This winter will go down as the winter of mulled wine for us. I’ve been obsessed – both with the taste and the cooking smell that fills the kitchen. If we get invited over to a mate’s for dinner, I rock up with some. Nowhere to go? No worries, hubby and I will share a batch. Oh yes, I have all the hallmarks of a good pisshead. I’ve tried to give up alcohol but I’ve decided life is just too short and, frankly, I won’t bother again. I’ll try my best with moderation.
The thing with mulled wine is that you don’t really need to follow a recipe. I mix it up every time using whatever cheap (but grunty) red plonk I’ve found on sale. I’ve added bay leaves, cardamon powder, substituted mandarins for oranges, used lime instead of lemon. See? You can absolutely play around. On the note of cheap plonk, don’t dip into your bank account for a top shelf red – think cheap. I’ve also been playing around with the abundance of spices I have in my pantry. I’ve even added port (boom – it’s good) and on a different day, cider: I reckon you’d have to try pretty hard to go wrong (for Pete’s sake, touch some wood if you are a kitchen disaster).
The first time I had mulled wine was when I was 19 years old, living in the UK. I spent my first Christmas in London with four Aussie mates who were house-sitting. We were left in charge of a gorgeous home on the strict understanding that we were “not to break anything”. My mate Kate whipped up a batch of mulled wine and poured the boiling hot delicious concoction into beautiful crystal wine glasses… Which instantly shattered. She did this not once, but twice: Some would say she’s not a fast learner.
What happened? We spent Boxing Day trawling High Street Kensington searching for replacement crystal wine glasses (which turned out to be a wedding present…). As good bitches, we agreed to split the cost of the replacements between us and, of course, Sod’s bloody law, we couldn’t find exact matches, so we had to buy 12 new ones to replace the whole set. I can’t remember how much we spent, but, on account of earning £4.50 per hour in retail at the time, I ate two minute noodles for about a month afterwards coz I was so skint! Luckily I went on to live in Germany not long after: My sole experience with mulled wine was improved drastically and happier memories were lodged!
Here’s a few tips before you get started with your mulled wine creations:
- Pick a grunty, sturdy red wine: You want something that can handle being heated without too much alcohol burning off. Equally, once you add all your spices, you want the flavour of the wine to stand up, not get drowned out. I usually use a Shiraz or a Merlot. Timara Shiraz has become a favourite for this. I’ve bought it as cheap as $9.99 and it works like a dream.
- Think ‘low and slow’ – If you heat the wine too much the alcohol will burn off and may become bitter. You want the wine too hot to touch, simmering gently at the most. Once you’ve got it hot turn the heat off and whack a lid on to let the flavours steep.
- Add some extras: I’ve added a slosh of Tawny Port to my mulled wine (instead of brandy): AH-MAZING. I’ve also added x1 cup of cider to ‘bulk it out’ (my friends are also pissheads): Fantastic! I’ve tried both apple and feijoa cider with success – pear cider would, undoubtedly, be great, I’ll try that on Saturday: I have friends coming over.
- Got a slow cooker? Got lots of mates? Make a double batch and whack your mulled wine in the slow cooker to keep warm so there’s some always at the ready. You’re welcome.
- Don’t do a Kate: Make sure the wine has cooled slightly before you pour it into wine glasses. Better still, use a mug.
Here’s my baseline recipe – DON’T FEEL YOU NEED TO FOLLOW IT EXACTLY. If you are one of those great with detail personality types, who dislike going off piste and not following a recipe to the letter: I dare you to live on the edge and mix things up with this recipe. Go on. Do it.
- 2 bottles of red wine - Merlot or Shiraz work well
- 1/2 cup of brandy or port
- 2 cups sugar (I usually use brown but white is fine too!)
- 4 mandarins - peeled and the fruit separated into pieces - you could also use x2 oranges
- 1 lemon peel (use a vegetable peeler as opposed to grating the zest)
- 5 whole star anise
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1 vanilla pod - halved lengthwise
- 2 pinches of freshly grated nutmeg
- 8 whole cloves
- Place everything in a large saucepan over a low heat.
- Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until sugar dissolves and mixture is aromatic. Remove from heat. Pop the lid on the saucepan and let the flavours steep for another 10 minutes.
- Pour into serving glasses. I like to pour it into glasses over a teeny sieve to catch all the spices.
- Garnish if you like: Whole cinnamon sticks and lemon or mandarin peel look great.
Lastly, the most memorable batch of mulled wine I’ve made this year is post snowboarding, on the pot belly in my husband’s family shed in Turangi. It’s legit shed, I’m not exaggerating, back in the day it was a mechanic’s workshop. We sleep in the caravan that’s parked up inside, there’s no insulation so it’s the warmest place (we hook up a tiny fan heater to warm it up at bedtime and we all wear our beanies). It’s delightfully retro, if chilly, and we love it! Here’s some pics.
Spring, I reckon, will see me branch out into Sangria.