As the days grow colder and shorter, it’s only a matter of time before snow, ice, and slush will start to appear. But the news isn’t all bad: A carefully chosen recipe can be a real bright spot on a gloomy day.
The Best Way to Drink an Inexpensive Red: Mull It.
Enter my one-step frosty-weather survival guide: Snuggle up with a steaming mug of mulled red wine. Heady with spices, citrus, and brandy, and only slightly sweet, this cozy warmer is sure to cure the chilly-day doldrums.
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My recipe has only a mild alcohol taste and deep—but not overwhelming—spice notes. I start with an inexpensive medium- to full-bodied red wine (there’s no need to splurge; just choose one that you enjoy drinking).
Then, for full, round flavor, I add a warming quartet of whole spices, all toasted to unlock their full potential, along with a few swaths of fresh, floral orange zest.
Simmering the wine for a full hour ensures a deeply flavorful drink that doesn’t taste raw; it also cooks off a good portion of the alcohol. Just before serving, I stir in a couple of spoonfuls of brandy for a fresh, boozy kick.
RED WINES FOR MULLING
I tested a dozen inexpensive reds in this recipe and found that most were good candidates for mulling. That’s not to say they all tasted the same: A lot of the differences have to do with “body,” a term that can be used to broadly categorize red wines. The more body a wine has, the richer and more concentrated it tastes.
Light reds tend to be uncomplicated, fruity, and sometimes thin-tasting. Medium-bodied reds are smooth and lush, while full-bodied reds are often described as tannic, hearty, and robust. Light wines can’t support heavy mulling spices and sugar—they taste, well, too light.
My advice is simple: Choose an affordable medium- to full-bodied wine that you enjoy drinking on its own. Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel are all good choices.
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Mulled Red Wine
Makes about 1½ quarts, serving 8
The flavor of the mulled wine deteriorates if it is simmered for longer than 1 hour. It is best served immediately after mulling but will keep fairly hot off heat, covered, for about 30 minutes. Leftover mulled wine can be reheated in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stovetop.
3 cinnamon sticks (3 inches each)
10 whole cloves
10 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon allspice berries (about 25)
2 bottles medium- or full-bodied red wine
4 strips orange zest removed with vegetable peeler, each strip about 2 inches long by ½ inch wide, cleaned of any white pith
½ cup granulated sugar, plus up to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste
2-4 tablespoons brandy
1. Toast cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns, and allspice in medium heavy-bottomed nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add wine, orange zest, and ½ cup sugar; cover partially and bring to simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour until wine is infused; do not boil.
2. Strain wine through fine-mesh strainer; return wine to saucepan and discard spices and orange zest. Stir 2 tablespoons brandy into wine; taste and add up to 2 tablespoons more sugar and 2 tablespoons more brandy, if desired. Ladle wine into small mugs; serve immediately.
Hooked on mulled wine? Click here for my recipe for Mulled Red Wine with Raisins and Almonds, inspired by Scandinavian glögg.