Winter has officially begun. With winter come winter drinks, and what better way to combat winter’s chill than with a beautiful, hot cup of mulled wine?
Started by the Romans, mulled wine remains a tradition throughout Europe, and has made its way across the world. I live in Germany, and Germany is as crazy about its Glühwein as English-speakers are about mulled wine. In fact, for many people, the pursuit of a hot mug of spiced wine (red or white) is the primary reason for visiting the ubiquitous Christmas markets that spring up all around Germany, Austria and Switzerland starting in the week preceding the first Advent.
The stuff you get at the Christmas markets is often pretty bad, however – which is one of the reasons lots of people like to add a shot of spirits to it. I mean, if getting drunk quickly is your goal, a spicy concoction of wine spiked with rum is a pretty easy way to get there relatively painlessly. Painless, that is, until the next morning. That Christmas market mulled wine often has more sugar than soft drinks do.
Better than the Christmas Market
There is a far better alternative: mulled wine is cheap and incredibly easy to make yourself. Making it at home not only saves you money, it will almost certainly also be better than both the Christmas market plonk or the pre-made stuff you can buy. And it’s fun to make it at home!
For one bottle of wine, plan on using:
2 sticks of cinnamon
2 wheels of star anise
½ teaspoon of powdered cardamom or 3 to 4 cardamom pods
1 sliced orange or 1 sliced lemon or any combination of the same
2-3 tablespoons honey
Put all of the ingredients into a pot. Cover and put on low heat. Simmer for one hour. Let steep for another hour. Reheat, strain and serve. DO NOT ALLOW THE WINE TO BOIL.
The wine can be kept for later and reheated whenever you want it. Not allowing it to boil is important to try to prevent “cooked” flavours and to maintain more of the wine’s alcohol – some of which will evaporate in any case, but it is nice not to lose too much.
Obviously, this is the most important part of the deal. Like when you are using a wine for cooking, you should pick a wine that you would also be happy to drink as-is. There are some useful considerations, however:
- Pick a dry wine; you don’t need the extra sugar
- Some alcohol will evaporate, so pick a wine with 14% abv or more to maintain a reasonable level of alcohol in the mulled wine
- Fruit flavours are good, so pick a young wine from a warmer region or country. The south of France. Spain. Central to southern Italy. You get the idea.
- Wood flavours are less good, so pick a wine that has not been aged in new wood barrels – the flavours of oak are not great for mulled wine
- It doesn’t need to be expensive – in fact, it shouldn’t be, because you would be paying for nuances that you will not notice in the mulled wine.
- Avoid high-acid wines and grapes (like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese), since there will be plenty of acid from the citrus fruit
If you observe these points, you soon will realise that the best-value base wine for making mulled wine is a relatively inexpensive (€5-8 in Germany) southern European wine vinified in steel or cement. Personally, I tend to choose Spanish Garnacha for my mulled wine. But I find that Rhône varietals (Grenache/Garnacha, Mourvèdre/Monastrell, Syrah) tend to work very well no matter where they are from. Whatever you choose, enjoy it!