Mulling over wine?
Does October find you mulling about where the year has gone? You’re not alone! So let’s heat up some of our favorite red wine, add in spices and herbs, and mull all the ways to celebrate the changing of the seasons and the gatherings of friends and family that are on the horizon.
Whether it’s a hot toddy, spiced cider or mulled wine, a heated beverage takes the chill off the day and warms your heart. Aromas of hickory, clove, cedar, mushroom, fallen leaves, pepper and rich earth all come to mind when we’re thinking of the harvest season. These aromas may remind us of the holiday gatherings of our youth or perhaps your travels to Europe, where mulled spice wine is served and enjoyed in a variety of ways.
Mulled spiced wines and ciders are signature holiday beverages that have become tradition in many families. Ciders, usually apple ciders, are a terrific and savory base for mulled spiced cider, and they are especially flexible when a non-alcoholic option is preferred. You’ll want to check the nutrition labels to verify that it’s non-alcoholic, since some ciders contain alcohol above four percent.
It’s said that the ancient Romans spread their love of mulled wine throughout the lands they traveled. Often, when an ailment or sickness could not be easily diagnosed or treated, hot mulled wine would be the antidote, and it provided an easily digested method for disguising bad-tasting medicinal herbs. Of course, adding spices and local herbs and flowers to the brew made mulled wine more palatable to enjoy any time. Over the centuries, mulled wines have absorbed a variety of ingredients unique to specific origins in the nations of Ireland, Germany, France and Turkey, to name only a few. Today, you can purchase pre-made mulled wine spices that are ready to pour into a pot of your favorite day-old wine, or you can create a recipe of your own for your family to enjoy.
Traditionally I’ve made my mulled wine from wines that are hearty and full of flavor such as syrah and zinfandel. Both varietals carry characteristics that are synonymous with the fall harvest, filled with flavor profiles reflective of the earthy vineyards from which they were harvested. A bit bolder in flavor and body, these wines will hold up for mulled wine especially if your guests are not sweet wine drinkers. Merlot is a popular wine to use because the naturally lighter body and fruit-forward sweetness most easily lends itself to adding brandy, port and other ingredients such as dates, raisins or currants.
To craft your mulled wine, using a 40-ounce pot on the stove works well; you can cover it to keep it warm or carefully serve from the stove with a ladle. Transferring the mulled wine to a crock pot will keep it warm during gatherings or allow you to prep the mixture for slow heating on a cool fall day. Imagine returning home after a day of family activities to the fragrant aroma of spiced wine waiting for you to enjoy in your favorite mug.
Hostess gifts or co-worker gifts could contain your favorite mulled wine recipe on a parchment paper note card along with an inexpensive bottle of wine. Assembling a dozen of these at one time, setting them aside for the busy holidays, can be a great time saver! HLM
Melissa’s Mulled Spiced Wine
This recipe, adapted from an old Julia Child book, has been used in my family for years, most recently by my grandmother, who is nearing 100 years old. Maybe this is her secret!
1 large navel orange or blood orange
2 cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
3 teaspoons allspice
6 whole black peppercorns or mixed peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 25-ounce bottle fruit-forward red wine
½ cup raw sugar
Finely zest the orange peel, saving shavings in a separate bowl. Juice the remainder of the orange into another bowl. Gently press the cardamom and place in a 40-ounce pot and heat to medium. When you can smell the cardamom, it’s time to add the zest, juice, cloves, allspice, peppercorns and sugar together, making a paste. Add brandy and bring to low simmer. Add wine and cinnamon stick and cook on low for about 25 to 35 minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Using a cheesecloth or sieve, pour the wine mixture into a heat-safe container such as a thermos or an insulated carafe. Prep thick glasses, such as Irish coffee glasses, with a dash of local honey at the bottom of the glass and pour warm wine mixture into glasses. Garnish with either another cinnamon stick or serve with tea cookies or shortbread.