What is May Wine?

Sara Schmidt

A traditional drink enjoyed during the springtime festival May Day, May wine comes from Germany. Also known as Maiwein, it is a still white wine flavored with sweet woodruff, or waldmeister, which is also from Germany. Sparkling wine, brandy, sugar, and other ingredients can be added to the sweet beverage, which has been compared to sangria.

May wine is usually served with a garnish of fruit.
May wine is usually served with a garnish of fruit.

Young, light Riesling wines are typically used to create May wine. Other light German wines, such as Moselle, may be used as well. The lightness and sweetness of the wine are meant to celebrate and welcome spring. Drinking Maiwein was often done in conjunction with maypole dance celebrations that served to symbolize the youth and fertility of the season.

Soda water, which is sometimes used to make may wine.
Soda water, which is sometimes used to make may wine.

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Like sangria, May wine is usually accompanied by some sort of fruit garnish. Strawberries, pineapple, oranges, and sprigs of the woodruff are commonly used. Also referred to as a type of alcoholic punch or wine cocktail, the beverage may feature soda water, champagne, sugar, or other tasty supplements for an added sweetness and bubbly experience.

Other names for the German beverage include Waldmeisterbowle, Maibowle, and Maitrank. Maiwein can be purchased in stores, as well as in restaurants across Europe, particularly during the springtime. If store bought, the wine is usually very sweet; some Maiwein drinkers find it to be too sweet. It can also be made at home by simply flavoring a tasty white wine with the woodruff herb.

When making May wine at home it is important to remember that waldmeister, a creeping herb with small white flowers, is poisonous in large amounts. Only .04 ounces (three grams) of woodruff, or less, should be used per liter (quart) of wine. If the herb's leaves are stiff, they should not be used; only tender Woodruff leaves are appropriate for making May wine. The leaves should be well cut up before steeping in the wine.

While woodruff can be difficult to find in the Western hemisphere, it is normally readily available throughout Europe. It can be bought through some specialty food or herb shops, as well as online. If purchased fresh, it is usually sold as a perennial.

To create the wine, simply steep 12 sprigs of the woodruff in an entire bottle of light, dry white wine for up to 30 minutes. Sugar or powdered sugar may be added if desired. Remove from heat and pour into a punch bowl over a block of ice. Add another two to three bottles of wine, as well as any garnishes, champagne, or other additives preferred.

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