Nothing tempts us into the Christmas kitchen quite like the tantalising aromas wafting from a pan of gently mulling wine. As the spices work their magic, the heady vapours fill the house with the very essence of Christmas, transforming the house into a home.
Even the fastidious Mrs Beeton, who favoured cloves, grated nutmeg and cinnamon, conceded there’s little point in being too precious about measurements and ingredients. So use this recipe as a guide. The golden rule is to taste as you go, especially for sweetness. And never allow your mulled wine to boil as the alcohol, which adds body as well as strength, will evaporate.
Choosing the right wine
Remember, thin, acidic plonk makes thin, acidic mulled plonk that no amount of spices can rectify. Soft, fruity reds like Tempranillo (as in Rioja) and Chilean Merlot work very well.
Non-alcoholic mulled wine
For an alcohol-free version replace the wine with red grape juice, or apple juice for a mulled cider effect. Blackcurrant juice is a popular substitute in Scandinavia, and a dash of pomegranate or cranberry juice adds festive flavour.
As an alternative to brandy, use port, dark rum or bourbon (sweeter than Scotch) for some cockle-warming oomph. Some recommend a splash of Southern Comfort but, again, watch the sweetness. Others add a cup of seriously strong Earl Grey tea for a complementary bergamot twist.
Alternative spices could include grated ginger, coriander seeds, marjoram, dried fennel or a few crushed cardamom pods (go easy with the cardamom to avoid soapy flavours). Jamie Oliver adds a dried bay leaf and vanilla to his.
Whether you use an orange or a couple of clementines, satsumas or mandarins, I recommend peeling them and removing most of the pith to prevent undesired bitterness. A touch of grated zest, however, works wonders.
In my experience, few mulled wines benefit from additional sweetness, but, if you do add some sugar, white caster sugar dissolves quickest. For a slightly caramelized flavour soak brown sugar or demerara with brandy in a pan and warm it over a low flame till it turns into a golden syrup to pour into your mulled wine. A touch of maple syrup has a similar effect. Alternatively, sweeten it with honey.
Mulled wine ingredients
- 1 bottle of red wine
- 1 small cup of brandy
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 cloves
- 1 orange (peeled)
- 1 star anise (optional)
- Sugar to taste (optional)
How to make
Heat the wine and spirit, very gently, in a pan (stainless steel and enamel pans are best as aluminium and copper can impart a metallic taste).
Stud the peeled orange with cloves and add it, with the cinnamon and star anise.
Continue to heat gently until “finger hot” (i.e. you can just bear to put your finger in it). Do not let it boil.
Ladle into sturdy tumblers.
Before serving, you can remove unwanted floating objects with a slatted spoon, but I would just as soon fish out all the fruit from my summertime Pimms.
Garnish your mulled wine with a few blanched almonds or dried cranberries and serve with mince pies, roasted chestnuts or gingerbread.
If you want to try something different, try making your own mulled cider.