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 August 2015

Crab Apple Wine - Second Bottle (C1), 23rd August 2015

Claire wishes me to record the fact that I had more than my fair share of this bottle. Probably only by half a glass. Maybe three-quarters. But it is very nice, and government guidelines say that I am allowed to drink more than her.

This crab apple is a good vintage - it has that sharp apple taste which is deceptively refreshing. Mostly we drank it before eating - chatting about the new house and garden. Things are so much more positive than they were six weeks ago - partly because we are spending more time there, getting to know the neighbourhood (including the Jewish Bakery, where we had lunch today) and making the garden ours.

Friday 28 August 2015

Elderberry Wine - Ninth Bottle (B4), 22nd August 2015

There is a lamb-based theme for many bottles of elderberry wine. Last night Claire cooked a Morrocan lamb, prune & almond teggine, and I chose elderberry wine as the accompaniment. It was a good choice - both food and drink were fruity and sweet.

Earlier in the day we chose the kitchen for our new house by visiting Zoe in Guiseley. The work top will be 'Storm Brown', the units 'Stone' and the handles long and sleek. It is depressing that I can get quite excited by these things.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Christmas Tutti Fruti - Eighth Bottle (B1), 21st August 2015

I am too quiet at work, and I find that more frustrating than being too busy. When there is too much to do I zip along, get a bit snappy but feel a sense of achievement. Too quiet, and mundane tasks stretch beyond tedium. It is the August effect. But a bottle of Christmas Tutti Fruti makes things better, with its complex fruit flavours and slight fizz. This is one of the best batches that I have made. We drank it while watching Mad Men on DVD (Claire had confused it with Breaking Bad). It is glorious to look at, with all the 1950s period detail, and a good way to spend an hour.

Monday 24 August 2015

Orange Wine - Fifth Bottle (B3), 19th-20th August 2015

This orange wine has a more bitter taste that previous vintages. It is entirely drinkable but is reminiscent of the harshest of thick-cut marmalades. Definitely a mid-week bottle, and at this time of year, that means drinking half of it in front of The Great British Bake Off.

Claire and I polished the bottle off on Thursday evening. My helping was a large glass after trios with Pat & Peter, where we are working on an obscure trio by Swan Hennessy, who was of Irish/French/American stock.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Blackcurrant & Raspberry Wine - Second Bottle (A6), 15th August 2015

I took this bottle to a Feast at Ros's. Bob, Julia's brother, had come up from Kent and we spent much of the evening drinking far too much and talking about Julia. Her house has finally sold which means Emma will need somewhere to live. It was lovely to see Bob - there is a large amount of Piggott in him (which is unsurprising).

The wine was fruity and light and sweet and delicious, and I think most people agreed.

I disgraced myself at the end of the night by falling asleep in an armchair, waking only to apologise when the taxi arrived.

Derek Piggott - Julia and Bob's father

Saturday 22 August 2015

Rhubarb Wine - Third Bottle (A5), 13th-16th August 2015

"Will you be opening a bottle tonight?" falls into the category of Questions Expecting the Answer 'Yes'. In fact, I hadn't specifically planned to - we had already drunk one mid-week bottle of wine - but I took little persuasion, and I do like rhubarb wine. It has a light crispness that makes it distinct.

I earned the rest of the bottle on Sunday after spending a hard weekend digging (well, call it two hours spread over two days) in the new garden. There is enough clay to open a pottery.

Me, digging

Thursday 20 August 2015

Prune & Parsnip Wine - Sixth Bottle (A6), 11th-12th August 2015

For the next nine weeks, Wednesday evenings are likely to involve sharing at least half a bottle of wine watching The Great British Bake Off with Claire. We watched the second episode tonight while drinking Prune & Parsnip wine. On the whole it made me feel hungry - partly because of the food porn, but also because I am trying to lose a bit of weight by the radical solution of eating a bit less. Over the last two weeks I put on half a stone. Prune & Parsnip wine can, in these circumstances, be seen as a dietary aid.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Blackcurrant Wine 2015 - The Making Of ...

