The SEDIMENT Home Winemaking Saga


Home Brew
20th September 2018

So PK is all of a tizzy because he can get a bottle of red wine for under £4.00. Seriously. It's as if the fine range of sub-£4.00 bottles available from Lidl Aldi or Asda never existed, but there you are: some people don't know what's going on in the world. I mean, I could have told him about these cheap boozes without even bothering to look them up.

Then it occurs to me, PK's blind spots or not: if we are really, really, determined to go low, there is a trick which both of us have missed so far - making our own. To be frank, this first entered my head a few months ago when I was killing time in a hardware store in south-west Wales and ended up staring at a section of DIY wine kits (see pic). I mean, here was a real choice, not just a few makeweights to keep the shelves from looking empty. There was home brew Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay (Chardonnay!), Zinfandel, even some others that I might have missed. Yes, extreme south-west Wales, the ultima thule of the A477, is the kind of place where you have to make your own entertainment, it's a fair old drive from where I was to sexy Haverfordwest, you have to improvise. So why not boil up some Chardonnay now that the evenings are getting longer?

Of course I failed to buy a kit while I was there - and only £20, reduced to clear - but I can still load up online with Shiraz/Merlot kits, Malbec kits, Pinot Grigio kits, Frascati kits, Primitivo kits, Australian Character kits whatever they are, a whole world of kits, most holding out the scarcely-credible promise of a drinkable wine for no more than £1.00 a bottle. Prices are a touch stiffer if buy the gear online rather than in a discount Welsh hardware store, nearer the £30.00 mark for some kits, £70.00 for the authentically hardcore setups that include a 30-litre bucket, steriliser, instructional DVD and all sorts, but the more you make the greater the savings and how can you put a price on that kind of value?

And it's so easy to do! Even if you don't have an instructional DVD, there are YouTubes galore, men, usually men, clanking about in their kitchens and garages and dens, optimising your chances of getting a really satisfactory brew out of whatever materials you have to hand. My favourites? Craig, here, apparently startled to find himself in a roomful of plastic buckets and pipes with a camera pointing at him, but prepared to make a go of it nonetheless; something called Sonoran Living, in which a magenta woman and a plainly angry man show us an authentically disgusting assemblage of things to make wine out of; and this, disarmingly unidirectional vid, in which a bloke in a shirt takes out the contents of a wine kit, puts them on a table and tells us what they are.

The rest of it is just tipping powders and grape juice (or your own grapes, crushed; or indeed any other organic matter) into plastic tubs, cleaning up the inevitable mess and walking away. And then coming back and putting the product in bottles. As my pal with the home-made champagne observed a while ago, wine-making, in comparison with beer-making, 'Is a mug's game. It's so easy.' To put it another way, if my Father-in-Law can, or at least could, make a potable wine, so can I.

Next step? Getting PK involved. After all, I don't want all the bother of washing out bottles or admixing the acidity correction, let alone pouring out the final brew and corking it up. Not only is he fitter and stronger than me, he has a talent for pickiness which is exactly what we need in a tightly controlled situation like this. Actually, now I think about it, is £1.00 a bottle really such a bargain, given the amount of faffing around involved and the almost certain vileness of the final wine? Or can we get it down to 50p? If the latter, then a bottle of anything with Château Sediment label might prove irresistible. That has to be the goal. I'll put it to him, next time I see him.

Home Brew II
4th October 2018

So I put the idea of making our own booze to PK and, to my slight astonishment, he says, Well, maybe we should. I say, Really? He says Yes, and goes on to reveal that his Father used to make rhubarb wine which he left to mature in the pantry of the old family home, where it used to explode from time to time. We'd be sitting there, he says, and there'd be a crash and we'd know another bottle had gone. Really? I say, again, and he nods. Things you learn.

So then I explain about the kits and the YouTubes I've been half-arsedly scrutinising and the muck you apparently have to put in your mixing tub and where do you keep it all for the love of God? And he nods and says, Well it sounds quite interesting. Maybe we should do one each and compare them.

