If you are lucky enough to travel to the snow this month or have memories of that first gorgeous, warming sip of Gluhwein or mulled wine when you step out of your skis, then why not make a pot of it yourself? It’s also a great way to start guests off before a Christmas in July dinner.
Mulled wine makes for a very effective internal warmer and is simple to recreate at home if you can’t travel or feel like creating an atmosphere of winter warmth.
Also known as spiced wine, or Gluhwein, it is usually made with red wine along with various mulling spices and citrus fruits.
Served hot or warm it is alcoholic, although there are non-alcoholic versions if you boil off the alcohol.
Because alcohol boils at around 75C and water at 100C, as soon as the pot of wine begins to boil, alcohol will be boiled off as steam. This is fine, if younger children are going to have a sip or two or if you are driving. If not, you are then at liberty to add a tot or two of brown spirits, such as rum or brandy to the final product.
It is a traditional drink during winter, especially around Christmas in the northern hemisphere. Gluhwein (roughly translated as “smouldering-wine”, from the temperature the wine is heated to) is popular in German-speaking countries and in the region of Alsace in France. It is a traditional beverage offered during the Christmas holidays.
Mulled wine has been around for centuries and while many of us associate it with Germany or northern Europe, it was in fact the Romans who heated their wine to get them through the arduous task of conquering the world. We forgive them, because they spread their knowledge of viticulture as they went. The “mulled” word could have derived from the fact that burning off some of the alcohol and adding spices softened the effects of the wine.
The basis of a good mulled wine is always a good quality red wine. Choose a medium-bodied one that is not high in tannins such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon or tempranillo. Full-bodied, smokey and leathery wines will taint the end product.
Take the time to create a sugar syrup first (method below) as this will release all the aromas from the spices and your kitchen will smell like a Christmas market.
1 (750ml) bottle red wine
1 orange – you will need the peel and juice
200g caster sugar
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
1 grated nutmeg
1 vanilla pod
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brandy or rum
1. Peel large sections of peel from the oranges, lemon and lime.
2. Put the sugar in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the pieces of peel and squeeze in the orange juice. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and about 10 to 12 gratings of nutmeg.
3. Halve the vanilla pod lengthways and add to the pan, then stir in just enough red wine to cover the sugar. Let this simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved into the red wine, then bring to the boil. Keep on a rolling boil for about five minutes, or until you’ve got a beautiful thick syrup. This creates a flavour base and gets the sugar and spice infused well into the wine. It’s important to make a syrup base first because it needs to be quite hot. If you did this bit with all the wine, you would burn off the alcohol. (see note above).
4. When your syrup is ready, turn the heat down to low and add star anise and the rest of the wine. Gently heat the wine and after around five minutes, when it’s warm and delicious, ladle it into heatproof glasses and serve. You can strain out the spices if you like or use a slotted ladle. Add a slice of citrus to the mug.
To serve: I always use mugs with handles and remind guests how hot the liquid is.
Food for thought
You can’t beat classic Germanic pairings like salty blue cheese pastries or pork schnitzel with lemon cream sauce, the fatty salty sweet and spice combination is pure heaven. Or try with apple pie or fruit cake.
If you are still able to entertain then a mug of mulled wine is delicious at an old-fashioned cheese fondue party. The combination of rich, delicious cheeses and white wine make for a brilliant shared dinner course to accompany the juicy fire of a strong mulled wine.