Mulled Wine and Tea

mulled wine

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 combining red wine and tea in his thermos whenever he went hunting. And it was also his drink of choice for when he needed to warm up after coming in from the cold outdoors.

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 peel and juice, and the spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, and cardamom. I simmer the liquid just until it's hot and infused with all the flavor from the spices and orange. 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 personal custom for mulling wine.

Mulled Wine and Tea

1 750-ml bottle dry red wine, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon
4 cups strong brewed tea, preferably Earl Grey
2 sticks cinnamon, plus more for garnish
2 star anise
6 cloves
5 cardamom pods
12 gratings nutmeg
1 orange, peel and juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Add the wine and tea to a medium pot placed over medium-high heat. Add the spices, the orange peel and juice, and the sugar. Simmer gently until the sugar has dissolved and the orange rind has taken on the color of the wine, about 5 to 10 minutes. Don't let it boil! Let the liquid steep for about 5 minutes before serving or ladling into a thermos. Serve in mugs and add a cinnamon stick to each for a stirrer. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

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