Freebies in life are rare, but the notion of free wine isn’t one many people would consider – because it just sounds too good to be true.
It’s possible, however, to turn this notion into a reality, because making your own ‘country wines’ is not only incredibly easy, but as close to getting a free drink as you choose to make it.
It may surprise you to know, for example, that you can make wine that in taste resembles a light, crisp Chardonnay and appearance a rose from that super-sour fruit usually reserved for crumbles; that is, rhubarb, believe it or not!
So if you thought all good wine came from grapes – think again.
Following the Seasons
As we move into autumn blackberries are filling the hedgerows and windfall apples are beginning to settle at the bottom of apple trees – and you can make fabulous wines from both. Earlier in the season there were elderberries – and before these, the elderflowers, of course – from which some people swear you can brew the most incredible elderflower Champagne. At the height of summer, goldenrod was to be found in our meadows – and for just a bit of foraging and collecting, you can get all of these prime ingredients for free.
Some people even make wine from surplus vegetables in their garden – parsnip wine, for example, is delicious.
And beyond your main ingredients, all you need is water, sugar, wine yeast, yeast nutrient, a large fermentation bin, a demijohn, airlock with rubber stopper, a siphon hose, some empty wine bottles – and you’re away!
Let’s Get Brewing
Officially you’ll be told you need all sorts of extra ingredients like white grape juice concentrate – but honestly, water is fine. it’s possible to keep your home brewing simple and experimental. If you like a tannin taste to your wine, add a cup of strong tea to your water mix. If you like a bit of spice, add some ginger or all-spice to the mix. Try adding a squeezed lemon or using a dark, muscovado sugar rather than white – just to see how it impacts on the flavours.
Above all, the object of the exercise is to have fun – and to be rewarded with a free tipple for your efforts.
What you create will be totally unique and you can be proud knowing there’s nothing like it in the supermarkets.
Simplicity in a Glass
You can find many recipes online but just to give you an idea of how simple it is to make rhubarb wine, the method is effortless.
You just chop up 1.5kg (3.5 lb) of rhubarb and pop it into your sterilised fermentation bin with 1.3kg (just under 3 lb) of sugar – stir, lid it, and leave it for three days.
When you return you’ll find a rich syrup has developed which needs to be separated from the fruit once you've taken a potato masher to it to extract more flavour. You can use muslin for draining the syrup – or a clean towel – into another clean bucket.
Next you add 4.5 litres of cold, boiled water, yeast, yeast nutrient, any little experimental extras you fancy, stir and lid it, and again, forget about it for an entire week.
Then comes the exciting bit! Using your siphon hose, transfer the liquid into a sterilised demijohn, fit the rubber bung and airlock (created by pouring boiled water into it), and wait for the first fermentation bubbles to begin. The thrill of seeing this for first-timers will be immense!
After this it’s a waiting game, but minimum effort. You’ll see sediment at the bottom of the demijohn forming – called the lees – and after about a month it’s as well to re-siphon your brew into another sterilised demijohn, ensuring the lees are discarded.
You’ll notice your wine clearing in colour and the fermentation bubbles in the airlock slowing down – and a few weeks later, when the bubbles have stopped entirely, and you’re happy with the clarity of the wine, it’s time to bottle up into sterilised bottles. Remember – the longer you wait, the more clear your wine becomes.
You can buy bottles new, or just save the ones you use through your normal wine consumption and recycle these. You’ll also need corks and a corker to complete the process – and of course, a wine rack to store them in.
Not only will you get roughly five 750ml bottles of wine out of your demijohn, but the delightful satisfaction of knowing that for minimum effort and expense you’ve got yourself a freebie tipple.
What’s not to like?!
For more in the way of experimental brewing, where wine was made by fermenting honey, read about how mead has developed over the centuries here.