June 2017

Country Wines

On June 1 Rodney Reeve returned to give us an illuminating talk with tastings of country wine. Winemaking seems to be an ever-dwindling skill in our club - which is a shame as we are called "Tonbridge Winemakers". Please, everybody, don't let up on our hobby - even if you only make one batch per year it's got to be better than nothing. Anyway, Rodney presented many wines: all different and all very enjoyable. That, after all, is why we make this stuff. His first contribution was a ginger wine that came 2nd in the Sussex Federation. It was dry, with quite a "grip" and very pleasant! Personally, I would not have started with a wine of such powerful flavour: I thought it would have been better to finish with this one. Next came dry apple, made to a Norman Dunk recipe, but, as always with Rodney, well bolstered with grape juice! We were then treated to a dry elderberry. This, at 4 years old, was beginning to brown a bit - but remained highly drinkable. The fourth wine was listed as medium dry. It was a blackberry that won a first in the Sussex Federation. However, a number of the audience, including me, judged it more sweet than medium - but, what the heck - where's the exact boundary? Apple sweet was next. This was the earlier apple wine that had been sweetened. Number six was sweet elderflower. Unusually, this was made with elderflower cordial rather than fresh elderflowers. There! Just goes to show that wine making does not have to be strenuous! Our seventh tasting was a sweet carrot wine. This was excellent, well balanced and full bodied. Lastly, we finished with a true wine: this was made from a friend's grapes. Rodney hadn't managed to discover the variety, but these grapes made an exceedingly nice dry white wine. It would have benefitted from chilling, but was, nevertheless, extremely drinkable. Rodney left his recipes with us. If anybody would like further copies, please contact the committee. Well done Rodney! We were, as always, impressed and look forward to your return!

That's The Spirit!

Armagnac: whenever one thinks of brandy it is natural to assume we are thinking of Cognac. Armagnac is, in fact, the oldest brandy distilled in France. That it is much less well known than it's bigger brother is due more to the better marketing of the latter rather than to some innate superiority. Armagnac is produced in column stills rather than the pot stills of Cognac. It is distilled once rather than twice - resulting in a more fragrant and flavourful spirit. The resulting 52% alcoholic liquor is then aged in oak barrels which softens the taste and causes the development of more complex flavours as it slowly oxidises. This long aging allows the removal of some alcohol and water by evaporation - known as the "angels share". Since alcohol evaporates faster than water, this results in a 0.4% reduction in strength each year. When matured it is moved to large glass bottles for storage. Owing to its relatively low proof, it is generally not diluted with water. When Armagnacs of different ages are blended, the classification refers to the age of the youngest component: VS means two years in oak, VSOP refers to three years, while XO means six years. The very best Armagnacs are often sold as vintages - produced from Armagnac from a single year - the year is then printed on the label.  

And A Little Treat To Accompany It

Whilst there is little doubt that roasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate are a marriage made in heaven, the addition of a glass of Armagnac will have the ethereal beauty of the celestial chorus at your command. The mysterious loss of brandy from the cask is known as "the angel's share" - but make this and you'll have them hammering at your door!

Pastry: use a good sweet short crust. I have found that spelt flour makes an excellent pastry because it is strong and withstands the weakening effect of ground almonds and caster sugar with ease. Roll the pastry - not too thin - and use it to line a 10" tin. Prick the base with a fork and place a circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom. Fill with baking beans and bake at 190oC for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and paper and continue baking another 5 minutes or so until the pastry is golden. Cool on a rack. For the chocolate custard: 6½ oz of any 100% dark chocolate, (I used Venezuelan Black from Waitrose - this comes in two handy cakes. You're indulging yourself aren't you? Go on... Use them both!), ¾ pt milk, 1½ oz corn flour, 3 egg yolks, 3¾ oz caster sugar, 4oz coarsely crushed roasted hazelnuts. Melt the chocolate in a pan (carefully - you don't want it to separate) and add the milk gradually with stirring. Now add the Armagnac - be a devil and add as much as you want (within reason). Cool to room temperature.  Whisk the eggs, sugar and corn flour together and gradually incorporate the cooled chocolate milk. Add the hazelnuts and heat gently until the mixture thickens. When nice and thick - pour it into the flan case and spoon to the edge. Allow to cool overnight. For the topping: 5½ oz 70% dark chocolate, sprig of mint. Melt the chocolate and pour it over the cooled custard. Before it sets, add the sprig of mint. Now attend to the banging on the door - it's the angels!

That's One In The Eye For You Harold!

