Wine Ink: Mulled wine fits the season
November 14, 2018
So it is a bitter cold late fall day in the Rockies and I must admit that I feel like something warm to heat up, not just my fingers and toes, but my soul as well. A regular glass of red wine simply won't solve my dilemma so my thoughts have turned to … mulled wine.
"WHAT?" you ask. "Warm wine? This, from a guy who consistently talks about wine being served at just the right temperature? A guy who will send back a bottle in a restaurant if it is deemed too warm for consumption?"
Hear me out, wine is an of-the-moment experience. And every once in a while, say Christmas in London, a cold winter's day when the wind is whipping across the Alsace or even a raw day in the Rockies, a warm or cooked wine with several spices is just what the doctor ordered. Though I doubt many self-respecting Bordeaux-collecting doctors have ever ordered mulled wine. It's just not in keeping with their one-percenter profiles.
Long ago I spent a Christmas in the Cotswolds. It was almost like a fairy tale with thatched-roof houses and impossibly beautiful bogs and hillsides outside the quaint towns. But it was colder than a witch's bosom. A deep, damp, chill-you-to-the-bones cold.
Anyway, each afternoon before the sun went down, the owner of the B&B where we stayed — that would likely be an Airbnb these days — would put out a plate of traditional cookies and a steaming pot of mulled wine. In the oh-so-perfect saucers and cups there was a pair of cinnamon sticks. When the wine was poured over the sticks the whole room smelled like cinnamon. It was just so … Christmas-y.
Obviously I am not the only one who feels this way. If one goes online and searches the internet for "mulled wine recipes," over 6 million Google sites suddenly appear. Only 4 million show up if one searches gewürztraminer. To be fair, the number is over 32 million for chardonnay, but you get the point. People like mulled wine.
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The majority of the recipes are pretty much the same, though in this day and age many people often use slow cookers to make their mulled wines. The basics are a full bottle of red wine, an orange, a half-dozen or more cloves, and cinnamon sticks. You'll also likely need some kind of sweetener like honey or maple syrup, maybe a pod or two of cardamom, a bit of brandy for fortification and star anise for decoration. Have you got all of that in the pantry?
As this is a wine column the first thing you'll likely ask is, "What kind of wine?" The answer? A cheap one. That's right, the nuances of anything expensive will be lost once you put all that stuff in it. You're really just looking for the flavor of a big wholesome red wine "mulled" with the flavors of the other ingredients. An $8 bottle of cabernet or South American malbec will do just fine for your mulled wine.
So, how do you make mulled magic? It's actually insanely easy once you have the stuff. Ready? OK, open the bottle of wine and pour it into a pot. Slice an orange in rounds. Put all the stuff you want into the pot — some oranges, cinnamon sticks, a couple of tablespoons of honey, a quarter cup of brandy, then turn the stove top to medium-high and let it heat until it just starts to simmer.
Then turn the temperature on the stovetop back to simmer and let it sit for anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours. You can stir it a couple of times if you like, but the only real way to botch this up is to let it boil. Do not let your mulled wine boil. All that will do is burn off the alcohol and leave it a little limp.
Drop a couple of the orange rounds, a couple of the star anise and a cinnamon stick into a cup or mug for garnish and pour in the mulled wine. It will be hot and tasty, but most of all it will warm your bones and put the aromas of spice in your nostrils.
It may not be the way a wine connoisseur normally consumes their juice, but there is something special about this way of consuming a bottle of wine that is just so … Christmas-y.
Even on a cold November day in the Rockies.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at email@example.com.