Mulled Wine: 101

Posted November 14, 2016

Stacy Brody

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Mulled Wine

Around the world:

Time to get cozy. Put on your flannels and fuzzy socks. Slip into your slippers and light the fireplace. If you do, in fact, have a fireplace, invite people who don’t have fireplaces to your house.

This time of year, it’s great to open a big, bold red, something with vanilla notes and baking spice, with luscious, dark berries, maybe a hint of cocoa, and a mouth-filling palate-coating richness.

Mmmm….

Yeah, yeah. You know that already. What about something warmer? Something literally hot? Like mulled wine. In Sweden, it is called Glögg, and in Finland, Glögi. In Germany, it’s Glühwein and in France, vin chaud (literally, hot wine). In Hungary, it’s Forralt Bor. This is an international tradition dating back centuries, so there has been plenty of time for cultures around the world to perfect their recipes. If you get started now, you’ll have a few months to perfect your own secret recipe. (Please note, winter officially starts on the solstice on December 22.)

Whenever I make mulled wine in my apartment, it’s gone before I even get a glassful. Please note glassware may become your most significant problem: some wine glasses are NOT cut out for serving hot beverages. Wine Library is not responsible for any shattered glasses.
 

Start experimenting:

There’s plenty of ways to go with this. When I started mulling wine, and I don’t even remember when that was or how I got the idea or whose recipe I tried, I used wine and non-alcoholic apple cider, with a splash - sometimes more...ok, often more - of apple brandy. I added a combination of classic mulling spices based on my favorite pies. Think cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. I put it all in the crock pot and bam! an easy-to-make beverage that is quite impressive to guests. 

I am amazed by how many compliments I get for this simple beverage.

I credit the brandy.

And that’s only one rendition. My Danish friend tells me that, for Glögg, her family uses red wine with lemon peel, cardamom, cloves, raisins, slivered almonds, ginger, and then some kind of spirit, or even a fortified wine like Port.

It is my firm belief that adding a spirit (or Port) enhances mulled wine. Alcohol inevitably evaporates, so you have to fortify the wine somehow, especially when all you have to look forward to is a cozy night in front of your very own fireplace.

You fireplace owners are luckier than you realize.

There are plenty more variations on the theme of mulled wine. You can add different spices - peppercorns for that extra kick, star anise for a visually pleasing presentation. I’ve even seen some recipes call for bay leaves.

You can try different spirits. For instance, a good value bourbon to add that vanilla-baking spice-pie coziness. Try Gran Marnier to enhance any citrus you may include in your concoction.
 

Ok, so now what wine do I use?

No need for anything expensive. Don’t get me wrong, you need something good. While mulling wine with spices started off as a way to mask poorly made wine, that’s no longer the case. I can’t imagine any amount of spices and sweeteners could make a terrible wine better.

So, start with something that offers good value. Not too expensive, good fruit, clean, smooth, medium-bodied. You could try a soft California Merlot or a South African red blend

Everyone seems to use red wine for mulling, but why not white? Try a semi-sweet Riesling with honey and maybe citrus or sliced pear. A splash of St. Germain or rosewater to highlight any floral notes would be magical.
 

Take 1:

  • I mixed together 1/4c water with 1/2c dark brown sugar and spices. I used whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and star anise. My boyfriend insisted that I use more than what I started with, so, while I cannot offer specifics, I can say confidently that I used more than 12 cloves and 3 cinnamon sticks. Smell and taste as you go along. You’ll know. 

  • I heated this up over the stove to get a spiced syrup concoction. Then, once those flavors all came together, I added the wine. I let this all cook together. The longer the wine mulls, the more the flavors come together...and the more alcohol you lose. 

  • On serving, I allowed my guests to select a spirit of their choice for fortification. I chose apple brandy. A few friends chose bourbon. All had a different and delightful experience. I found the apple brandy added a fresh brightness while the bourbon made it a bit smoother. The importance of diversity.
     

Again, I recommend experimenting. This is not , by any stretch of the imagination, the end-all be-all recipe. Try honey instead of brown sugar. Add some dried fruits (which are even better if they have been soaked in Gran Marnier, as my Danish friends attests). Have fun.

By the time this winter thaws, you’ll have the perfect recipe for next winter!

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