This is not what I was anticipating, not at all. Where is the regulation issue PK, with all his la-di-da beverages and do's and don'ts and wide-ranging shibboleths? My bluff appears to have been called, inadvertently or otherwise (how was I to know about his Dad and the rhubarb wine?) and now I have to make it seem that what I wanted all along, was to make my own wine. Actually, what I really wanted was for PK to volunteer to do everything, leaving me with the relatively easy job of sage onlooker, but life isn't like that. So I nod back at him, committing myself at the very least to a fresh trawl through the internet for tips and materials.

Back at the screen, the first thing is to weed out the American contributors, with their remorseless positivity and their facial hair. That done, I find myself back with this guy - the one who previously contented himself with merely showing the world the contents of a Wilko wine box, but who is now, affably enough, taking us through the process of making a complete Cabernet Sauvignon Wilko wine. He's from the Wirral, I'm guessing, somewhere Merseyside anyway, and his approach to film-making has some of the deconstructed grammar of the French New Wave, the same non-hierarchical approach to narrative and the nature of reality, but it hangs together. And he's wearing shorts.

In fact it's a pleasure to watch him mix the brew, apparently with the least possible forethought (the memory card in his camera runs out a third of the way through; he hasn't bought himself a plastic funnel) and fretting over what his wife will say about the marks on the dining table. At some point, it's true, I start to lose focus and gaze instead on YouTube's suggestions for what I might want to watch next (a brief history of electric guitar distortion; Seinfeld outtakes) and then, a bit later on, I skip forward to see how he's managing, but it all looks straightforward enough. He's got some fancy gear - a big old demijohn and an airlock to go in the bung - and he's clearly done it before, showing no nervousness around the various packets and sachets that come out of the Wilko box like deep space rations, and sure enough I start to feel that, given time and practice, I could manage the same level of dextrous ease. The whole thing, fermentation included, seems to take about a week and a half. I could find that time. And no actual grapes involved.

Only snag? At the end of the process, he siphons the proto-wine off into some washed-out old screwtop wine bottles, serves it up (not shown in video) and pronounces it good. Now, I reckon if we're dealing with a ten-day-old wine, then screwtops should be perfectly adequate. PK, on the other hand, is thinking of giving the wine he hasn't actually made yet a chance to lose some of its chemical textures and arrogant youthfulness by laying it down: which means, he says, corks. Which in turn means, if I were to match him all the way, that I would have to buy some wines which came in bottles that had corks in them. I mean, six fancier than usual wines with actual corks, plus the demijohn, plus the airlock, plus the kit itself, it's starting to stack up. Given that the whole, or nearly the whole, point is to get wine for next to nothing, this is the wrong direction of travel. Still. I'm seeing him again in a couple of weeks; a fresh item on the agenda.

Home Brew III
17th January 2019

So the new year is upon us and it really is time to get this DIY wine thing going. I discuss it with PK. I say that we should each get a home wine making kit and attempt our own separate concoctions.

He doesn't demur, so I go on, more confidently, Who should do what sort of wine? Should we each try a different brew, for the sake of variety? Or should we both do the same one, in order to make a proper comparison? Mm, he says, staring out of the window. Naturally I reckon I can make a better under-the-stairs beverage than PK and secretly play out scenes in my head in which we cautiously sip our makings and he nods, surprised, slightly aggrieved, and says, Well yours isn't bad, at which I preen and say, It's nothing special, you've either got it or you haven't, we can't all be gifted that way.

Well why don't we both make the same wine and see whose is better? he says, at last. Right. I will start looking for wine kits. He then adds, Won't we need demijohns and tubes and other such things, in order to do it? Mm, I say. Good point. I have actually forgotten about this aspect of the process. All I have been thinking about is a box of powders and an instruction manual, having marginalised somewhere the actual physical plant needed. That's going to up the costs, I say, at least until we start making our wine in quantity, at which point we can amortise the layout on glassware, bungs and specialist tubing. He says, What?

I go looking on the internet. I have no idea which retailer to go for. The Home Brew Shop looks alarmingly businesslike, with its five gallon wine kits and just about everything under the sun for making wine, beer, cider, liqueurs and spirits. It is dizzyingly polymorphous. Brew has a tidier punters' interface, but is every bit as overwhelming when you get down to the fine print. Lovebrewing I like the look of not least because it directs you straight to the Wine Equipment Starter Packs, with the basic pack (two one gallon demijohns, a hydrometer, thermometer, siphon and DVD) at a very reasonable £22.00. Art of Brewing clearly has everything I could want, but again, is daunting in its profusion of opportunities, like a provincial junk shop. The appealingly-named Beaverdale also looks tremendously purposeful, but again, perhaps too full-on for a half-arsed dilettante to feel really comfortable with.

