There’s nothing like a warming alcoholic drink to kick-start an evening, clear up the snuffles or warm the cockles of your heart on a chilly night.
There’s a little bit of magic created when you heat wine with spices and citrus to make mulled wine. Whether you serve it bright and clear, sharp and sweet, or leave it to macerate (that’s a nicer way of saying ‘stew’), until the citrus softens, the spices permeate the wine and the sugar takes the edge off the tang, or flame the top and singe the citrus peel (smells amazing), or finish it with brandy or an assortment of spirits (careful: it can kick like a mule!), mulled wine hits the spot in chilly weather – in fact, the colder it is, the more it will be appreciated. My favourite blend, a standard mix of red wine, orange peel, raisins and spices, fills the house with aromas of spicy fruit cake as it steeps. A mug of it, steamy and spicy, brings instant cheer and warms hands, cheeks and chests. I usually forgo adding extra alcohol to it, although a slosh of brandy gives it more punch and delivers a hot rush to the chest (mmm…).
To the classic blend of cloves and cinnamon, you can tinker around with a range of spices and flavourings. Try star anise, coriander seeds, cracked cardamom pods, or just the seeds, whole allspice berries, a sprinkle of ground nutmeg, a few strips of peeled ginger, dried tangerine peel, lime peel, dried cherries and small rosemary sprigs, and create a spicy mix that suits you. The spices, herbs and peel can be added to the wine and left to sink or float, or bundled up in a square of muslin, tied with string, and removed once they’ve done their job of flavouring the wine.
The finished mulled wine can be served with a small cinnamon stick to swirl through the wine to give a woody note, or dust the top with a little freshly grated nutmeg for a spice kick. A slice or two of orange, or a strip of peel, will add a bright note as the hot wine draws out the citrus oils from the rind.