Mulled wine… let’s talk about one of the festive season’s most popular drinks, the aromatised, sweetened, and seasoned wine-drink, that although posing a challenge for some palettes continues to gain popularity - from Germany to my wife’s home country Sweden. As you will learn later, the Swedes certainly don’t follow the consensus that mulled wine should be made without strong alcohol.
Mulled wine probably stems from the earliest days of wine production where wine was stored in large jars with waxed leaves as a seal from the air.
Inevitable the wine would start to oxidise after a few months but the way to mask the deteriorating flavours would have included heating the wine and adding herbs and honey to make the wine drinkable.
If the intention of mulled wine was to mask unpleasant flavours, then it seems the process has not changed much, since the quality of wine used for mulling is probably at best, rather dubious. It begs the question, what would happen if you mulled delicious wine - possible a bit of a waste in my opinion since the flavours added to the wine to be mulled, are so powerful compared to the nuances of wines in general, suggesting that the base wine is perhaps not really very important, as long as it is alcoholic. It reminds me of a story in the 1980s when someone at Annabel’s in Berkely Square, asked for a bottle of Château Petrus to be served as Sangria…!
There is no doubt that on a cold winter’s day a warm drink is welcome. My preference though might be for a hot honey schnapps (popular in Munich I seem to remember) or Rum in a mug of Cocoa (a stupendous hangover cure when skiing) but I think that mulled wine is sufficiently polarised in opinions for and against, so that when served there is almost always an alternative. At the Swedish Bank SEB’s annual Christmas lunch, people winced their way through a glass cup of Glug while I enjoyed a refreshing sip of their rather delicious white Burgundy…
This does not mean that I do not take some pride in creating a mulled wine if requested to do so. It has happened on a number of occasions in the past that people have believed that if I know about wine, I must therefore know about mulling it. I remember in particular being invited to Thomas Goode in North Audley Street for one of their Christmas get-togethers and I was responsible for arranging the ingredients for mulling something not too expensive.
We had borrowed a very large copper saucepan (dated c. 1845) from my chums at Middle Temple Hall which sat on top of a burner and gently warmed some wine and cinnamon and sugar etc. together. The big trick for me is that there is little point in adding brandy to something being cooked since most of the alcohol evaporates - far better is to soak raisins in brandy for a week or two beforehand and then add a teaspoon of the now decidedly alcoholic fruit to a glass, on top of which you pour some mulled ingredients.
The guests at Thomas Goode disposed of a prodigious quantity of the stuff that evening which no doubt had the desired effect and loosened their purse strings…
And then there was the story about the woman, who didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t touch the mulled wine. The next morning, she discovered the deliciously, soaked raisin and added them to her pcornflakes the next morning. It certainly lifted her Christmas spirit.
As a special gift, I am giving you my wife Sofia’s grandmother’s special recipe with 100 pct alcohol…at least the Swedish know that adding more alcohol is the only way to drink mulled wine.
Ingredients to make a good supply to last the season:
4 bottles Red Wine 75cl
1 bottle Port 75cl
1 bottle Brandy 70cl
3 cinnamon sticks
1 piece of dried ginger
500 gms Sugar Cubes
300 gms raisins
Mix red wine, port and brandy. Cinnamon cloves and ginger placed in cheese cloth to submerge in the liquid.
Bring to the boil with the raisins... then set fire to the pot and add the sugar cubes. Let flame subside (the quicker you blow it out the stronger the liquid will be...!) The result can be consumed or sieved and bottled for a future date and the raisins go very well on the morning cornflakes...