Before the fall wine

The Vinter by David Teniers the younger

Cheers little dude

Back in the early 1600’s it proved to be rather popular to move to a city, a trend that continues to this day. It was around this time that people really stopped having such a strong link with the seasons. They were less connected with the countryside that fed them. Up until this point, many would refer to the Autumn simply as, “harvest time”. What did urban dwellers care about harvest time? They didn’t pick fruit or plough fields and instead would whizz about the 17th century in hackney carriages and horse-drawn coaches. They needed a new word and so started using the phrase, “fall of the leaf”. They still had access to trees and so this made sense to them. The word Autumn from the Latin Autumnus, the god of changes, also started to curry favour and one took hold in the States and the latter here in England.

We tend to stay in a little more and perhaps drink a little more during these months. Hibernating and taking stock of the year that has almost passed whilst contemplating the year ahead. For the foraging drink maker it may start to feel that there is less around, but you can always make something.

This year I have been experimenting by using just what I can hold of and have come up with the recipe below. You can freeform a little if using, consider each ingredient as a suggestion rather than a hard a fast part of a whole. The main thing really is to get some kind of diversity in there and to keep adding the sugar until everything becomes balanced. Don’t fret too much about the wine either, I’ve even used wine that has been corked and the rest of the flavour mask it’s imperfection. But do consider using a bold fruity wine such as Malbec or Shiraz, elderberry or blackberry.

The fig leaf idea comes from the guys at the White Lyon bar in Hoxton, London – well from Ally who works there and Abi, the brand ambassador for the Botanist Gin who introduced me to their delights. Fig leaves, it would seem, give up the flavour of figs – remarkable!

Before the Fall wine – The recipe

Think mulled wine when making this, but it is more than that; the walnut adds some depth and a backbone the spices add another layer of complexity, the hogweed comes in at the end with some spice and the fig leaves are well, just rather nice! This becoming a firm Autumn favourite.

Thanks to the old tree in Brighton for the photo

Don’t overheat!

2 bottles of fruity red wine
1 tablespoon hogweed seeds (ensure they are not hemlock or giant hogweed seeds)
One root of herb bennet/clove root – washed and grated.
1 walnut leaf (careful not to use black walnut leaves and do ensure you are using a leaf that is still all green).
4-8 fig leaves depending on size
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
50ml rosehip cordial
50ml brandy or cognac – I used Remy’s 1738 Royal Accord, but you can go cheaper.
about 250g/1 cup brown sugar – more if needed.


Pour the wine into a large saucepan and start to heat. The trick is not to whack the heat on full, don’t even simmer – just getting it so it starts to be warm. The more you heat it the more alcohol you’ll loose and you don’t want that.

Once as warm as a cup of tea that you still might just drink start adding the ingredients one by one, adding the sugar last. I taste as I go along. Some flavours will be given up immediately, other will take a while. Keep stirring.

When it comes to adding the sugar add half and see if you like it as is. If not add the other half. If it is still rather astringent then add more, a tablespoon at a time and keep adding until you like the flavour.

Can be served warm or cold.

How to make cheap wine taste like chateauneuf du pape

ineyard and andy hamilton

Make us a drink Andy

Before I get nasty emails from French lawyers (Like I did off the Champagne lawyers for elderflower champagne),  the only way you can actually make Chateauneuf du pape is to grow grapes in the Chateauneuf du pape commune. Cheap wine will always be cheap wine, but you can make cheap wine staste better.

This technique will help lift a wine, not a mid-range wine, that should taste ok by itself, but a cheap wine. A wine that might even taste better coming up than it did going down. The sort of wine you may have drunk at a teenager or in your early twenties as it was the cheapest and strongest thing you could get your hands on. The sort of wine that you might now turn your nose up at, unless you have already had a few glasses.

If you need to impress but are skint, or if you are simply tight with your money then please read on.

How to make cheap wine taste expensive

The main thing to make cheap wine taste expensive is to give it a story when we think that something is going to be delicious our mouth will react and we will start to salivate. In that saliva is a chemical that coats our tounges and will actually make things taste superior. Presentation is also key, as a little experiment pour the same wine into two containers, a crystal wine glass, and a jam jar. Give it to your partner, mum, friend, dog and then get them to decided which one is the tastier wine.  I assure you that most (apart from collies who love a good jarred wine), will favour the wine in a glass.

The setting can also make a difference if you have every gone into a pub or an off-licence in search of the Greek Lager, that French plonk or that obscure spirit and have been offered something that you swear isn’t the same then you are not alone. A recent study suggests that subtle changes in light, the music playing and of course your mood will all affect how the wine tastes.

Do please hunt out my youtube channel where you will find a bunch of other booze experiments. Such as how to how to make buckfast,  how to make foraged gin, how to make edible shot glasses or stay right here to find the best tip to make perfect sloe gin and other liqueurs.

I’ve also been experimenting with barrel aging and can simulate barrel aging in days rather than years. This means I can make whisky in 10 days, rioca in weeks and Olde Jenever in a week. Should I share the secret?

Andy Hamilton’s fireweed, bramble tip and Himalayan balsam wine

fireweed, brambletip and hymalyan balsam wineI love working with other home winemakers to come up with new wines and so would like to hear from you!  This month I have teamed up with Mike Griffiths from Nottinghamshire who has been making wine since before I was born. By combining a variety of edible flowers into Mike’s bramble tip wine it helps transform it from a white wine into more of a rosé. I’ve chosen to use Himalayan balsam flowers and fireweed both readily available at this time of year and both often to be found growing along riverbanks or in waste ground. Luckily this is also often the habitat for brambles (blackberry vines).

The great joy of using Himalayan balsam flowers is not only that they impart a lovely reddish-pink tinge to any wine, cordial or jam you are making, but by using them you’re also helping biodiversity. Himalayan balsam, an invasive interloper introduced by the Victorians, can produce up to 700 seeds per plant. It also fires these seeds up to 7 metres away from the plant. It grows tall enough to smother native flower species while being irresistible to bees – a double blow to biodiversity.

1 carrier-bagful of bramble tips dropped into the bucket and not particularly pressed down (The tip is the 4 or 5 inches on the end of a young bramble)
Juice of one medium sized lemon
1 cup of Himalayan balsam flowers
1 cup fireweed flowers
500g sultanas
1 kg sugar
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 teaspoon general purpose wine yeast

Chop or mince the sultanas add them to a big pan with the bramble tips. Add seven pints of water and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for an hour. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then replace the cover and allow to cool. Strain into a fermentation bin over the flowers, stir in lemon juice, yeast nutrient and yeast.

Cover the bucket loosely and leave to ferment in a warm place until any foaming has died down. Syphon into a demijohn, top up with cold water, put under an airlock, sit back and wait.

After about three months the fermentation will have finished and the wine will be clear. Rack off into a clean demijohn (there’ll probably be a decent deposit from the sultanas), top up again and transfer to the coolest place you have in the house. After another three months bottle the wine and leave it to stand for a further six months.