Where do I begin with this one ? Let’s start with the delicious process of making a mulled wine . Take a shiny deep bottomed brushed steel pan. Shake in a mound of snow-white fine castor sugar . Next ,scatter in broad sections of vibrant orange peel , shavings of yellow lemon rind along with much needed gratings of the almost neon green young lime. Devoid of their colourful coats ,these are then impaled to extract every last bit of their juice.The spices await their turn and soon follow suit. The most perfect curls of cinnamon are chosen before being snapped into two and then tossed in to join the citrus lot. Some cloves for pungency , a few quick scrapings off the top of a nutmeg , a bay leaf and we are all set to get the fire started. With the heat on low, all the sugar begins to melt and the other ingredients start to shift about. It’s now ,time for our star ingredient to make an entry. In goes a whole bottle of a full bodied Italian red wine . The joy of pouring it in and watching as it stains all the others in the pan is a moment of pure unbridled joy. Now the magic may begin ! The heady scents begin it’s delicious onslaught on the senses.
While there are many variations,I’m sticking to this traditional British recipe simply because it is just delicious ! Mulled wine is a hot beverage that is perfect for chilly evenings. In the UK it is essentially the taste of Christmas. The ingredients are similar as that which would go into a traditional plum cake. The wine when heated ensures that the flavours of the spices and fruit marry perfectly to create a yummy concoction.
There are varied points of view on just how much the wine has to be heated. As it gently begins to warm up , the sugars dissolve and a gentle constant stirring is needed. As deep red bubbles break the surface , the pretty star anise is added , left to infuse for a few minutes and the heat is turned off. A ladle of golden honey is another option to stir in at this stage.
Alternatively , it continues boiling and then the mixture is allowed a gentle five minute simmer before being taken off the fire. The reason behind these two methods are quite simple. It all just depends on how much alcohol content one wants in the resulting hot drink. Boiling as we know tends to evaporate the alcohol in the wine leaving behind just that deep aged grape flavor. A gentle bubbling on the other hand allows the lingering warmth of the alcohol to persist as it trickles down the throat.
In Germany,it is referred to as ‘Gluhwein’. My husband being a past resident of Germany says that this wine makes it’s appearance in the markets from the first week of December onwards. All the stalls set up for the festive season churn out their own secret spice versions of this warm drink. Mulled wine experts suggest using a fruity inexpensive red wine to heat up. This is because an expensive one needs to be enjoyed,alcohol and all ! However,I’m told that not all Gluhweins are made of red wine. Our friends in Bavaria say that the current favourite is one made of white wine. This did come as a surprise. White wine is usually associated with chilled fruit and warm evenings unlike the wintery red. I do plan to try the white wine infusion soon.
Every part of Europe serves a type of hot spiced wine during Christmas. There are even instances of using blueberry or cherry wine instead of just grape wine. Sometimes rum, brandy or whisky is added to make the alcohol more potent rather than mellow.I suppose that really has to do with how low the temperatures dip. Bits of ginger or sometimes even cardamom is added to vary the spice element. Port wine is sploshed in for those who like extra sweetness in their mulled wine.
The snacks that accompany this glass of hot liquid are usually that which are equally robust in flavor like ginger biscuits or a spice laden sugar loaf with candied fruit and nuts . The mulled wine idea came about whilst reading recipes inspired by Christmas.What tempted me to try it out was the idea of filling the kitchen and home with the warm welcoming aromas that remind one of winter holidays abroad. The chill of December and an unopened bottle of red wine in the rack seemed the perfect excuse to give the mulled wine a try . And the fact that people sat back and savoured every last sip of it, makes me so glad I did !