As the cold of winter sets in, I want for warmth and for companionship. It’s this time of year that we bring friends to our kitchen table a little more often, sharing with them sweet things from the kitchen: homemade cookies, sugarplums, turron de navidad, gingerbread men and we wash it down with sweet and spicy mulled wine for the grown ups and warm milk spiked with molasses and nutmeg for the little ones. (You can see more of my favorite holiday treats here.)
It’s these treats, these little traditions that bring us home in the holidays – allowing us to celebrate tradition, warmth, and friendship with one another during the darkest and coldest days of the year. I grew up in my mother’s kitchen, and during the holidays – Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and New Year, she always kept a heady brew of wine, cider and sweet spices warming on the backburner of the stove. The sweet, spiced wine, always a complex but light red, released its aroma of fragrant cinnamon and clove into our home – a welcoming perfume that greeted guests as they entered our home. I continue the tradition in my home every holiday season.
Making Mulled Wine: A Sweet and Heady Tradition
There exists a long tradition of warming wine and fortifying it with fragrant, sweet spices, particularly during winter months, and as ancient Romans conquered much of Europe, they brought with them the traditions of viticulture. Throughout western Europe, you find variations on mulled wine: glogg in Nordic nations often features bitter orange, cardamom and vodka; vin chaud in France features lemon; Hungarian forralt combines wine with spices and amaretto, while Moldovan izvar combines wine with honey and black pepper.
For my part, I make a mulled wine that appeals to me – more complex, sweeter and stronger than the one I grew up with. I start first with an inexpensive, but simple and delicious pinot noir. Mulled wine is traditionally made with claret, but I favor pinot noir for its vivacious flavors, and its bright notes of cherry. From there, I pour in honey, brandy and sweet apple cider and toss in a satchel of sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and cloves. I let it warm over low heat for an hour or two before its ready, taking care not to simmer or boil the mulled wine lest I cook out both the flavor and alcohol. When the guests begin to arrive, I ladle the mulled wine into mugs, and serve it with a slice of fresh orange.
- 8 cardamom pods
- 8 black peppercorns
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 small nutmeg pod
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bottle red wine
- 6 cups sweet apple cider
- 1 cup brandy
- 1 cup honey or whole, unrefined cane sugar
- 2 oranges
- Cut a square of cheesecloth about 12 inches square. Arrange the spices in the center of the of the square, and tie it into a bundle with 100% cotton cooking twine. Place it in a nonreactive stock pot. Pour the wine, cider and brandy into the pot, and stir in the honey or sugar. Slice one orange in rounds, and drop it into the pot. Toss in the bay leaves.
- Warm over low heat at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to come together, taking care not to allow the wine to boil lest you cook out the alcohol. Slice the remaining orange into thing wedges. Ladle the mulled wine into mugs, slip a slice of orange into the mug, and serve warm.