Local Libations: Mulled Wine
by Andrew States
One of the great functions of alcohol is its ability to bring us together. Whether in a bar room with strangers or around a familiar table with family and old friends, it holds at its heart, a convivial and communal spirit. At no other time of year is this more evident than through the holiday weeks ahead. As Thanksgiving bears down on us, our minds turn toward imminent reunions. We’ll gather, dust off our traditions, and fill ourselves with food, liquor and the warmth we find in each other. We’ll renew the relationships we’d allowed to molder and strengthen those to which we’ve tended. And we’ll do it anchored to a punch bowl.
The origins of mulled wine are murky. Its invention is occasionally attributed to Hippocrates, an honor for which he was rewarded by having a derivation of the drink named after him. Whatever the actual beginnings, and whether you call it hippocras, or glögg, or by another of its regional aliases, the accepted lore is that the method was developed to improve the flavor of wine that had gone bad and it’s been around for a long time. Not surprisingly, the tradition is most common atop the tables of the world’s colder places.
A fixture of holiday celebrations, mulled wine recipes are as numerous in their variations as a family tree is in its unique and winding structure. Composed of complicated and often personal spice combinations, mulled wine seemed like the perfect choice for the run-up to Thanksgiving and an appropriate compliment to Allison’s amazing Cauliflower and Vegetable Curry. Initially assuming ginger would be the only link between our recipes, I was happy to discover that many of the spices I chose to use are common in both the garam masala and curry spice in Allison’s curry.
Strictly speaking, all you need for mulled wine is wine, spices, and heat. Some of the time, there’s brandy involved. Often there isn’t. Many recipes call for citrus. Some do not. A choice few use beer rather than wine so even my initial assertion is not a hard and fast fact. Faced with the paralyzing effects of too many choices, I cast my lines for direction.
My friend, Jennifer Dillon, happens to write her own recipe and food issues blog and, when I mentioned I was pairing with a curry dish, she took off running – handing me a list of spices she thought might work. The single place where we diverged was the inclusion of brandy. She doesn’t like it. I do. I suppose I like my family get togethers a little more out of focus, a little riskier. That said, in the spirit of community, and the approaching merriment, I offer you this recipe for mulled wine.
Prep time: 40 minutes
Yield: Serves 6-8
Tools: Wine opener, measuring cup, measuring spoons, knife, pan, cooking pot, spice bags or cheesecloth
- 2 bottles decent red wine. Emphasis on “decent.” You don’t want to spend $30.00 on a bottle of wine you’re going to utterly and irreparably alter, but you also don’t want to buy some vin de merde that’s going to greet you in the morning as a massive hangover. I bought a couple of bottles from Chateau Renaissance at the Union Square Greenmarket.
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2/3 cup brandy (I used Lairds Apple Brandy)
- 6 star anise
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 Tbs black peppercorn
- 1 Tbs fennel seeds
- 4 black cardamom pods
- Toast the spices in a dry pan for about 2 minutes.
- Heat the honey and brandy on low in your pot until the honey is liquefied and blends with the brandy.
- Place the spices in a spice bag or pouch made of cheese cloth.
- Add the wine and spice bag to the pot with the honey brandy mixture and bring to a low simmer.
- Let sit on a low simmer for 30 minutes, keep an eye on it so it doesn’t start to boil.
- Serve hot in a thick glass or mug. Garnish with spices for some extra bedazzle.
- Drink and be merry!