At any rate, I think I can see where to go for the basic infrastructure. Which still leaves me with the question of which wine to attempt to make. Why do I think that red would be a safer choice? For some reason I assume that a red, being inherently more flavoursome, ought to be more idiot-proof. It has more options. It is more robust. Also I still have memories of my Pa-in-Law's home-made white, made with the pungent little vines from his greenhouse plus all the dirt and tendrils and insects that he couldn't be bothered to separate from the grapes themselves. It was a tough beverage to get outside. Yet on TheHomeBrew Forum I find some discussion to the effect that, actually, it's harder to make a drinkable red than white. Maybe flavoursome is just another way of saying complex and complexity is my enemy.

Therefore: back to Lovebrewing - pick up the necessary hardware and elect a beverage. What do you know? They'll sell me a Beaverdale pack straight off - and at £12.49 (special offer) for a six bottle Beaverdale Chardonnay kit, how can I fail? That or maybe a Belvino California White kit, which apparently makes thirty bottles for only £16.95 - except I don't have thirty used wine bottles to put all this bounty in, so back to Beaverdale, recklessly scorning the advice that litters the internet, to the effect that the more you pay for your wine kit, the better the resulting wine.

Or Wilko, for God's sake, who first inspired in me (see pic) the desire to do this thing, down in the barren extremities of south-west Wales, where the rocks gleam in the rain and the sheep debate among themselves the correct form Brexit should take. Wilko, of course, who seem to be offering a twelve bottle starter kit with everything you need plus a choice of wines - a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay, all for £35.00. I take a deep breath. It's the Wilko box. I'm going to put it to PK. I'm excited, to be perfectly frank.

Home Brew IV
31st January 2019

So the kit has arrived. Not the gear I was originally toying with, but - following a discussion with PK - a starter pack from Lovebrewing, containing a Beaverdale Cabernet Shiraz ingredients box as well as a couple of demijohns, a siphon, a thermometer, hydrometer, all sorts. And he's acquired the same set, too, so that we can both attempt the same muck and compare our results.The tension is palpable.

Slightly moreso when I get round to watching the DVD which comes included. In this, an affable bloke called Richard stands at his kitchen sink and tells you how to make your own wine. Fair enough, except that his starter pack contains one enormous plastic bucket instead of two plastic demijohns; and he's bustling through the techniques required as if he's late for a train. I have difficulty keeping up. I sit there wondering whether to use the hideous old bucket in the laundry room to make wine in - and is there any way I can get it clean enough - as he flings materials and tapwater around on screen. Then I realise that his washing machine is in camera shot and that it contains some laundry. I become transfixed by this, trying to decide what's actually in the wash. Bedding, I reckon after a while, or towels. Finally I settle for bedding, at which point he's already tearing open sachets of yeast and additives as fast as his hands will let him and I realise that, just as in chemistry classes at school, I have strayed intellectually, could not tell anyone what I have witnessed and consequently have no faith that when I try the experiment it will come out anything like it's meant to.

The good news is that Beverdale tell you what to do on a single sheet of pink paper packed with the plastic bladder of concentrated grape juice that is their stock-in-trade. This is more like it. I sterilise my gear, failing to use warm water, with the result that my hands are blocks of ice by the time everything's clean. I then admix grape juice and tap water in a demijohn, add some kind of ground-up oak powder for that fine oaky flavour at the end, chuck in the yeast, agitate, examine the resulting purple treacly foam with the hydrometer (bang on 1080, two successive readings). It smells a tiny bit rank, so I seal it up with an airlock and stand back. For some reason I am now mournful that it all should have taken so little time.

Of course, it's not over. There's a lot of jaunty chat from DVD Richard about the right temperature at which to ferment your brew. It is alarmingly high: 23ºC is acceptable for much of the time. We are in the middle of the coldest snap of the winter and anyway, our house tops out at 21.5º during the day, before dropping off noticeably at night. Richard (who's wearing a T shirt, I mean it's clearly high summer at the time of filming) suggests various ways to keep your brew up to temperature, among them an electric thermal belt to wrap around the bucket/demijohn, a electric hot platform and an immersion heater. He also mentions cladding the thing in a blanket, which is what I go for - a blanket of bubblewrap, the stuff the demijohn was packed in, a nice symmetry, no extra cost and better for the planet, I factitiously assume.

