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 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.