This weekend I decided to make a herb infused wine – a practice that is centuries old, allowing the imbiber all the benefits of a medicinal herbal tonic while getting intoxicated by booze. For this latest experiment I fancied giving a refreshing white wine the calm-inducing properties of lemon balm. This combination has some proper history behind it, with the original recipe being devised by Carmelite nuns back in the 14th century, hence it being given the rather sober name ‘Carmelite water’.
So first, I needed to decide on my choice of wine to use as the beverage’s base. Herb infusions not only lend new flavours to a decent bottle of wine, but they’re also handy at improving the quality of lesser vintages (of which we have a fair few). I’ve got a batch of pear wine, last opened two years ago, that didn’t taste quite up to scratch but would likely make the perfect foil for a balmy brew. But two years can do strange things to wine and after dusting down a bottle and sampling the contents I now realise it has matured into something wonderful. Further sampling, just to be sure, left me with half a bottle for the infusion.
The other flavours in Carmelite water can include angelica, nutmeg and lemon. I am currently devoid of angelica and don’t much fancy nutmeg so am going for a triple lemon hit: the herby lemon notes of lemon balm; the spicy lemon aroma of coriander seeds; and the, erm, lemony lemon flavour of an actual lemon. Let the infusing begin…
Our lemon balm infused wine recipe
Note: as I’m using half a bottle of wine you’ll have to double the quantities if you want to use a full bottle.
Take around a dozen lemon balm leaves, rip and scrunch them up a bit, before putting them into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. To this add a teaspoon of coriander seeds, lightly cracked, and two strips of peel from a lemon. Pour in half a bottle of white wine, seal the lid and give the jar a vigorous shake before setting aside somewhere cool for around 12 hours.
Strain the wine into a clean bottle and cool in the fridge, making sure you drink it within a few days. You can serve this on its own or give it a fruity edge with a few slices of strawberry or apple. Either way it’s a remarkably fine drink, with calming swirls of herbs and refreshing lemon flavours providing the perfect tonic for a weary gardener. I’m sure the nuns would be proud.