Monday, May 7, 2012

May Wine

NOTE: This post was originally posted in 2011.  It's such a great recipe and so timely for the season that we're giving it a bump.

For a number of years, Lexi and I have made our own variation on May wine as a way of heralding the arrival of spring. Traditionally associated with Beltane or Mayday, it's a light, white wine infused with the fresh flavor of sweet woodruff.

Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff
Sweet woodruff is a perennial ground cover with bright green leaves. It grows well in shady, moist soil, and will take over your garden if not kept in check. Every year, sometime around the end of April, it puts out little stalks with lovely, sweet-scented white flowers, which stay in blossom through May. The plant smells like fresh cut grass, due to the presence of coumarin (the same stuff that gives vanilla and lavender their own fresh smell).

Both Lexi and I have quite a bit of sweet woodruff growing in our respective gardens. This year, my plants had the fortune of blooming first, so I brought a few sprigs down to the beach house to mix up a bottle of May wine.

May wine
A few flowering sprays of sweet woodruff (more flower than leaf, though a few leaves are OK)
A bottle or two of dry White wine (rhines or dry rieslings work well)
Honey (optional)

Don't wash the flowers, even if they have aphids on them. Use flowers that haven't been sprayed with pesticides or grown too close to a highway since you won't be washing them. The pollen is much of what gives this drink its flavor so you don't want to wash it off. Filter the wine through cheesecloth before decanting to get rid of any unwanted detreius or bugs.

Mix 1/2 cup of honey into each bottle of wine at room temperature. (I usually drink a half glass of the wine, both for quality control and to make enough room to add the honey and mix right in the bottle.) Add 4 or 5 sprigs of woodruff flowers to each bottle. Cap or recork and refrigerate overnight. Serve in a smallish glass, 1 or 2 oz. Best served the next day, but will keep in the fridge for 4 or 5 days.

WARNING: Sweet woodruff may be toxic at high doses due to the coumarin. As with any recipe or food mentioned in this blog, CONSUME AT YOUR OWN RISK. When in doubt, throw it out.

Do not let the plants sit in the wine for more than 12 hours; be sure to filter and decant within 12 hours to prevent the coumarin level from getting too high.

A light, flowery drink that goes well with light, flowery snacks: seasonal fruits, small cakes, creamy, herby cheeses, and spring salads.