Having only just recently perfected this recipe, the Bartender has been mulling (pardon the pun) over whether to post this one now, so late in the holiday season, or sit on it for next year. However, after writing it up in email for one friend, and then spending the next couple of days watching the list of recipients grow longer and longer as more of her friends demand the recipe, it seems wisest to capitulate to obvious demand. After all, there are still several months of cold days ahead, long after the warm glow of the holidays have faded, when a bit of warm spicy cheer might not go amiss.
Luckily, mulled wine (or Vin Chaud as it’s known in France) is quite easy to make, and very open to interpretation. Put the wine and spices (and fruit, if you’re using it) into a pot, turn the heat on medium-low, wait for it to just start bubbling, then turn the heat to low and leave it partially covered. Stir it now and then if you feel inspired. Half an hour later you’ve got mulled wine. You can let it simmer longer if you like stronger flavors from the spices. Needless to say, the product at the end is fairly low in alcohol content, so if you like you can fortify it with brandy, but this is optional.
A point of note: The secret to this particular combination appears to be the vanilla bean, which is a slightly alien ingredient to many people. (Pro tip: they’re usually ridiculously expensive, but Costco has them right now for $15 for ten beans. Normally they’re more like $15 for one bean.) All you need to know is that the seeds are tiny and suspended in a sort of gooey texture. So you cut it down its length with the tip of a paring knife (the bean itself is fibrous and will help you do that), then lay it out flat and scrape the seeds out of the inside with the dull side of the blade. You can then put the seeds and the pod both in the wine.
Speaking of the wine, the Bartender here breaks with her usual “quality-only” mantra, because the spices and the heat serve to break down any subtle bouquets the original wine might have had. Break out the three-buck Chuck, with her blessing – especially if you have quality spices!
1 bottle fruity red wine
2 tablespoons honey (more or less to taste, depending on how dry the wine is)
1 vanilla bean, scraped and seeded, with pod
2 cinnamon sticks
11 whole cloves
1 star anise
3 cardamom pods
2 ounces brandy
Strain before drinking. Irish coffee glasses are great for serving it in, especially over one of the cinnamon sticks.
And for those who want to play around with theirs, here are some ideas for additional/replacement ingredients to get you started:
Blackberry cordial or brandy
Sliced fresh ginger
Enjoy, friends, and stay warm!