It was Christmas time in the waning days before we college students left for the holiday break. I was attending one of my small seminar classes held in a quaint building known as The Shakespeare House on the campus of Wellesley College. On that day, with the snow covered roof and the fireplace smoke curling into the frosty air, the Shakespeare House was reminiscent of an old English cottage. All of us were grateful for the warm spicy beverage waiting inside. Mulled wine my classmates said. It smelled and looked good, but I was disappointed that it didn’t taste more like hot cider.
But, as they say, times change and people change. Now mulled wine is one of my favorite warm beverages. And it seems I’m not alone. Mulled wine is enjoying renewed popularity as both a perfect antidote to cold weather, and an economic way to entertain.
Mulled wine has a long history; the name comes from old English dialect of the 14th and 15th century meaning mixed or muddled. From the beginning, some historians note, mulling wine was a way to use leftover wine before it spoiled. The drink is in the family of other warm alcoholic beverages such as Sweden’s Glogg, or the familiar hot toddy. Mulled wine, by the way, is not the wassail in the Christmas song as I once thought. Apparently wassail has a base of beer, not wine.
Okay, enough history. Here are the tasty facts about mulled wine. All recipes start with a base of dry red wine, and generally include the addition of fruits--oranges and lemons typically--as well as spices like cinnamon and cloves. (You can buy mulled spice kits, but it is easy to combine the spices yourself, and besides it’s cheaper.) Beyond those basic ingredients, there are any number of recipe variations, including ones which add port or brandy.
I recruited my friends Patricia and Bill to do a comparison tasting of two recipes, one with the spices and fruits and the other with spices, fruit, and apple cider. They preferred the apple cider version proclaiming it more flavorful. I liked both versions but I preferred the non apple cider mix.
Whichever version you use remember it is important not to boil the wine. Mulled wine can sit on the back of the stove on low heat all day, or you can keep it on low in a crock pot . It’s a set-it-and-forget-it addition to an open house menu. I found the longer the wine warmed —the more the spices and fruits infused their essences.
You should know that wine aficionados find mulled wine déclassé. For them it’s a needless ruin of good wine. My normally cheery wine retailer shook his head when I told him I was going to mull my just purchased red wine. In fact, I could not find a mulled wine recipe in any of my wine reference books. Instead, I found recipes in cookbooks, and on the websites of wineries that produce—wait for it—dry red wine.
I say stir up a pot of mulled wine, snuggle under the couch throw, and settle in for another viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. You can sip along with Clarence the Angel who, as he tells the barkeep, likes his mulled wine “heavy on the cinnamon and easy on the cloves.” Happy Holidays!
Veramar Vineyards Mulled Wine
MULLED WINE RECIPE /PLAYBOY'S HOST AND BAR BOOK by Thomas Mario 1971
1 cup boiling water
½ cup sugar
1 orange, sliced
12 whole allspice
12 whole cloves
4 sticks of cinnamon
1 fifth of dry red wine
In large saucepan combine boiling water, sugar sliced lemon, sliced orange, allspice, cloves and stick cinnamon. Bring to a boil.
Reduce flame and simmer 5 minutes. Add the wine. Bring up to boiling point, but DO NOT BOIL. Simmer 10 minutes. Pout into heat tempered glasses or mugs. Place a slice of lemon, a slice of orange , and a few whole spices in each glass.