Taking time to indulge in May wine

It's May, which always reminds me of Judy and Dan Witmer, who have made May wine every May for the past 20 years of their 40-year Island residency.

``I got my recipe from James Crosby's gift shop,'' said Judy. (Old-time residents will remember James Crosby's, an Island landmark for many years until a bank bought the property and razed the shop.)

``Jim used to sell the woodruff with the recipe attached,'' remembered Judy, ``but now I use woodruff from my garden. It is a ground cover which grows in the shade.''

Jim Crosby's May wine recipe

Two bottles of Rhine wine or any semisweet white wine.

Make a simple syrup of a half cup sugar and a half cup water, boiled to dissolve sugar.

Combine one bottle of wine with half the syrup and add one teaspoon of woodruff. Leave overnight. Strain out the woodruff. Add the other bottle of wine and the rest of the syrup. Chill. Serve with strawberries.

I checked many recipe sites and cookbooks. Jim's recipe is classic in that most May wine recipes mirror it. Some recipes recommend drying the woodruff for more flavor. And one warned against leaving the woodruff for more than 15 minutes because it is a blood thinner.

May Wine is served on May Day, which is May 1, but can continue to be offered throughout the summer. In Germany, May wine is the quintessential summer drink. It is usually flavored with woodruff, perhaps because it improves the taste of thin, new wine. May wine also is the name for any wine drink flavored with herbs, fruits, berries and occasionally flowers.

May punch

A variation on May wine is May punch. Champagne or carbonated water and brandy are added to the May wine. Thinly sliced oranges, sticks of pineapple and, most appropriately, sprigs of woodruff, may be used to garnish. Edible flowers like pansies or violets are often added in Germany.

The Taste of Washington 2005 update

Well, we put up our feet and took several naps on Monday, April 11 -- the day after a full weekend at the Taste of Washington 2005. It was indulgent to sniff and swirl our state's wonderful wines for three days.

The headquarters this year was Bell Harbor International Conference Center on the Seattle waterfront. This site allowed easier movement among the seminar rooms. And the weather cooperated. It was gorgeously sunny, and those hapless souls who couldn't get into the keynote luncheon ordered takeout from the nearby restaurants and delis and basked in the sunshine with the accompaniment of seagulls and ferry horns.

The theme for this year's event was Washington: The Perfect Climate for Wine. My first seminar was with Andy Perdue, editor of Wine Press Northwest and author of the ``Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook.'' This workshop discussed the pending appellations (federally approved regions for wine growing) for Washington State, namely Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Hills and Wahluke Slope. This subject dovetailed well with the event's theme as we discussed rainfall, winds, soil and temperatures in the proposed appellations. Many of the seminar topics will be featured in future wine columns.

Paul Gregutt, writer for The Seattle Times and The Wine Enthusiast, held two seminars on micro boutiques. Feeling that his job requires him to know all the wineries, he asked the Washington Wine Commission to send him samples of wine from the new tiny wineries. After tasting them blind and then visiting each winery, he introduced them at the two seminars. I think we all know how he feels when we look at lists of Washington wineries and say: ``Gee, I've never heard of that one!'' Kudos to Gregutt for helping us know at least 10 more.

I also attended ``Glass to the Max'' presented by Riedel Crystal of America. It was led by Maximilian (Max) Riedel, the grandson of Claus Riedel -- the originator of glassware designed to complement specific wines. Riedel is from Austria and once had 30,000 employees making all sorts of glass. Now the company focuses on wine glasses. Each varietal has a glass shape which enhances the wine's bouquet and also the flow of wine from the glass. We compared the same wines from ordinary glasses and from Riedel glasses. The special shape for each wine truly works. Riedel also explained why he invented the stemless Riedel. He lives in a small apartment in New Jersey. To make room for glasses, he eliminated the stem so he could stack them. The glass on the bottom is inverted; the glass on top is right side up.

Other seminar choices were ``The World of Wine, Chocolate and Coffee,'' ``Everyday Dining with Wine,'' ``Hurrah for Syrah,'' ``Wine and Cheese Pairing,'' ``This is No Ordinary Chardonnay'' (a discussion of vineyard sites, yeasts and barrels), ``Wine Savvy, and Washington Terroir (Climate) Defined.''

Probably the most popular seminar was ``Wine Advocate Picks'' with Pierre Rovani, who writes for the publication. We had met him on Friday at a seminar for the trade and media. He filled in for Jed Steele, legendary California winemaker, whose flight was canceled. Chatting with Rovani after his seminar, we enjoyed his comments and personality and then tried to switch seminars to attend his on Saturday, but it was full.

The Taste of Washington originally was a one-day wine and food event held in the Paramount Theatre. With 40 wineries and an equal number of restaurants, it outgrew that venue after four years and moved to the Seahawk Stadium in 2002. This year 170 wineries and 100 restaurants participated.

Last year the Washington Wine Commission added two more days. The new days are Friday and Saturday. Friday is the gala evening. A silent auction paired magnums of wine with gift certificates to restaurants. Wine was everywhere. Tables were labeled with ``Tried and True'' -- the varietals which we all know: chardonnay, merlot, etc. ``New and upcoming'' -- viognier, pinot gris -- denoted those wines relatively new to the market.

Saturday morning was breakfast with the main guests. Labeled Education Day, there were two morning seminars and two afternoon seminars. After the final seminar, participants convened again for ``Tasting with the Masters,'' a comparative international tasting of nine wines with three master sommeliers: Larry Stone, Andrea Immer and Evan Goldstein. It was fascinating to listen to experts define and describe the exact wines you are tasting: a great learning experience!

Sunday's session was sold out weeks ahead. Again I marvel at the hard work and constant tweaking by the Washington Wine Commission. Intensive coordination was needed to synchronize each restaurant's offering to each winery's pourings. The varietals also were on tables. For instance chardonnay was on one table, merlot on another. A huge flavor wheel was on the wall to educate. The seafood bar was spilling over with oysters and shrimp; the dessert area was overflowing with sumptuous treats. This event was suitable for the enophile and novice alike -- entertainment and education abounded.

The three-day event was a huge undertaking and so successful. Without the large work force of volunteers, this event simply could not happen. The amount of work done and the coordination it took to put together this event is awe-inspiring. The emphasis placed on education is wonderful. Again kudos to the Washington Wine Commission for a job well-done. Proceeds benefit FareStart, the Washington Wine Education Foundation, and local culinary arts programs' scholarships.

To further emphasize the uniqueness of this event, Stacie Jacobs, who was the communication director for the Washington Wine Commission, was hired by Paso Robles wineries to coordinate a similar event for them. People from Paso Robles attended to get ideas for their area.

Buy tickets early

To avoid the rush and possible disappointment for next year's event, mark your calendar for December when the tickets go on sale. Also mark your calendar for August 11-13 for the Auction of Washington Wines on the beautiful grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville.

Dee Hitch can be reached at

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