Mulled wine is a woefully misunderstood Christmas phenomenon. The number of times I've heard someone say "don't you just boil some wine and chuck some spices in?", well, it's enough to drive a man to drink. And that drink, dear reader, will not be some haphazard concoction of citrus fruits and a glorified bottle of buckie, it will be a delicately boiled, supremely spiced pot of mulled wine.
Mulled wine positively glows with Christmas spirit. The smell of it alone can crack even the Grinchiest of exteriors, even if the flavour can be somewhat of an acquired taste. My first time making it was for a Christmas party back when I was in university; I'd volunteered to make some because I was fully aware my cooking skills were not up to snuff enough for me to contribute a specific dish. To my surprise there was more to it than I thought, and whilst I've refined the process since then, I still look back with fondness at that first batch.
Mulled wine is not particularly complicated, that's part of it's charm. What matters is a few, often overlooked steps to the process. Once you figure these out, it's smooth sailing from there.
Let's get started.
Prep time: Five minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Serves: 10 (adjust according to party size)
200g caster sugar (or brown for a deeper, caramel-like flavour)
2 bottles of red wine (preferably Italian)
6 whole cloves
2 star anise
1 vanilla pod
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg
When it comes to these spices, you can freestyle it a bit. Swap out or remove the ones you don't like, maybe chuck in some bay leaves if you're feeling extra fancy, but don't worry about not being able to find all the ingredients. I would strongly encourage you to keep the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, but everything else is optional. Also, in my experience, vanilla pods are hard to come by in your standard supermarket, but a small bottle of vanilla extract found in the baking section will usually do the trick.
Shave off large sections of peel from your citrus fruits (lemon, lime, clementines) using a speed-peeler.
Take a large saucepan and place it on medium heat. Add the sugar, drop in the pieces of peel, and squeeze in the clementine juice. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves, and about 14 gratings of nutmeg. Cut the vanilla pod in half (or measure out one and a half teaspoons of vanilla extract) and add it to the pan. Once all of this has been done, stir in just enough wine to cover the sugar.
Keep the pan on medium heat, allowing the contents to simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved into the wine. Bring to the boil.
Once the wine has reached a rolling boil, leave for around five minutes, occasionally stirring, until the mix thickens to a syrupy base. It is essential to do this to fully unlock the flavours; the spices need the heat, but at this temperature, if you'd emptied all the wine into the pot the alcohol would burn off.
If you've managed to create a syrupy base, lower the heat, add the rest of the wine and the star anise, and gently heat for about ten minutes. Once it's reached the desired temperature, you're ready to serve!
And please, for the love of God, do not serve it in a wine glass. Or any kind of glass for that matter. This may seem excruciatingly obvious, but people like me make this sort of mistake all the time, as many a shattered glass can attest. A mug or a heat-proof glass pitcher ought to do the trick.
And there you have it. A lovely little Christmas drink to serve at your holiday gathering. I hope you enjoy it when the time comes, and I wish you a very happy holiday!