Buying a house is an expensive way to acquire soft fruit. On that first, tense weekend when we owned 20 Bentcliffe Drive one of the few pleasures was discovering blackcurrant bushes laden with fruit. There are raspberries and strawberries too, but not in such quantity. Anyone who visited (mostly parents) was put to work and our freezer began to fill with bags of currants.

Blackcurrants and chives (the chives were not added)
Of course, we also have blackcurrant bushes at Carr Manor Mount and these ripened whilst we were away at Rydal playing symphonies and having all sorts of fun. Claire and her parents harvested these during the course of last week whilst I was in Wales. When I came home the freezer was so full of blackcurrants that we had to use a buttress to keep the door closed. (I exaggerate. A little.)

More blackcurrants on their bush

On Monday 10th August I weighed the blackcurrants. Twelve pounds. That is enough for a quadruple batch, so this is what I have done. I mistook a small bag of sloes for blackcurrants and only realised my mistake when they were in the bucket. I rescued as many as I could, but there are still some in the mix.

Blackcurrants (and a few sloes) before mashing

On Tuesday, once the fruit had defrosted and I was back from helping Rory move flats again, I mashed it with a potato masher. This was hard work, took a while and I am surprised that my hands are blister-free. I dissolved 11 lbs sugar in 22 pints of water (in three batches), boiled this and poured it over the mashed fruit. The bucket is close to full and when putting in the yeast on Wednesday evening, 12 August, I noticed the packet warned of "High Foam". Fingers crossed. I also added 2 teaspoons of pectolase and about three of nutrient.

A full-ish bucket
Though I added the yeast on Wednesday, there was no hint of fermentation until Friday afternoon, and I was beginning to think that this would be my worst wine-making disaster yet. However, everything is fine and I put it all into its demijohns on Sunday 16 August. None of the demijohns are full and the recipe (if not the bucket) would have benefitted from another 2 pints of water.

Fermenting blackcurrants
If you want to see how this wine turned out, click here

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Fig Wine - First Bottle (5), 9th August 2015

It was purely for research purposes that I opened this bottle. Apparently this year is good for figs and I wanted to know whether it was worth asking my parents to put some aside for me. It is. Despite the nutty aroma, which generally indicates something undrinkable, this was really nice. It is unmistakeably fig - a dense, fruity taste. Possibly a little too sweet. The colour is lovely - a dark pink. I think this akin to a red wine, whereas Claire thinks it is a rosé.

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

Monday 17 August 2015

Blackcurant Wine - Third Bottle (B2), 8th August 2015

Claire and her parents drank this bottle while I was in St Dogmaels Abbey playing incidental music to the Tempest. They opened it because the gooseberry wine tried earlier in the evening was unspeakably nasty. Blackcurrant was a suitable choice because Bob and Judith had been hard at work in our garden picking fruit for this year's batch. I conclude that this wine was rather better than the gooseberry by the fact that the bottle was empty on my return, rather than a quarter drunk and in the fridge.

Sunday 16 August 2015

Brew It Yourself - Review of an Excellent New Book

The Book Cover

Brew It Yourself by Nick Moyle and Richard Hood is the most recent addition to the ever-growing library of books about how to make your own booze. An experienced home-brewer might be sceptical about whether there is room on the shelf for another book. A novice may not be sure about whether this is the right book to choose to get started. I would urge both to get this book. There is much to delight the experienced brewer, and it both guides and encourages the novice.

