequent for me) you realise that you have forgotten something, you can then sterilise that too. Only throw out the solution as you are clearing up having finished that particular stage of the wine.

When I have finished with the sterilising solution, I then cover surfaces of all equipment with boiling water. I do not know whether this is necessary (I suspect not) but it is something I do. Twice I have had a demijohn crack from this - in both cases a brown glass demijohn, so beware.

I have been told in a home brew shop that what I am doing is not actually sterilising equipment, but killing any yeast that may be hanging around the surfaces of stuff. This is good enough for me, as proper sterilising seems to involve leaving things to soak in bleach - and I worry about what effect this would have on taste.

Yeast

Often people will click on the label 'yeast' on my blog, and I can't remember where that takes you. I tend to use yeast in sachets, and I am sure there are several varieties out there that will do the trick. I most frequently use a burgundy yeast for red wines and a champagne for whites, but I have no idea if this makes much difference - I suspect not. The only really important thing about yeast is that you make sure your liquid is not too hot when you put it in. I usually leave my wine overnight before putting the yeast in the next morning.

Racking

'Racking' is the process where you transfer the wine from one demijohn to the next, leaving the sediment in the first demijohn. This is also the stage where I get my first taste of the wine. What you need to do is put the full demijohn at a height (on a counter) and the empty demijohn below it (on the floor). Attach your flexible plastic tubing to a piece of stiff plastic tubing with a bund at the bottom. Lower this into the full demijohn, bund first, but not so far down as to touch the sediment. Suck the other end of the tube, so that the wine starts flowing, and put this end into the empty demijohn. As the wine in the first demijohn goes down, gradually lower the bund, so that it moves closer to the sediment. As it gets close, tip the demijohn so that the most liquid possible is siphoned up, but try not to disturb the sediment. The instant the sediment looks like it is going to get sucked in, tip the demijohn back, and withdraw the tubing. In fact, it doesn't matter if you get a bit of sediment - this is pretty much inevitable.

Once you have finished this stage of racking, tip the tiny amount of liquid in the bund into a glass and taste what you have made so far. This will give you some idea of whether you need any more sugar. Generally (but not always) you will. If the wine is sweet enough already fill the gap in the second demijohn with tap water. If you think it needs more sugar, fill the gap with a syrup solution made from a ratio of 1 pint of water:six ounces of sugar. This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally works.

Different wines will have different levels of sediment. For example, I find that elderflower has very little sediment, whereas blackcurrant has loads. Don't worry if up to a third of your demijohn is filled with sediment - this happens from time to time. Do make sure, though, that after you have racked the wine, you fill the second demijohn to its neck with the water or sugar syrup solution you have made.

Bottling

The technique for bottling is very similar to that for racking. Your demijohn goes on the counter and your bottles go on the floor. This time, though, you can rest the bund bit of plastic tubing on the bottom of the demijohn, leaving your hands free. Have a spare glass to hand, so that you can catch some wine when changing between bottles. Also make sure that you have a spare bit of counter, so that you can put the full bottles out of 'kicking over by mistake' range. As you fill one bottle, move the siphon out of it via your glass and then into a new bottle. Leave the siphon in the new bottle (you do not always need to hold it, provided it is securely inside the filling bottle) as you move the full bottle onto your counter. Keep the last bottle you intend to fill inside a measuring jug, so when there is any overspill, it runs down the sides of the bottle into the jug, rather than all over the floor. Not only is this less messy, it provides even more wine for you to drink. For the last bottle, you will need to tip the demijohn, so that you siphon as much liquid as possible.

Corking

This is the corking machine I use
When you have six full bottles of wine, you need to stopper them up somehow. DO NOT USE SCREW CAPS. This is really really important. If the wine starts to ferment again (and some of them do) then you have created a bomb that could cause severe harm - flying glass everywhere. Instead, use bottles with corks. You can stop them up with plastic corks (which are reusable) or real corks. The weak point of the bottle is then the cork, and any explosion will mean the cork shoots out and the wine fizzes over the top. This is annoying, but not fatal! It is the reason I store all my bottles upright.

If you use plastic corks, you can just press them into the bottle with your thumb. If you are using proper corks, you need a corking machine. When using this, dangle a piece of string in the bottle as the cork goes in, leaving enough length to be able to pull it out. This way, the pressure caused by compressing the air above the liquid is diffused, meaning less chance of the whole thing blowing its top. You may notice bubbles around the string immediately after the cork has gone in. When the bubbles stop (a matter of seconds, if that) pull the string out vertically.

I recognise that this is not my most interesting post - and apologies - but I hope it is of some help. If there is anything else technical that you want to know, just leave a comment anywhere on my blog and I will respond.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Crab Apple Wine - Second Bottle (A3?), 26th-28th May 2013

Halfway through our meal with Richard and Linda I poured the last of the Gooseberry & Elderflower. Disaster! Well, Mild Inconvenience! It being a bank holiday Sunday with nothing planned for the following day I opened a bottle of crab apple. This was somewhat better than the previous bottle of this flavour, but definitely one to drink second. It served its purpose and I sobered up with a mug of bush tea later in the evening.

Once Richard and Linda had left, Claire decided she needed to make meringues with egg whites, spare from Sunday's meal. This meant having to stay awake for an hour longer than planned. The timer ticked away outside our bedroom door.