So there it is, in the shower at the top of the house where the air is warmest. If the demijohn explodes for any reason, the wreckage will be contained by the shower itself. There's also a heated towel rail nearby to keep things toasty. The demijohn is swathed from top to toe in bubblewrap. It looks oddly vulnerable on the floor of the shower. I leave the thermometer on top of the bubblewrap to let my wine know that I care. 21º it's saying, which I can live with. There are one or two lethargic bloops of gas coming up. The longer the fermentation takes, supposedly, the better the wine. At this rate, I will be bottling at some point in 2021. But you know what? PK hasn't even started.

Gentleman Winemaker Me
7th February 2019

I’m sure it wasn’t like this for Baron Eric de Rothschild.

For some reason, I have gone along with CJ’s crackpot idea of making our own wines. It is one thing for him to try and emulate or even better the bottom-shelf bargain wines that he buys; quite another for me to try and echo the classier products that I pursue.

But then I considered the respect I have for the makers of my wines. Perhaps becoming a winemaker, albeit a modest one, could be a means of claiming first-name terms with the likes of “fellow winemaker” (as I could rightfully call him) Eric. Or with Aubert at the Domaine de la Romanée Conti. I might acquire the urbanity of someone like Leoville-Barton’s distinguished Anthony Barton. I certainly echo his philosophy that “I don’t make investment wines”. No indeed, not in my kitchen.

I had kept quiet at home about this mad plan of CJ’s, and hidden the equipment, and a hoard of my empty bottles, in the cellar,. I anticipated an unfavourable reaction from Mrs K to the idea of liquids fermenting around the house (or, as I must begin to call it, the proprieté). She did, it emerged, wonder why our recycling had been uncharacteristically light on bottles. But she seemed remarkably relaxed when I broached the plan, her first and only real anxiety being that she might have to taste the results.

And so it begins, although I remain disdainful of CJ’s use of the term “Home Brew”, just as I am troubled by purchasing wine-making equipment from a company called Lovebrewing. This is vinification, surely,

I, too, watch the briskly enthusiastic brewlover Richard making wine in his t-shirt and jeans. He does not reflect my vision of an urbane gentleman winemaker. He sports a t-shirt from an outdoor apparel company, and stubble unrelated to a designer. Unlike CJ I do not become fixated by the contents of his washing machine, but I do notice that the on-screen caption suggests he is “sterlising” (sic), an attention to detail on my part which I hope will prove beneficial.

For I am nothing if not a stickler for detail when it comes to recipes. I am indeed (as I explained to Julian Barnes when he gave us our André Simon Award, a Pedant In The Kitchen.  So I am concerned that the airlock I have been sent has a yellow cap, and not, as referred to in the accompanying instructions, red. This is the kind of thing which can lead to disaster.

Anyway, I plump for making cabernet sauvignon, as close as I can get to my beloved claret. With increasing confidence I wield the likes of hydrometer and airlock. I sterilise, and mix, and test. (Well, do you know the exact temperature of the hot water from your tap? Well, do you?) I mix in oak chips, because I’m short on barrels.

And finally I have a demijohn of foaming liquid, coloured a threatening purple, which I stash carefully away. I have somewhat gratifying stains of grape juice on my hands, although before Mrs K returns I carefully clean the somewhat less gratifying stains of grape juice off the kitchen surfaces.

I managed to persuade Mrs K to allow the wine to ferment in the currently warmest place in the house, where we dry our laundry – but in order to protect the surroundings, I must keep my demijohn inside a binliner, inside a bucket. Is that really necessary? Well, the instructions say that if fermentation becomes “quite lively”, then “liquid can be forced out of the airlock and end up decorating your floor and walls!”. Not a situation Eric probably had to deal with – or worse, explain to his wife.

Now, the waiting begins. But at least there is one aspect of this where I feel I may have gained ground over CJ. I have come up with a suitable name for my wine (no, no, you’ll have to wait) and have begun designing an appropriate label. This at least may have the sophistication, the style, which I aim for in the wines that I enjoy. Whether the wine itself will live up to that, time will tell.

