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.

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.