Veni, Vidi, Vino

Mull it over

A festive take on standard wine

Winter has firmly established itself in our fair city and the holiday season is just around the corner. You’ve likely  broken out the mittens and holiday sweaters, so it’s high time to switch to winter-appropriate drinks—and mulled wine is a classic way to warm up on a snowy night.

Mulled wine is the winter version of summer’s sangria: a wine-based beverage made by heating red wine with a mixture of spices. Mulled wine tastes like Christmas in a cup, and it’s also a great way to transform cheaper wine (or wine that’s been open a tad too long) into something more palatable.

If you have European relatives you may already be familiar with mulled wine, as it is much more popular overseas than it is in North America. It goes by several different names depending on which country you’re in: glühwein (Germany), glögg (Nordic countries) and vin chaud (France) all refer to mulled wine. Mulled wine dates back to the Roman Empire: the Romans were fond of drinking hippocras, a spiced and sweetened wine that was served both cold and hot. By the Middle Ages hippocras was popular throughout Europe and prized for its purported medicinal properties.

Mulled wine can be made with any number of spices, but some of the most common include cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, vanilla pods, star anise, ginger, orange and lemon. Plain white sugar can be used to sweeten it, but you can also substitute brown sugar, honey or molasses. Some recipes also include raisins and nuts. While premixed flavour packages are available for sale (especially around Christmas) in various home and gift stores, it’s very easy (and cheap) to whip up a batch on your own—and then you can adjust the ingredients to suit your personal preferences.

Hearty, full-bodied red wines are the best choice for making mulled wine, as lighter-bodied varieties don’t handle the heating process well. Traditionally the British use Bordeaux (also called claret) to make mulled wine, as well as port (which doesn’t need to be sweetened nearly as much, if at all, as a red table wine). However, any full-bodied red wine will make good mulled wine: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are all good choices.

Mulled wine can be made using a couple of different methods, depending on whether you’re using whole spices (like cinnamon sticks and cloves) or powdered spices. If your spices are all powdered, you simply need to heat the red wine in a saucepan over medium-low heat—you never want to boil the wine, so pay attention—and add your spices and sweetener of choice, then let it all simmer for a good half hour. When  using whole spices, it helps to boil them in water or juice first to extract their flavour. To do this, add your spices to about half a cup of water or orange juice and bring to a slow boil for about five minutes. Remove from heat, add the red wine and then heat it again over low heat for about half an hour. Strain through fine cheesecloth and serve piping hot. V

Mulled wine recipe

1 bottle red wine

½ cup orange juice

½ cup brown sugar

1 cinnamon stick (plus more for garnish)

1 star anise

5 cloves

1 tsp grated fresh nutmeg

Pinch of powdered ginger

Peel of one lemon

Orange slices, for garnish

 

Place all ingredients except the wine in a saucepan and place on

medium heat.

Add just enough red wine to cover everything.

Bring to a slow boil for five minutes.

Add the rest of the wine and warm on low heat for 30 minutes.

Strain through fine cheesecloth, garnish with the orange slices and

cinnamon sticks and serve.

 
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