Gentleman Winemaker II
7th March 2019
Last summer Jay McInerney wrote in Town & Country about a dinner hosted at Chateau Lafite by Baron Rothschild. “Clad in a slightly rumpled double-breasted navy linen blazer,” he wrote, “[Baron Rothschild] exudes a warmth that helps counteract his imposing height, good looks, and pedigree.”

Of all the descriptions applied there to Baron Rothschild, the only one which applies to me is “slightly rumpled”. Or, sometimes, “clad”.

Yet my progress towards becoming, like the Baron, a gentleman winemaker, moves on. For weeks of fermentation, my involvement in this home winemaking carry-on has been limited to mere observation. And this I could pursue in a gentlemanly manner, sometimes clad, and sometimes even in slightly rumpled attire.

There was little to report during this time, apart from a warm, yeasty smell, an occasional gurgle and, as the demijohn was sitting safely inside one of them, a critical shortage of buckets when it came to washing the car. I mean, how many buckets does the average householder possess?

But the time then arrived for the next stage of actual activity, in which the fermented wine has to be siphoned off its lees in demijohn 1 and into demijohn 2. This involves a sort of Professor Branestawm set-up, all of which has to be “sterlised” (sic). And to keep a certain other member of the household happy, I had to do it in the bath, in case there was any kind of spillage. Or, indeed, any remaining notion of sophistication.

Thanks to my Easy Start siphon, the “wine” (as perhaps I can now call it) surged through the tube. The key thing here was to banish from my mind the recurrent images of someone on the TV having a colonic.

The wine then had to be agitated at least three times a day for three to four days. Well, I tried telling it that Liverpool might win the Premier League, a notion which agitates me a lot, but it seemed that wasn’t sufficient. No, I had to hoist the demijohn up and physically shake it, the instructions say “for 3 or 4 minutes”. Do you realise how long that actually is? I mean, Bez or Baz or Bozo, whatever his name was, looked pretty knackered after shaking maracas on a three-minute single, and he was better fuelled than me. I’m really not up to hefting 4.5 kilos of wine around for 4 minutes at a time. I presume that Baron Rothschild has a machine to do this for him. Or a peasant.

So I decided that “3 or 4 minutes” was a euphemism, as in “I’ll savour this wine in my mouth for 3 or 4 minutes before I swallow it”.

I shan’t baffle you with the technical terms used by those of us in the winemaking game, but a sequence follows over several days of adding stuff, shaking, waiting, then repeating. In the end, you add some more stuff, which is clearly both non-vegan and non-natural and fine by me. Then “shake for ten seconds to mix, and replace cap.” What, you shake it for ten seconds without a cap? Are they mad? Never mind a demijohn of red wine, I wouldn’t do that with a recalcitrant ketchup bottle.

The next stage, bottling, will be pursued in about a week, “when the wine is clear”. Frankly, I may have no idea whether it is clear or not, because it is red. If it goes literally clear, something has gone horribly wrong. Or I have succeeded in turning wine into water.

A Gentleman Winemaker's Wine
4th April 2019

What is this stylish looking wine? Its visual combination of contemporary style with classic elements seems like a reflection of my very own character. Surely the wine of a gentleman winemaker. And its name…Piqué…why, it sounds like a Gallicisation of its creator – moi.

Yes, having made my own wine over the last eight weeks, it has now been bottled and, as you can see, named and labelled. I have a degree of smug self-satisfaction at having thought of its name, and designed a label, with the added suspicion that CJ will not have bothered with either.

(I was of course worried about emulating those hideous phonetic names drawn from initials, like PeeKay, or SeeJay, which reek of rundown shopfronts and County Court Judgments. But I feel that Piqué offers a more… sophisticated approach.)

Love my house as I do, not even I could call it a chateau. But I can genuinely state that Piqué was indeed mis en bouteille àu propriété. Which also looks better on the label than mis en bouteille dans la salle de bain.

Like so many aspects of this winemaking saga, bottling proved more challenging than I had anticipated. For one thing, when you siphon wine out of a demijohn, the hose swings around like an angry snake, spewing red wine all over the option. You’re trying to simultaneously tilt the demijohn, keep the hose inside a bottle, and pump the, er, pump. I clearly lack that key requirement of a wine bottler – three hands.

