Here in New Zealand some places are warmer than others, but it’s generally known that we are pretty chilly in this part of the world this time of year. Kiwis are set to shiver even more for the next few months, too, with some meteorologists claiming it’s set to be one of the coldest we’ve had here in a fair while. The plus side is that we can warm our toes by the fire (or heater!) and cuddle up to loved ones, and for those a fan of the odd snowflake or two, the slopes are set for a dumping of snow, ripe for a good start to the ski season.
For those of us who love wine, we generally reach for the red, as a chilled white is not usually the thing we feel most like sipping. But there’s another option you may not have considered… mulled wine.
Although making mulled wine is a great way to warm up your insides, it’s also a great way to repurpose a wine you don’t absolutely love to sip on its own, turning it into something delicious. Also it’s just plain yummy- this time of year especially, we don’t really need a reason!
So what is mulled wine?
Mulled wine is a wine served hot, and steeped in rich wintry spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. It’s usually made with slices of orange, and can have juices or even brandy mixed into it. The flavour combination works like a charm for those cold winter days and nights, and it warms you from the inside out.
Where does it come from?
Not surprisingly, there’s a long history of spiking and spicing red wine, generally thought to originate in Scandinavia. It’s so old in fact, that the first recording of a type of mulled wine dates back to before the 8th century, BC. Homer’s Odyssey writes about a naughty goddess, Circe, who drugged Odysseus’ crew with a wine blended with spices and spirits. Turns out, she was onto something!
Some turn up their noses...
Wine is sacrosanct to people who love the product unadulterated, which is generally speaking most serious wine lovers. This means that most serious winos will laugh at the idea of a wine blog promoting adding things to wine and altering its natural characteristics and flavours. To an extent, they’re right: we absolutely wouldn’t recommend using an expensive bottle in your homemade batch of mulled wine - we agree that it would be a crying shame to waste something special! It does however have its place, and is not dissimilar to using wine in cooking for food reasons, which we’ve covered in a previous blog.
Having said all that, mulled wine is of course not considered a ‘classy’ drink. It became popular in Victorian England, when many imported wines were poorly stored and needed a literal spicing-up to improve their flavour. The fashionable Oriental spices introduced into England at the time included cloves, cinnamon and cardamom.
So, if I want to make my own mulled wine, what type of wine should I use?
For all the reasons outlined above, don’t go out and pick something expensive or complex to use in mulled wine, as it will entirely disguise and augment the flavours; you won’t be able to taste much of the original wine’s flavours. As mulling wine does disguise a lot of the notes and tastes on the palate, avoid picking a ‘delicate’ or lighter wine, like Pinot Noir or Gamay. Go for something big and bold - an Aussie Shiraz, an Argentinian Malbec - and don’t be afraid to buy a red blend as these can be just as bold, and often be cheaper than a single varietal like a straight Shiraz.
Some mulled wine recipes call for white wine; for these it’s best to use an aromatic varietal such as Riesling, Moscato or even a Chenin Blanc, if you can find it.
Different types of mulled wine
There are many different recipes and techniques for making mulled wine. One of the most common (as it’s simple) calls for orange, cinnamon and star anise spices.
In Germany, you’ll see it in Christmas markets and bars as glühwein (gloo-vine), which literally means ‘glowing wine’, named after how they used to make it: stirring the pot of spiced wine with a red hot poker to heat it up very quickly. The Germans also light a rum-soaked sugar cube as a mulled wine garnish of sorts; that version of the drink is known as feuerzangenbowle (foi-err-zan-gen-bow-ler). Harder to pronounce, but as the caramelised sugar drips into and flavours the mulled wine with smoky sweetness, it’s worth trying to order one.
In Norway, you might drink gløgg (glog) at Christmas time, and is a lot more alcoholic than other variations of the drink! Gløgg is made with one part brandy to two parts red wine, simmered with cardamom pods, cloves, ginger and orange peel. Yum, but don’t plan on driving anywhere.
In France, they go with the literal: you’ll find in winter plenty of vin chaud (vahn-sho; literally ‘hot wine’), especially in mountain regions as an après-ski drink of choice to warm up after a long day on the slopes. This is also quite alcoholic, as it contains either red or white wine, lemon and Eau de Vie (a type of fruit brandy).
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