I was wondering if Europe had a history of making wines from herbs as we do have a tradition of making wines from flowers (I've just made a batch of Elderflower Wine). Asia has a long history of herbal beverages and Nick came across some archaeological research which suggests that the ancient Egyptians infused wine with herbal medicines as early as 3150 BCE. The data revealed the presence of tree resin and a number of possible herbs in the wine residue, including savory, balm, senna, coriander, mint, sage, and thyme.
The Egyptians were not the first to make wine, but they were the first to record the process of wine making and celebrate its values. The Ancient Egyptians recorded the harvest of grapes on stone tablets and the walls of their tombs. The Egyptians also had designated areas for growing their vines, much like Bordeaux has today.
I suppose that the nearest European equivalent to these ancient wines would be the aromatised wine Vermouth such as Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi and Cinzano (for more information on see Nick's Blog on Fortified Wines, Ancient Egypt and Vermouth).
I have spotted that a Slovakian spirits company named Karloff has recently launched what it claims are the world's first wine-based saffron drinks. Saffroni Aperitivo and Saffroni Vermouth are made from white wine, natural herb extracts and saffron, renowned as the most expensive spice in the world. The producers recommend that you try it in a cocktail called Safrito:
6cl of Saffroni Aperitivo
2 cl of Saffron Gin
2 cl of apple or orange juice
Serve with an olive and decorate with a slice of orange
France's leading micro-distiller Gabriel Boudier of Dijon (founded in 1874) makes Saffron Gin from a recipe that they rediscovered in their archives. The gin is made from saffron and an intriguing mix of juniper, coriander, lemon, orange peel, angelica seeds, iris and fennel.
Sub Rosa make an Saffron Vodka as well as an unusual Tarragon Vodka. Sub Rosa Spirits is an Oregon craft micro distillery and their Tarragon Vodka has the slightest hint of liquorice that occurs naturally in tarragon. They suggest a Martini with a lemon peel or a touch of Limoncello is the first cocktail you should try with their Tarragon Vodka.
The Saffron Vodka is intense and complex and has toasted cumin on the nose, lemony coriander on the mid-palate, a hint of ginger, just a touch of heat and the aromatics of saffron at the end. Sub Rosa Spirits are available in Oregon, California,Washington State, Colorado, New Mexico and Washington D.C.
If anyone knows of other wines or spirits based on herbs and spices please let me know! If these are not to you taste then wines I can recommend that have a herby or fresh cut hay taste to them are those with Sauvignon Blanc in the blend (try Chateau Sainte Marie – this wine pairs well with summer salads of rocket, balsamic vinegar and laced with nuts or for a red wine try Chateau Millet Lartigue with its notes of cedar and dried herbs). For a peppery and spicy touch I'd suggest Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends such as Chateau du Touginas or Chateau Loyasson.