|Do not ask too much or too little of your wine. Unique fine wines for instance should be reserved for occasions when they can be enjoyed with deliberate awareness of the unusual pleasure they provide. Save them for a contemplative evening with other wine lovers says Reva K Singh, editor and publisher of Sommelier India in her column for Outlook Magazine.|
If you choose an unsuitable wine there is the risk that a good wine will be wasted and the event itself badly served.
For an evening full of winter cheer and bonhomie where the guests know little and care less about a wine’s provenance, a drink like mulled wine might be the answer. Similar to German Glühwein (glowing wine), French vin chaud (hot wine) and Italian vin brulé (burnt wine), mulled wine is basically red wine, combined with spices and served hot – ideal for this time of year. Indeed, it is a traditional holiday treat in many Old World countries.
The Oxford Companion to Wine describes mulled wine as wine that has been heated with sugar (or honey) and spices and also, sometimes, slices of fruit and even brandy. This was a particularly common way of serving wine in the Middle Ages. The honey and spices helped to compensate for any shortcomings in wine quality. As drinking wine at the time was also more sanitary than drinking water, these heated drinks were thought to be very healthy and probably did sustain people’s health through the cold winter months.
In the 1500s cookbooks described various methods of mulling “Clarrey” or Bordeaux. Honey, cinnamon, cardamon, galingale and, of course, French wine were commonly used. In Victorian England, children were served small glasses of wine at the dinner table and mulled wine was a great favourite. Negus, a type of mulled wine, made with port wine, sherry or any other sweet white wine was popular at children’s birthday parties.
Today, what could be more cosy at home, alone, or with a group of friends, than a warm glass of wine fortified with spices? You don’t have to use Bordeaux or “Clarrey” for mulled wine. Any red wine will do since the fruit and spices you add will alter the taste. Try a wine from Portugal, Spain, Hungary Italy, or Chile. Your favourite Indian red is also a good option. In fact, any wine with a deep fruit flavour and reasonable structure will work well.
A certain amount of sugar or honey is necessary for good mulled wine. Heating brings out the tartness and tannins in a wine which may be enjoyable at cellar temperature, but when the wine is heated they become much stronger. The sugar smooths the rough edges in the wine and brings out the spice and fruit flavours. Some wine enthusiasts prefer diluting their mulled wine with herbal or citrus tea. Tea not only softens the flavour, it adds subtle elements that the mulled wine doesn’t normally have.
Never let the wine boil. As the saying goes, if it’s boiled it’s spoiled. The flavour of the wine/spice combination will deteriorate if the mixture reaches boiling point. Microwaving mulled wine by the glass or mug full is a good alternative because it concentrates the flavours and doesn’t allow them to evaporate.
Mulled wines today are as varied as the wine enthusiasts who make them. Some add just a few spices, while others personalize them with a whole range of ingredients in varying proportions including star anise, fresh ginger and plenty of apple and orange slices. Even though these may not be traditional ingredients in a classic mulled wine, a good mix of flavourings isn’t unusual.
Mulled wines have been warming people for centuries. Easy to make in quantity, relatively inexpensive, and sure to please most guests, mulled wine is associated with good cheer and wassailing. So get ready the mulled wine for the long evenings ahead and see what a wonderful welcome the scent of warm spices and wine makes as your guests walk in the door.
MULLED WINE 4-6 servings
1 bottle of red wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Merlot
1 peeled and sliced orange (add orange peel zest, to taste, into cooking pot)
1 cup of brandy
2/3 cup honey or sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp fresh or 2 tsp ground ginger (allspice can be substituted)
Combine all ingredients in either a large pot or a slow cooker. Gently warm the ingredients on low to medium heat (avoid boiling), for 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure that the honey or sugar has completely dissolved. When the wine is steaming and the ingredients have blended well it is ready to serve. Strain and ladle into mugs.