The book is divided into six main sections: wine, cider, beer, sparkling drinks, liqueurs and cocktails; and each has a host of recipes. I turned to the wine making chapter first, on the basis that this is where my knowledge lies. There is a good range of recipes, from classics (elderberry, parsnip) to the more unusual (oak leaf, pineapple) stopping on the way for instructions for three types of mead.  The methods given are straightforward and never complicated, and there is a very useful ‘basics’ section at the beginning in case this is your first time at having a go. What I love about the ‘basics’ chapter is that the Two Thirsty Gardeners demystify the process. There is nothing precious here. They throw out the requirement found in some literature that wine should have “temperature-controlled storing conditions” and they actively encourage experimentation. Advice on the first page includes “Treat measurements as a rough guide” and “Taste is subjective”. As soon as I read these, I knew that I had found two kindred spirits.

The chapters on cider and beer took me away from a subject I know, but made my fingers itch to try – particularly the cider section. It is clear that the authors love their craft, and they make it sound easy. But easy in a way that makes the reader suspect it truly is. Pear and Ginger cider sounds delicious, and there are handy hints on how to choose apples. In the beer section, I particularly liked the advice to make only one gallon at a time. The one time I tried to make beer, it was for vast quantities, and the result was disappointing. A gallon I could imagine doing. And how can anyone resist a recipe for “Nick’s Liquorice Stout”?
The introductory page for Cider
 The remaining three chapters were actually the ones I enjoyed most, because the ideas are fabulous and the methods looks as if they require very little patience. I have never made a sparkling drink on purpose (though several by accident, as my exploding bottles attest), not even ginger beer. Brew It Yourself gives instructions for nine of them, and the ginger beer has been expanded by the addition of chilli. Lavender Sparkle sounds like a must-do, and Tepache, made from pineapple, a cinnamon stick, brown sugar and nothing else is something that I am going to try as soon as I remember to buy a pineapple.

For the most nervous of readers wanting to make their own drinks, the chapter on liqueurs is probably the place to start. There is no brewing involved, just simple instructions on what ingredients to mix with which spirits. Of course the chapter begins with sloe gin – it would be sacrilege if it did not. Thereafter, the drinks become more unusual: raspberry and thyme whisky, mint, lime & lemongrass liqueur, mayflower brandy and many more besides. The authors have chosen the ingredients carefully and give the reader confidence that the suggested flavours will match.
Raspberry & Thyme Whisky

Finally there is a chapter headed ‘Classic Cocktails and Curios’. Some of the cocktails are familiar (Bloody Mary), some less so (Spruce Martini). All look effortless. As for the curios, they sound so unusual that they have to be tried: Beetroot Kvass, Marrow Rum, Glögg.

It is clear that much thought has gone into the layout of Brew It Yourself. There are many inserts, within the pages introducing the chapter, and in the recipes themselves. Here we are told snippets about C J J Berry, what wines to use for cooking, Norse mythology, and how to grow rocket. Within chapters the authors will break off from providing recipes to have a couple of pages about relevant issues. Within the wine-making chapter, we get an informative page dedicated to honey, for cider the recipe-break is dedicated to apples and for beer it is hops. This continues in each of the chapters, and is an interesting method of preventing the reader from being overwhelmed by the number of drinks he or she could make. For as well as being a book of recipes to follow, Brew It Yourself is also a book which you can read from start to finish for pure enjoyment. Nick Moyle and Richard Hood have an engaging and always humorous writing style. They pun, they have internal disagreements and they are genuinely funny.

This review has yet to mention the most striking thing about the book. It is a thing of beauty. I have the hardback version (I don’t know when the paperback will be out, but I would urge you not to wait for it) and the cover has a pleasing feel and look. Its colours are well chosen, and the indentations suggest quality even before you open the book to read it. Then, inside, the photographs accompanying the text are outstanding. Who would think that pictures of cloves or dandelions or frothing pints of beer could look so inviting? The book’s designer has made Brew It Yourself as much of a coffee-table (or should that be wine-table?) book as a genuinely useful book of recipes.
The Authors
Brew It Yourself is a wonderful book – it would make an excellent present, but be more adventurous than that. Buy it for yourself, and then make any one of the drinks it suggests (make several) and give these as presents – if you can bear to part with them.

