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Mulled Wine

With the holiday season underway, traditional beverages are sure to cross your path. One traditional drink is mulled wine, or glogg in Sweden, vin chaud in France, Quento in Brazil, Glhwein in Germany, etc., etc. It is a favorite in wine growing regions and is traditionally served warm in the winter months. Mulled wine consists of red or white wine, with a variety of spices such as cinnamon, cloves oranges and sugar / honey. It is similar to Wassail, but not quite the same. This drink is definitely something to be enjoyed with friends and family, since it is similar to a punch and you really can’t make a singe serving of this stuff. But, if you’ve had good mulled wine then you’ll probably want more than one glass.

Aside from its pleasant flavour, mulled wine is very aromatic and can fill a house with aromas of fruit and spice. Since smell is a significant part of the enjoyment of food and beverages, mulled wine tends to be something that people enjoy because it is easy to remember. The experience can be akin to waking up to the smell of a fresh ocean breeze while on vacation, or arriving home to the aroma of your favorite meal cooking on the stove. Strong aromas can elicit a strong emotional responses, and for some people, mulled wine is the fragrance of the holidays.

Mulled Wine Recipe

1 Bottle (750 ml) Red Wine (Merlot, Zinfandel, Shiraz)
2 oz Brandy or Calvados
2 oz Cointreau or Triple Sec
2 Cinnamon Sticks (2” to 3” in length)
5 Whole Cloves
3 Allspice Berries
1 Vanilla Bean
½ Cup Sugar (or Honey)
1 Small Orange
1 tsp Angostura Bitters

Instructions: In a pot add the wine, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, vanilla, and sugar. Bring the mixture to a low simmer. You don’t want to boil this. Allow to steep anywhere from 20 minutes or 2 hours. Taste regularly until you get the flavour you like. I like a very low temperature (40C to 50C) and a long steep of one to two hours.

At this point you would usually add the other ingredients and serve while still warm. In my case I have an alternative. I like to cool the mulled wine down, filter it and then add the Brandy, Cointreau and bitters. Then I bottle it and let it rest, in the fridge, for a couple of days.

Still Shock
If you are asking why I’d re-bottle the mulled wine we need to look at something akin to “;still shock”. The term still shock usually refers to a leftover flavour that you can taste when sampling distillate soon after distillation. This seems to be most often referred to in absinthe, but could also be present in other spirits like grappa, rum or brandy. It is often described as hot or spicy.

I’m not sure if there is a lot of research on still shock, but here is my theory. In an environment that has a lot of energy (heat) and reactive components like oxygen and organics (herbs, spices, fruits, etc.) you will inevitably form some unstable compounds that don’t taste particularly great. If these compounds are left to “;rest” at a lower temperature, they will, hopefully, decompose to their original state because they are no longer in a high energy state. They may also evaporate or precipitate out. Whatever the process, these compounds that foul the drink will dissipate with time, hopefully. This is really an over simplified theory, so don’t quote me on it.

It is known that if you allow all items that are cooked to “;rest” for a few minutes after cooking they do taste better. Also, people who make absinthe usually insist of allowing the absinthe to rest for a period of time after distillation.

I’m going to apply this theory to mulled wine. You should make your mulled wine a a few days ahead of time, bottle it and allow it to rest. When it is time to serve, simply place the rested mulled wine in a pot on a heat source, at a very low level of 30C (86F) to 35C (95F), with a tight fitting lid. This is the perfect temperature to serve mulled wine and the lid will help prevent rapid oxidation of the wine.

Mulled Wine Ingredients

Some people add fresh ginger to their mulled wine but I find it can be a little too assertive. I prefer the mulled wine be a easy drinking concoction that everyone can enjoy.

Peppercorns can be added, but again they add a spiciness that some people don’t enjoy. If you want to add a bit of pepper, try adding red peppercorns (actually a dried berry) or white peppercorns as they don’t have the kick of black peppercorns.

Bitters are common in many drink and they can actually be very pleasant in mulled wine. Use aromatic bitters, like Angostura, Regans’ Orange or Fee’s in small quantities to get the best results.

Port, Sherry or Madeira are good additions to mulled wine. They provide a level of sweetness and also increase the alcohol level.

You can add anything you want to a mulled wine, but adding too much can be a mistake. If you add a bit of everything the drink will be more like a Potpourri or seasoning than a drink.

Buy Local
Since the process of making mulled wine pretty much destroys the fine nuances of the wine makers art there isn’t much point in using the finest wine money can buy. But, it should also be notes that crap in equals crap out. My advice is to pick a decent bottle of local wine because it is environmentally friendly. Less transportation costs, supports local farmers, etc.

In today’s calorie conscious environment, mulled wine is a great alternative to eggnog, since its fat content, and calorie count, are much lower.

Enjoying mulled wine with friends and family is a great way to spend a cold winter night.

Darcy O'Neil | Art of Drink

Writer, author of Fix the Pumps, chemist, beekeper and general do-er-of-things, Darcy can generally be found looking for new and interesting things to do, usually over a cocktail. Currently working on more soda fountain history.