The fire is gently crackling, the Christmas tree is glowing in the corner of the room, a classic holiday movie is on the television, and you’re curled up on the couch with a cozy blanket and a warm cup of mulled wine – the perfect scenario for a chilly December evening.
Mulled wine has been around for millennia, with the first written recipes for the drink dating back to Roman times. Poor winemaking and inadequate storage vessels caused wine to spoil quickly, so adding sugar and spices to the wine was a way to delay spoilage and to help make the wine taste better. Since the wine started to go bad around Christmastime, mulled wine became associated with this time of year.
Mulled wine was sealed as a Christmas tradition with its appearance in Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol”, and then later in the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when Clarence the Angel orders a mulled wine “heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves.”
Making Mulled Wine
“Mulled” means heated and spiced, and there are countless recipes on how to make it – much of it has to do with personal taste. Most recipes include red wine, cinnamon, cloves, citrus peel, and some kind of sweetener such as white sugar, brown sugar, or honey, as the wine can become a bit bitter when heated. Other spices commonly added are mace, nutmeg, ginger, juniper, black pepper, vanilla, and star anise. Sometimes the drink is fortified with a spirit, such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Brandy. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients and play with how much of each you prefer. Remember that it’s best to use a fairly inexpensive red wine as the heating process and the addition of the spices will change the wine’s flavour, so don’t waste your best bottle. A cheaper Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, or Syrah work well. When heating the mixture, be sure that you do not use too high a heat as boiling the liquid will only burn off the alcohol…and that’s no good.
Mulled Wine Recipe
1 750ml bottle of inexpensive red wine
3 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon of whole allspice
A few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg
12 whole cloves
1 small piece of orange peel (if you like you can add more citrus. I prefer it with a bit less.)
1/4 cup of honey
3 ounces of Grand Marnier
Mix all ingredients together in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer on low heat for at least half an hour – longer is better to extract the flavour from the ingredients. Serve in a cup or similar vessel with a cinnamon stick and, if you like, a star anise. Enjoy!