Then there was the issue of the sediment. This sat in a corner of the demijohn, an ominous slurry. It proved impossible to reach the last half-bottle or so of wine in the demijohn without sucking the sediment up, so eventually I improvised a filter, using a funnel and a tea strainer. It’s a little trick I would like to say I picked up from the Baron de Rothschild, except that I didn’t.

Somehow, at the end of it all, I had five bottles of wine. Not six, but five. CJ reports exactly the same; we each started with 4.5 litres, but ended up with only five bottles, 3.75 litres. Could all of that have gone in sediment, or even evaporation? The part des anges? I can’t believe that angels would sink to the level of sharing this stuff, even those bored with occupying the head of a pin,

Labelling added a whole new and challenging aspect to the bottling process: in particular, removing the existing labels from a week’s worth – sorry, a fortnight’s worth, hem hem – of emptied bottles. Like stamps and matchbox labels, it was once simple to soak off wine labels in warm water. That was before self-adhesion entered the process. A word from the wise (well, from me); put hot water inside the bottle, which can melt the adhesive on the back of the label.

The label still may not come off in one piece; if it does, you are likely to have a label which remains furiously self-adhesive. And if it does not adhere to self, it may well adhere to anything on which you place it. Another word from the wise (after the event): if there is one thing from which it is harder to remove a self-adhesive label than a bottle, that thing is a table.

But finally, the job was done. Piqué has been bottled in dark shouldered claret bottles, dark sloping Burgundy bottles and pale green screwcap bottles more commonly associated with white wines. This could either be a maneouvre in order to test the market, or a reflection of the variety of wines I was drinking when I needed some empty bottles.

And now it is “maturing”. The bottles are still inside a bucket, in case of explosion, although I have hopefully got beyond that stage. The final chapter will be a comparative tasting against CJ’s efforts. All I can now anticipate is that mine will possibly look better.

The Great SEDIMENT Wine Tasting
2nd May 2019

“Well… life all comes down to a few moments,” says Bud Fox, just before he goes into Gordon Gekko’s office for the first time in the movie Wall Street. “And this is one of 'em...”

It was time to taste our home-made wines, the culmination of a project which CJ finally steered us into some three months ago  . The equipment had been bought, the technology mastered, the wines made, bottled and matured (and, in one case at least, labelled). We had avoided potential spillages, floods and fermentation explosions. Now for the dangerous bit.

There were three wines on the night. There was Piqué, created of course by myself, PK; there was a wine garishly labelled Lobo e Falcao, a label which Mrs K mistakenly believed that CJ had created himself, until it was explained that he had, typically, just reused an old empty bottle; and, as a control, there was a “professional” bottle, of Waitrose Soft Chilean red, which is CJ’s £4.99 staple.

Sadly we were unable to replicate the tastings of homemade wine which appear widely on YouTube. Those seem to go quite well, and nearly always end with someone raising their glass and saying something like, “Y’know, it’s really not bad at all!” However, we simply couldn’t go along with two of their common aspects, which are that most of them seem to be conducted by chaps in (a) cheaply equipped utility rooms, and (b) shorts.

Our own tasting was conducted blind, in which we were ably assisted by our spouses; while we waited outside the room, the wines were poured into glasses A, B and C by our lovely assistants (© Debbie McGee). This 30-second audio clip will introduce you to some sounds rarely heard at formal wine tastings, and give you a flavour of the evening. Not the flavours – you wouldn’t want that:


Anyway, these are CJ’s notes on the three wines:

A: Gasworks, glue, rotten fruit. Bent double with revulsion on first taste. Emetic. Bent double on the second taste. Repulsive. Not a bad nose.

B: Burning carpet, scorches the tongue, doesn't seem to stop. On the other hand, it doesn't make me bend double. Borderline drinkable

C: Smouldering mattress, liquorice in puddle water, makes me bend double again. Most repulsive. The horror the horror

And PK’s:

A: This had a bouquet which can only be described as disturbing, blending as it did the scent of plastic with that of an unclean bottom. It tasted terrible, a nasty flavour of artificial fruit, like a packet of sweets left for some time in a warm car door pocket.

