Warm yourself from head to toe with a hot drink on a blustery day like today. Mulled wine does that and more. Popularized in Germany and Scandinavia, mulled wine has been a holiday favorite for hundreds of years. Christmas markets in cities and towns all over Europe swell with shoppers who turn to mulled wine when they want to warm up their chilly fingers and toes. It really does have the effect of rosying cheeks and making spirits bright. Mulled wine is typically made with a good dry wine sweetened with sugar and flavored with various spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, among others.
In old fashioned times, wine was mulled to take away its foul or spoiled taste. The tradition was born out of practicality. But that is no longer the case. Use good but inexpensive wine for this drink. There's no reason to set the bank back when the flavor will come mostly from the spices you add. My version is based on a drink my father enjoyed. He used to love adding red wine to a cup of tea. It was his drink for when he needed to warm up after coming in from the cold outdoors, especially after we explored the wilderness together.
This recipe is not your knock-you-out variety. It's a bit more tame and friendly. I start with a strong brew of tea, either Earl Grey or Assam, which I simmer with sugar, orange rind and juice, and the spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, and cardamom. I pour in the wine and simmer just until it's hot. Any longer would lose all the alcohol, which is the key if you expect to get a bit of buzz after drinking this concoction. The tea adds a more complex flavor and keeps the drink from getting way too potent. It's not traditional, but it's my new custom for mulling wine.
Mulled Wine and Tea
3 cups strong brewed tea
3/4 cup sugar
1 orange, peel and juice
2 sticks cinnamon, plus more for garnish
12 gratings nutmeg
2 star anise
5 cardamom pods
1 750-ml bottle dry red wine, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon
Bring the tea to a simmer in a medium pot. Add orange peel and juice, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and cardamom. Simmer gently until the sugar is dissolved and the orange rind has taken on the color of the wine, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and bring the mixture to a simmer. Ladle the mulled wine into mugs and add a cinnamon stick to each for a stirrer. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.