When it starts to get very cold and the last of the leaves have fallen off the trees, my mind turns to one beverage. No its not moldy wine, though—because of an apparent speech impediment or mumbling problem—that is what people usually think I am suggesting. "Should I make mulled wine tonight!" I usually offer, to which the typical response is "No thanks, keep your moldy wine to yourself."
It's their loss. I can't think of a more perfect winter drink than mulled wine. Spicy and warm it is great for outdoor festivities or fireside holiday parties. I first encountered mulled wine traveling through Europe when I studied in Rome. Every country seemed to have their own version, all with their own local twist. In Italy they call it vin brulé, borrowing the French expression meaning "burnt wine" and it is often sold on the street near popular piazzas. In and around Germany, it's called Glühwein and it goes hand-in-hand with Germany's love for outdoor Christmas markets. You can experience this tradition first-hand at Chicago's very own Christkindlmarket, complete with an adorably tacky boot-shaped mug. Since coming home from Europe, I have continued to make my own mulled wine every winter.
Since high school, my friends and I have been getting together every winter at my friend's lake house. It is a tradition that I look forward to every year as there is always plenty of eating, laughing, and drinking. This year I thought it would be the perfect place to practice my mulled wine technique for a captive and thirsty audience. I brought up the perfect wine, all of my mulling spices and a handful of oranges and made a few batches, each one tasting better than the last (until my last batch, where I got a little um... lets say careless and accidently let it boil).
While you could just head down to the Christkindlmarket for a boot of Glühwein, I think its fun to make yourself and if you choose the right ingredients, it usually tastes better. First things first, you have to pick the right wine. You are not going to want to mull the most expensive wine you have as the heating and spices will cover up most of the wine's nuance. I like to use a bold, fruity red wine—a good drinking wine with a simple jammy flavor. I chose Gouguenheim Malbec, a wine we carry at the store, for the wine I made at the lake and it worked perfectly.
Next you'll need your mulling spices. While you could buy pre-made mulling spice mixes, I prefer to make my own. I use whole cloves, cinnamon chunks (chunks allow for the most flavor to be absorbed but you could also use sticks), whole allspice, and juniper berries. Juniper berries are a magical thing that smell like pine trees and will take your mulled wine to the next level. You could also add other spices like nutmeg or star anise but I stop there. The last thing you will need is an orange, I use both the juice and the peel, and then some brown sugar to round out the flavor.
I highly recommend you try this at home. It makes the perfect winter party drink and It's a lot of fun to mix and match different spices and experiment with different wines. Below is the basic recipe I use but use that as guide and make it your own.
One bottle of Red Wine
About one tablespoon of each: Whole Cloves, Cinnamon Chunks, Whole Allspice, Whole Juniper Berries
The peel of one orange
The juice of half of an orange
Brown sugar to taste, about 2 tablespoons
Cinnamon stick stirrers to make people think you're real fancy
Throw all the ingredients into a saucepan, on low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is hot. Do not let it boil... at all... not even a little. Serve in a cute little mug with a cinnamon stick stirrer.