By Josh Seaburg
As far as holiday drinks for a crowd go, it doesn’t get easier or more festive than mulled wine. Warming beverages and adding spices is no new feat – the first recipe in its current form was published in 1390, alongside recipes for versions made with cider and ale.
Like most drinks with a lengthy history, there are nearly infinite variations on mulled wine from cultures across Europe and elsewhere, but certain core aspects that are consistent. Fruity red wine, like a medium body pinot noir or Spanish garnacha, coupled in varying quantities with warm spices like cloves, cinnamon and allspice, a little added sugar and a garnish of oranges make up the foundation. Vanilla, ginger and cardamom often make appearances as well. This lack of rigor means experimentation is key – raiding the spice aisle can lead to a house recipe that you can share with (or closely guard from) your friends and family.
Get away from the dated “throw it all in a Crock-Pot” method of production by making a shelf-stable spice syrup. This avoids the two worst things about making mulled wine: waiting for it to steep and burning off all the precious alcohol. And don’t forget to use a decent wine. It doesn’t have to cellar-worthy, but it’s best to avoid that bottom-shelf bottle at the grocery store.
Mulled Wine Syrup
(approx. 12 servings)
5 ounces sugar by weight
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
1 pod star anise
3 pods cardamom
1 cinnamon stick
Zest of one lemon
6 ounces water
2 bottles red wine
In a bowl, combine sugar, ginger and lemon peel. Muddle the peels and ginger and allow to rest.
Meanwhile, toast the cloves, cinnamon, anise and cardamom in a small saucepan until fragrant. Immediately add water to the pan and bring to a simmer.
Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and immediately stir in sugar mixture until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
Strain, and store in a neutral container in the refrigerator for up to one month.
To turn this into a finished product, add two bottles of fruit-forward red wine to a pot with an orange and an apple, both thinly sliced.
Heat on medium until the wine is warm, about 130 F. Be careful not to overheat it – alcohol evaporates, and therefor becomes highly flammable at 172 F. Keep your batch away from any open flames.
Once the wine is at the desired temperature, add your spice syrup and serve. Not unlike the spices you choose to use, garnish options are many – clove-studded orange slices, cinnamon sticks and lemon wheels, among others. For a little extra warmth, an ounce of brandy may be a welcome addition as well.
Josh Seaburg is a bartender, brand ambassador and educator who has established several award-winning cocktail programs in the Tidewater area and taught seminars at events across the country.