Oak Leaf Lunacy – A Brief Flirtation with Wine !!

22 Mar

Sometimes the urge to make things just overtakes you so it was inevitable that once I’d conquered making elderflower champagne and ginger beer I’d move on to the hard stuff. The bloke in the homebrew shop warned me as much. The bloke in the homebrew shop also warned me not to drink my elderflower champagne with vodka because my veins would swell up carrying the vodka to my brain like a shinkansen and leaving me senseless in minutes. I sometimes wonder what working in a homebrew shop all day does to a man.

My original idea was to make cider but since it was June that wasn’t on the cards. I’d bought the gospel according to C.J.J. Berry (renowned winemaking guru – deceased) and was flicking through to see what I could do to fill the empty hours of my life. Pansy wine sounded a bit homophobic, gooseberry wine sounded a bit expensive and parsley wine just sounded  plain ridiculous. Oak leaf wine on the other hand sounded like the most obvious thing in the world and why hadn’t I thought of that before, shouldn’t we all be drinking that every weekend? Shouldn’t we..? Surely we should.

So, off I strode off down to the River Wandle, a river which joins the Thames at Wandsworth near the site of the old Young’s Brewery, to look for some nice English Oaks. Young leaves I was told, so they are heavy in bitter tannins. I found a tree easily enough and spent a good 13 and a half minutes picking some very sticky young oak leaves and bagging them up to take home. Young children, stopped their games to watch and very soon I had a captive audience. Soon after that, I had a number of mums shooing them away from that odd fellow standing under a tree with a plastic bag. Perhaps this wasn’t the norm round those parts.

I made my sticky exit and got down to the business of making me wine. 4.5 litres of leaves were covered in a boiled up syrup of 4.5 litres of water and 1.5 kilos of sugar (I can hardly even look at that these days) and they were infused overnight before being strained into a demijohn and 10g citric acid and yeast added.  This was to be racked into new demijohns when it cleared and once more two months later.

The problem with making wines is that while watching fermentation in action in a jar is quite sexy, the novelty soon wears off and you have to wait for ages before you’re on to the next stage, and far longer before you can actually drink anything. These steps can easily be forgotten. I won’t say that I forgot about it but I wasn’t quite as attentive as I could have been. Nevertheless, when I racked it first time I tasted it and, lo and behold, it tasted like wine. Very sweet but it did taste like wine, a white wine obviously. I left it to continue its fermentation re-racked it at some point before bottling it and having been told that it is at its best the following summer after picking, left it in my garage for 2 years.

Now that last bit is a bit of a fib, as me and me mate Bob did get round to opening one bottle a lot earlier, but having had a couple of bottles of Rochefort 10 beforehand not to mention other miscellaneous brews and most likely a load of smoked sausages too, we weren’t really in a position to judge it. Despite this, we did judge it. Something along the lines of:

‘Bloody Hell! This tastes like wine.’

‘It does, you’re right, it tastes like wine.’

‘I can’t believe it tastes like wine.’

Nor can I. But it does taste like wine, doesn’t it?.’

‘Yeah..’    etcetera etcetera etcetera

The funny thing is I don’t like wine that much and would never buy a bottle of my own. However, I am fascinated that you can make something like this with just leaves! All hail the leaf is what I say! Anyway, the other day I decided that the time had come to put the wine out of its misery by attempting to drink some of it.

So what happened? When it came down to it had I produced some magical liquid from one of mother nature’s most iconic trees? Could I hold my head up and proudly offer it to friends as presents at Christmas time? Would I be taking it to the Dragon’s Den next year in the hope of getting the humiliating capital I needed to start full-scale production?

I opened it to a little tshh sound and then the bubbles started to tease their way up the bottle. I had forgotten it was sparkling, I hadn’t wanted to add any impurities to stop the fermentation. It poured lovely and clear, but as a white wine I suppose that was a given. The bubbles rose with more force and I began to pour into a 1/3 of pint glass. It had a little head and I reminded myself how I didn’t really like champagne. Still, this was mine and I wanted to love it.  I readied myself, picked it up, told myself I’d drunk worse things in Nam and took a mouthful. So what was the verdict? Well the wine was……. quite drinkable. The End.

I don’t really do tasting notes. Suffice to say the Dragons can keep their cash.


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