Strange expression that: "one in the eye" - everybody thinks it due to the rather unfortunate Harold Godwinson's encounter with an EU manufactured arrow... Nothing could be further from the truth. William the Conqueror (or William the Bastard - since his dad was unmarried) was incredibly fit and strong till his last days on Earth. No known portraits of William survive, but the one pictured here probably had official approval - showing, at least, William's characteristic strength and sturdiness. After a little unpleasantness at Pevensey, William gave himself up to the good things in life. Orgiastic consumption of good food and alcohol led to William becoming so enormously fat that his horse buckled under the strain of bearing him. However, William rather resented his new body shape and determined to do something about it... He announced that he would lay in bed, eat and drink no more (water), but would consume only alcohol until his weight returned to normal. It's not difficult to picture, under these circumstances, an occasion when the good king William, bringing the glass to his mouth, would miss and disgorge the contents into his eye! William's diet was truly revolutionary. But did it work? It is now accepted that consumption of red wine can prevent fat cells from forming - so, who knows? William's horse might have had an inkling. In 1087 he threw the monarch off: the deadly fall putting paid to the Conqueror's earthly delights! Maybe the horse was just another revolting Saxon!

French Trip (2017)

We are pleased to announce that the French trip will be taking place on Thursday 30 November. Wyn has booked the restaurant and coach. The shuttle will depart at 09.20 and return at 18.20 on Thursday 30 November. Cathy will provide more details soon - such as pick-up points , times and menu. We do not have a firm price yet, but it is expected to be in the region of £55 per person. Please let Cathy or Wyn know at the next meeting if you would like to go on this trip.

Next Month's Meeting (June)

This will be a talk on the Lascaux Caves by Dave Tester. Dave will be coming all the way from Shepton Mallet in Somerset - so please turn up and support him! The Lascaux Caves are home to some of the earliest known human art. These cave paintings, depicting the animals that prehistoric man used to hunt, are breathtakingly accurate and hauntingly beautiful. All the more so when one considers that they were done in near darkness! Dave also promises some walnut wine... Interesting!

North Tonbridge Horticultural Society

The results of the competition follow:

  • Dry white: 1st Madge Cooper; 2nd Madge Cooper; 3rd Cathy Rishman

  • Sweet white: 1st Tom Rix; 2nd Cathy Rishman; 3rd Duncan Oakley (TW)

  • Dry red: 1st Tom Rix; 2nd Tom Rix; 3rd Bob Dye

  • Sweet red: 1st Tom Rix; 2nd Bob Dye; 3rd Cathy Rishman

    Thanks to the judges: Bert Scott and Les Bates.

Competition Results


  • Dry white: 1st Tom Rix; 2nd Tom Rix; 3rd Bob Dye

  • Medium: 1st Les Maskrey; 2nd Tom Rix; 3rd Bob Dye

  • Sweet: 1st Cathy Rishman; 2nd Tom Rix; 3rd Les Maskrey

    Jock Franklin Competition for English Style Grape Wine

  • 1st Les Maskrey; 2nd Les Maskrey; 3rd Cathy Rishman

    Thanks to the judges: Wyn and Bob (WoE) and Dave Daykin (Jock Franklin Cup).

English Red?

No - it's not yet the time for Jeremy and John to lead the country. This particular reference belongs to English WINE. It has been long established that English sparkling wines are world beating and that the French have been forced to take a rear seat on this... Now we have English RED taking to the stage... What's happened? Is it the climate? Is it global warming? With all the hot air rising from our politicians recently, it's bound to have done the wine crop a world of good! I thank Bob for passing this cutting on to me (Mail -  May 18). A silver award went to Gusbourne Estate near Appledore for their Pinot Noir, and another was awarded to the Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex (also for Pinot Noir). English wines won 16 gold medals in the International Wine Challenge (IWC) - the IWC said "while England is known for its sparkling wines, English still wines had a strong year with six silver and twenty one bronze medals being awarded".

A Little Conundrum

If a bottle and its cork cost twelve pence, and the bottle costs eleven pence more than the cork... How much does the bottle cost?

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24.01 | 23:08

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54-bottle wine rack, wood and galvanised steel construction
5 clear-glass dimijohns
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29.10 | 12:37

I have a Beer Sphere with gas and a number of Demi-Johns which I no longer need. If anyone is interested please contact me on 01892 832684 (Paddock Wood)

21.09 | 16:11

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06.09 | 20:39

I have a black grape vine ( just turning black now) probably enough to fill a flexitub. I live in Blean Nr Canterbury if anyone is this way and would like them

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