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Reading Between the Wines: creating the perfect mulled wine

Mulled wine is a wee joy of the winter months, and with good reason. A nice, hot, boozy, sugary pick-me-up!

Even if you use the cheapest wine you can buy, you will probably still end up with a pleasant mulled wine
Even if you use the cheapest wine you can buy, you will probably still end up with a pleasant mulled wine

We have borrowed this tradition from continental Europe, where there are a range of popular solutions to the problem of having an excess of cheap wine (bet you wish that was a problem here, eh?).

Sadly, there are a few problems that prevent mulled wine from being quite the same cheery winter treat in Scotland, with the main one being that wine isn’t so ‘cheerily-cheap’ here. This is really evident when you buy mulled wine at a covered ‘German’ market, because it is likely to be £3.50 or more for a measly wee cup.

The other one is that a lot of shops present us with the easy option of affordable pre-mulled bottles of wine, but these simply aren’t very good. They are ‘wine-based’ products, full of God-knows-what. Avoid!

Equally, most supermarkets and wine shops will be stocking up on pre-mixed mulled wine sachets – kind of like little teabags for mulled wine. These are fine, but I often find these sachets a little too perfumed, giving the mulled wine a slight hint of pot pourri on the nose. They always sell out, so buy now if this is your chosen route to mulling.

However, I would argue that if you want to do it right, you want to do it yourself. Some people are a bit reluctant to do this because they are worried they don’t know the ‘right’ way. I have prepared a recipe that I follow below, but the answer is that there isn’t a right way. While there are a few pointers on contents and process you need to think about, experimentation is the way forward.

Firstly, the wine. I’ll be blunt; even if you buy the cheapest wine you can, you will probably still end up with a pleasant mulled wine, given the amount of sugar and spices you put in there. I made the recipe below with Lidl Côtes du Rhône 2011 (£3.59, Lidl) and it worked fine. To push the boundaries of taste, I followed up with a batch made using Tesco Everyday Value Spanish Red Wine (£3.99, and it comes in a 1 litre carton)! The mulled wine came out a bit thin, but still perfectly pleasant.

In choosing the wine, I would advise Southern French or Spanish wines with a middling body. If you want it lighter, you could throw in something a bit more delicate like Beaujolais (handy if you went wild and bought a case of Beaujolais Nouveau when it was released earlier this month, only to find out you didn’t like it!) or Chianti. If like me, you like mulled wine a little more rich and bodied, areas around Lisbon in Portugal are the place to go for rich, bodied reds that are cheap enough to mull. A personal favourite is Quinta de Bons Ventos 2010 (£6.50, Oddbins).

Next up: spice and flavourings. This is up to you. Traditionally, you can mull with a whole load of ingredients; you will hear recipes listing cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves, vanilla, star anise, lemons, limes, oranges and even bay leaves and cayenne pepper! Just choose a few of these that you like and experiment as you mull!

Lastly, we come to sweeteners and sharpeners. The best mulled wines are both sickly sweet, and quite strong! I prefer brown sugars and honey to refined white sugars, as they give a richer, deeper and warmer sweetness.

To add a wee ‘nip’, you will want to add a dash of spirit at the end of the cook. This is up to you again, but most popular are brandy, rum and gin. I have heard of vodka and whisky being used, but these are flavours that may contrast and overpower slightly. Again, it’s all about preference!

Mulled Wine Recipe

1 clementine (un-waxed)

1 cinnamon stick

10 cloves

750ml of red wine

2 teaspoons of honey

2 heaped teaspoons of dark brown sugar

4 heaped teaspoons of light brown sugar

1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon of ground allspice

2 teaspoons of ground ginger

75ml of gin

A muslin cloth

1Use a sharp knife to rough the surface of the un-waxed clementine. Skewer a small hole right through the middle of the clementine, and put one cinnamon stick through it. Then, force ten whole cloves into the skin of the clementine.

2Place the red wine, spiced clementine (see step 1), honey, dark brown sugar, light brown sugar, ground nutmeg, ground allspice and ground ginger (or a choped inch of crystallised ginger, if available) in a medium pot on a very gentle heat.

3Stir continually, bringing the mixture to a high temperature, just beneath boiling (don’t let it boil!), then reduce the heat and cover

4 Leave for fifteen minutes to stew

5Take off the heat and stir in the gin

6Remove the clementine, and slowly filter the mixture through a muslin cloth into a pre-warmed serving jug (or a Thermos-type flask, if you want to keep it hot for later).

7Remember that the wine doesn’t like being left uncovered for long, or being continually cooled and reheated – all the alcohol will evaporate, ruining the flavour.

8Serve and enjoy!

This recipe is for one 750ml bottle of wine.

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