Weather and wine

I took another Seashore Foray yesterday, this time for River Cottage. I have always been fairly lucky with the weather on the forty or so such trips I have made. But not yesterday. The strong (force 6) easterly wind kept the tide in by about 30cms and this and the large waves made getting my pots out difficult and finding razor clams impossible. Nevertheless my guests were made of stern stuff and all seemed to have a great time. I think this is all down to the lure of foraging itself, whatever the weather. One of my best mushroom trips was attended by a continuous downpour and everyone went home soaked to the skin but very happy.

The weather has been rather odd recently and the spring a very early one. Two years ago we had a "normal" spring with everything coming up more or less when expected; last year it was very late with species like the Bulrush appearing a month later than expected and elderflowers not adorning out hedges until well into June. Yesterday I saw the amazing sight of elderflowers (and lots of them) in our Dorset hedges. This is a whole month earlier than normal and the earliest I have ever seen them. It is easy to ascribe these oddities to "climate change" but, of course, it is just weather.
I am making a lot - an awful lot - of wine at the moment. Dandelion wine, gorse mead, rhubarb wine, an experimental alexanders wine (and not too promising by the smell of the must) and a tiny batch of cowslip wine are all cluttering up the house. The wine which is taking up the most room is birch sap wine. I have always had serious doubts about this wine. Many people swear by the stuff and enthusiastic recipes date back a century or two. Now, I collect birch sap every year to make into a syrup (like maple syrup) and love the collecting process itself with its buckets and spiles. But I have never made the wine before because of the taste of the raw sap. It does not taste at all unpleasant it just doesn't taste of anything. Well, to be fair, it is like a very faintly sweet and first class spring water.

This year I have made lots of the stuff but at the same time indulged in a little science by running a controlled experiment. I have made "water" wine alongside birch sap wine. This is made to exactly the same recipe as birch sap wine but with water used instead of the sap. My contention is that the two will be largely indistinguishable. Well the early results are in. I racked off one of the batches and gave small glasses, unlabeled, to some friends. I asked them what they thought of the two anonymous wines and, later, which they thought was the birch sap wine. As expected there was no statistical significance in the results (full details to be published in Nature soon) - effectively no-one could tell the difference. In fact two people thought the "water" wine to be the more refined and subtle of the two. I tried some too and found both to be very good. For those who experiment with wines I highly recommend making "water" wine - it gives you a baseline to work from. If your peapod, cucumber, May blossom or coffee dreg wine tastes worse than water wine then just don't bother.


Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post. And thanks for the commiserations about the lost pots. I didn't lose them yesterday as I had them padlocked (the vaselined, stainless padlock, steel cable and six foot of cast iron drainpipe should deter all but the most determined). No morels this year and, yet again, no False Morels despite a trip to Brownsea Island where they have been recorded. Next year maybe. Cheers John


John Wright: 3rd May 2011 10:00:00

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