Wine Wednesday – mulled wine for a winter’s night

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While Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve may be over, winter continues here in Canada’s capital and with it, cold days and dark nights. For some, the holidays continue with Orthodox Christmas and the Epiphany still to come.

Many of the seasonings that we associate with these holidays, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon, were actually used to disguise the taste of gamy meat and food that was less than fresh. In the days before refrigeration, drying, pickling or curing were the traditional ways to extend the life of foods. If you were lucky enough to have fresh meat, an expensive proposition, the addition of spices, also expensive, would help make the older cuts more palatable. The addition of spices to wine or cider is known to have been practiced for millennia; from my understanding of ancient Roman wines, which would have been bitter, acidic affairs, the addition of spices could only have improved the drink.

So, the Christmas spices we think of are rooted in centuries of history and lack of refrigeration…less than romantic origins.

Mulled wine, like eggnog, is one of the those traditional winter drinks that people either love or hate. Like tourtière, it is something for which everyone’s own recipe is the best. In general, it is a red wine served warm with added spices. It is a winter drink, often served during the holidays, but appropriate any time you want to warm up on a cold winter’s evening. In England, we drink “wassail” for Twelfth Night (of the 12 Days of Christmas fame). In Northern European countries, it is known as “Gloog” and my high school friend would always make me some for Christmas Day.

If you don’t like mulled wine, I am not sure that I can convince you to love it. Unlike my Dad’s eggnog, this is not a case of awful industrial beverage vs home made. While I have seen ready-made mulled wine in American liquor store, most mulled wine is “home-made”, with at least a package of spices added to a bottle of wine. I do think, though, that my mulled wine is particularly nice with roasted lemon, honey, and a touch of mace. It’s easy to make and I would love to know what you think.

To create my recipe, I took a look at a wide variety of old recipes and came up with one that used honey instead of sugar, reasoning that sugar was not available in Ancient Rome or even in Medieval England. I used lemons studded with cloves as clove studded citrus was featured in several Medieval game dishes. I also used a light Port as the wine tastes of the Victorian English leaned more towards the sweet and rich wines than today’s table wines.

You can use any number of spices to make mulled wine. These are the ones I like to use.

The basic steps are:

1. Roast the lemons

  • Make several slits on a whole lemon
  • Insert whole cloves into slits
  • Roast lemons at 350C for 15-25 minutes until centre of lemon is soft

Roasting the lemons not only adds to the flavour of the drink, it makes the whole house smell lovely.

2. Make the syrup. In a saucepan, combine and cook over medium heat until honey is dissolved:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp mace
  • small pinch salt
  • one twist of pepper mill
3. Strain the syrup

4. Warm the wine over low heat with syrup and lemon

  • you can use a Port or a fruity red wine
  • for non alcoholic beverage, you can use apple juice or apple cider

5. Serve and enjoy!

Although trained as a sommelier, I pay my bills working as an IT consultant. I love what I do for a living and keep wine as my hobby. As it looks bad if you only drink, I have occasionally been known to eat as well. Growing up on four different continents, I love to cook and appreciate the cuisines of the world. But wine is my passion. With a well-stocked cellar, I am always on the hunt for new wines and love hearing from people about their latest find or interesting pairing. My approach to wine: Drink what you like. Wine reviews need not be stuffy. Numerical ratings are meaningless. If it tastes good, drink it! If you don’t like it, then it’s not the wine for you.