Mulled wine is a popular holiday beverage enjoyed all over the world, with several countries having different variations of traditional flavors and profiles. The German version is known as "Gluhwein”, in Nordic countries it is called “Glogg”, in Northern Italy “vin brulé”, just to name a few. Whatever you call it, I call it yummy! It is a warm spicy wine, generally served around the chilly months and especially, the holidays. “Mulled wine” is to winter as “Sangria” is to summer.
Traditionally a dry, deep, full bodied, red wine like a Merlot, Burgundy, or even Cabernet Sauvignon is used. In some versions, the wine is “fortified” with brandy, rum, or liqueur to add to the flavor and of course the warming effect of party guests. While typically red wine is used, I’m finding more and more local wineries (here in the U.S Midwest at least), are suggesting the use of white wine varietals. Some in fact, have developed and bottled particular varieties for just such an occasion, handing out directions to serve the wine warm or even recipes for their version of a “kicked up a notch” mulled wine.
The wine is sweetened, flavored with spices and other ingredients and served warm. Usually whole spices are used and allowed to float freely “mulling”, or steeping, for hours developing a rich, festive flavor. Here are some of the spices and flavorings that are commonly used (but not limited to);
Cinnamon (sticks), nutmeg (crack whole nuts into pieces with a tenderizing mallet or hammer), whole cloves, cardamom, sliced ginger root (peeled), peppercorns, vanilla beans (slice pod and throw in whole), apples (sliced, cored), orange or lemon zest, fruit juice.
Making your own mulled wine is easy, simply add the flavorings and spices you like, sweeten to taste, and warm the wine. However, here are some considerations;
~You have to heat the wine to very hot, but not boiling, temperature in order to “open up” the spices. Do not heat above 173F (78C), else all of the alcohol content will evaporate (and we don’t want that to happen). I heat mine somewhere between 165F-170F. (yes, use a thermometer) Once the wine is heated, turn down the temperature and let the spices mull (steep) for AT LEAST 1 full hour, ideally, 4 hours in a crock pot. Actually, the longer the better as the spices will develop deeper flavor as the wine continues to simmer. (I usually test the batch several time throughout, you know, for quality control purposes ;) )
~Even if you choose a sweet wine it will have to be sweetened with sugar or honey. Heating the wine will bring out the natural tannins in the wine and make it a dryer (sour) taste. Sweeten only a little at first (1/4- 1/3 C sugar for each 750ml bottle of wine is a good place to start), then taste the wine after a few hours of simmering to check if more sweetness is needed. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.
~If you are making a large batch for a party, sweeten the wine only a little, then set out honey, powdered sugar, or simple syrup for your guests to sweeten their own serving to taste. You can make a simple syrup by heating 1 part water and 2 parts granulated sugar, stirring until the sugar completely dissolves. (Place in a condiment bottle or jar for serving).
~Although any wine can be used, pay attention to the notes of the wine and try to match the flavor profile with the spices you’ll be using and/or what/if a meal or dessert is being served.
~If you’re not sure which spices to try or the amounts, find a recipe that closely fits the bill then don’t be afraid to “tweak” it to your liking by swapping out ingredients. Since most recipes come in “party” amounts using 2, 3 or even 4 bottles of wine, scale down the recipe utilizing only one bottle of wine, that way, you’re not wasting precious wine if it turns out a flop. If it tastes good after one hour, make the rest of the batch measuring/adjusting accordingly.
~Some recipes call for sliced citrus fruits such as orange and lemon. If you do want those flavors, I would suggest you use the zest only or the juice. Heating the pith (or white part) of the fruit can leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth.
~If you’re more of a self-serve type of host and you want to refrain from your guests choking on an unsuspected clove or fishing out a chunk of nutmeg, simply bundle up your spices into about 2-3 layers of cheese cloth tied with a string. Just be sure to stir often to spread the love (and of course taste often, for uhm, quality control hehehehe)
Here are a few of my recipes to get you started. I developed these specifically for bakespace.com and Archway to go alongside Archway’s Holiday Cookie Collection, tasty confections which they only break out during the holiday season.
Traditional Mulled Wine Recipe
Use a dry, deep, full bodied red wine like Merlot, Burgundy, or Cabernet Sauvignon. Here I used an Australian Shiraz because I found the plum and peppery notes went very well with the spicy Archway Holiday Gingerbread Men (iced and plain), the Archway chocolate Holiday Snow Tops, as well as the intense flavors of the Archway Holiday Pfeffernusse.
Note: for a non alcoholic version of mulled wine, use a commercially prepared red or white grape juice. You will need approximately 6 ½ C to equal 2- 750ml bottles of wine.
2- 750 ml bottles of Shiraz
1 ½ C unsweetened orange juice
2/3 C granulated sugar
1 whole cinnamon stick (about 6” long)
6 whole cloves
1-2 very thin slices peeled ginger root
Method 1 (stove top):
Pour wine into a large, non-reactive, sauce pan. Set heat to medium and add all of the other ingredients to the wine. Stir until heated and sugar is dissolved. Continue to heat until very hot, but not boiling (between 165F-170F is ideal). You do not want the wine to reach above 173F, else the alcohol will evaporate.
Once the wine is heated, turn heat down to a simmer and allow the spices to “mull” for hours but not less than 1 hour. (really, the longer the better) Stir occasionally.
To serve, you can ether strain the mulled wine, or simply ladle wine (leaving the spices behind***) into thick clear wine goblets or glass mugs. Enjoy!
Method 2 (crock pot)
This is a great method for holiday parties and buffet tables where the guests will be helping themselves. Place all ingredients into a crock pot and place on a high setting. Once the wine has become hot enough to steam (but not boiling) turn the setting to low. Stir occasionally and allow the wine to mull for at least 4 hours or longer in order for the flavors to fully develop.
“White” Mulled Wine Recipe
Although red wine is traditionally used in mulled wine, more and more local wineries are suggesting the use of white wine in mulled recipes as well. A Riesling, for example, has a more delicate flavor and complimented the Archway Holiday Cashew Nougat cookies as well as the Holiday Wedding Cakes.
2- 750ml bottles of Riesling
2/3 C granulated sugar
1 small apple, cored and sliced
1- 4” piece of cinnamon stick
¼ piece of nutmeg nut (cracked), or use a pinch of ground
2-3 allspice berries (or use ¼ tsp ground)
Follow directions for preparations above.
A huge thanks to bakespace.com for the hookup and the folks at Archway who were kind enough to send me samples of each of their holiday cookie collection (lucky me!) and asked me to create recipes as well as suggest some drink pairings. I immediately thought that mulled wine would be perfect and it was! Taste testing the cookies was easy ;) ….choosing which spices and wine that paired well proved a little more difficult. (ok, I lied. Not difficult, the tasting wine part was easy too LOL) In upcoming posts I’ll be sharing even more drink, appetizer, and dessert recipes that I created for bakespace and Archway…..so stay tuned for some more good stuff!