B: Reminiscent of being on a train with brake pad problems, or breathing in fumes of burning rubber from a distant riot. This one took me to a horrible, dark place of bitterness and nastiness.

C: With a strangely caramel bouquet, I felt this one was blander than the other two, smoother, less pungent and acerbic, and therefore marginally less repulsive.

And the reveal:

A was CJ
B was Waitrose
C was PK’s

What was peculiar was our polarisation. None of the three was actually enjoyable, but that which one of us hated most, the other hated least. So awarding points on a 3,2 and 1 basis, each of the wines ended up scoring 4.

Basically, they were all terrible. Which, worryingly, puts us on a level playing field with Waitrose…

Home Brew: The Aftermath
9th May 2019CJ

So now the dust has settled and our dreams have come to nothing, what have we learned? Almost nothing, I think it's fair to say, except that home-made wine is harder to make than some people would have you believe. From the end of January to the start of May this Godawful stuff has been hanging around the house, both promise and threat, and to be honest the best bit was when it was fermenting in the upstairs shower, burping to itself and releasing a gentle aroma of unwashed vests from time to time. Hope is such a dreadful thing.

And now? Four bottles of red sewage are sitting among all the other bottles of professionally-made grog, looking for all the world as if they have a right to be there.

Possible courses of action:

1) Leave them another month or so in the near-mystical belief that they will somehow settle down and transform themselves into something I can pour into a glass and swallow. I did test the one bottle we opened for alcohol content and got - if I can read my hydrometer properly and manage the resulting arithmetic - a reading of 10.85% by volume, which puts it a shade stronger than Tixylix but not so as you'd want to shout about it. Sheer inertia will see to it that the remaining four hang around longer than they should, so I can see myself taking a sip in a few weeks' time, out of sheer devilry.

Probability: High

2) Tip the lot away, then go to the utility room as we grandly name it, and stare at the now redundant demijohns and other wine-making parphernalia, shaking my head and making noises between my tongue and teeth indicative of self-reproach and despair.

Probability: High

3) Try and use the DIY wine in cooking. Trouble is, I only know two recipes which seriously call for red wine, one involving chicken, the other beef. Chicken tends to come out better; beef just tastes like beef stew, even down to the stringiness of the beef, no matter what cut I use. Do I want to commit a pile of expensive ingredients to the pot, only to discover at the end of the cooking process that my homebrew has hideously denatured the lot?

Probability: Medium to low

4) Look up other people's experiences on the internet. See how common my experience is and if there's anything I can do to redeem the situation, short of spending more money on bottles of wine rectifier or sachets of re-structuring powder. Should I watch the video which came with the kit all the way through to the end? Perhaps I missed something. This, plus some time Googling my failure, could be a morning well spent. To do it, of course, I would have to have a relatively robust, positive outlook-type psychological constitution plus an attention span long enough to last a morning. I mean, on YouTube all those months ago it looked about as difficult as making a cup of coffee.

Probability: Low

5) Get rid of it by adulterating commercially-made wines with undetectably small percentages of homebrew. Actually, PK came up with this idea, inspired by the way top French winemakers introduce tiny - I mean, I%, 3% - additions of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot to a basic Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot mix to give their products a nuance, an intimation of something other. In this case, the idea would be for the principal red to smother my stuff completely rather than allow itself to be fragranced by it in any way. It would be a question of niggardly eking out. I'm tempted by this, I have to say; although if I have any sense, I'll Google the process first to see if it results in blindness or insanity and what the odds of that might be.

Probability: Medium

6) Find some other, completely alternative, use for it - cleaning the front steps with it, using it as for anti-corrosion in the car cooling system, trying it as a wood preservative, textile dye, watercolourist's medium, anti-attack spray, slug trap, tasteless practical joke, room scent (with diffuser sticks), enema, facepaint, sink degreaser, hair dye, Dadaist commentary on the middle classes, communion wine, untraceable ink for ransom notes, hair tonic, late Soviet-era borscht, hair remover.

Probability: Low to zero

7) Observe, in a moment of more hopeful lucidity, that, whatever else it may have done, my homebrew has at least given me a full but futile agenda. And an agenda, of whatever sort, is something we all need, especially as we get older. Or am I being too cheerful about this?

Probability: Borderline hundred per cent

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