Saturday 15 August 2015

Gooseberry Wine - Final Bottle (4), 8th August 2015

Claire writes:

Ben is still in Wales. My parents are staying for the weekend. We've spent much of the time at Bentcliffe Drive, looking at the house and doing things in the garden.

This wine is nasty. My parents are refusing to supply comments for publication, which tells you all you need to know. Ben can finish this one when he gets home.*

Bob writes:

This is a perversion of my own opinion. An entertaining ethanol delivery system, if no more.

Bob doing things in the garden
*I had a glass when I got home, and then poured it down the sink. It was truly awful.  

Friday 14 August 2015

Crab Apple Wine - First Bottle (B4), 3rd-4th August 2015

I carried this bottle in a suitcase all the way to Pembrokeshire. It neither smashed nor exploded and I was able to share it with Sue (my lovely, lovely host) immediately before a dress rehearsal for The Tempest. This meant that I was somewhat tipsy for my walk down the steep hill into St Dogmaels village and for the play, but I did not blow into my bassoon at inappropriate moments.

The play (like the wine) was well done - I particularly liked the four Ariels and the Ferdinand & Miranda scenes played for laughs.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Blackberrry Wine - Sixteenth Bottle (B), 2nd-6th August 2015

Claire writes:

Ben has gone to St Dogs for the Abbey Shakespeare again, so I am in control of the wine diary. I wanted something nice to help with the post-Rydal gloom, so chose this - but I think it might be the one-litre bottle which:
a) I hope doesn't get me into trouble; and
b) had probably take me several days to finish.

After a few hours doing the garden at Bentcliffe Drive, I came home and made myself a crumble as part of the post-Rydal coping strategy.

Monday 10 August 2015

Elderberry Wine - First Bottle (B4), 19th July 2015

Well, this was a disaster. Not the wine per se but the fact that I opened the bottle at all. It was not due to be opened for at least another two months. I have only just bottled it. But it was at that 'Tired and Emotional' end of the evening where I was fixated on finding an Elderberry for the assembled guests (we were having lamb, and Elderberry wine is virtually a legal requirement in those circumstances) and all thoughts of 'vintage' disappeared.

The wine itself was fine - but young with its usual metallic taste. I must be more careful with my selection in the future.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Rose Petal Wine - Third Bottle (A1), 19th July 2015

Impromptu dinner parties are rather jolly. Rachel had an ancient leg of lamb that needed to be dealt with as part of her defrosting the freezer exercise, so decided to cook it round ours. This explained how I found myself entertaining for six on a Sunday night: Claire, me, Rachel, Duncan, Nick and a colleague of Claire's that I hadn't met - Paul. I opened Rose Petal partly because it is Rachel's favourite and partly because I had spent much of the day making this flavour. Paul thought that it had a taste of mead to it - and one day I must try brewing a mead.

Sunday 2 August 2015

Christmas Tutti Fruti - Seventh Bottle (B2), 18th July 2015

This was the bottle that turned a tipsy evening into a drunken one and caused me to sleep badly. However, it felt like the right thing to do at the time, and led to my mother reminiscing about growing up in 1950s Nebraska. How about this for an opening line to the Great American Novel: "The only child I remember dying was the one that my cousin shot"? I'm already hooked.

We had meringues and soft fruit from the new garden to soak up the alcohol, but it did an inefficient job. I can't even remember how this bottle tasted. Rather good, probably.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Prune & Parsnip - Fifth Bottle (A2), 18th July 2015

Mom and Pop came over for a meal, and what a meal it turned out to be. Claire cooked four wonderful curries: sweet & sour okra, north Indian fish curry, black-eyed bean curry and tinda in kadhi sauce. I don't think I could pick a winner: all were delicious, though the fish curry was the hottest.

Prune & parsnip wine went surprisingly well with the meal. I had expected it to be too sweet, but the sweetness complemented the spicy flavours. And my mother prefers her wine on the sweet side.