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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I recently had mulled wine at my cousin's place and loved it! She used red wine and a spice mix from a specialty store; it is a powder that comes in a small carton. Can you tell me how I can make mulled wine? Thanks.
—Shyami, Aurora, Colo.
Some wine purists will scoff at mulled wine, but I'm all for anything that gets people drinking wine, period. Mulled wine goes back to medieval times, when heated and spiced wine was called Hipocris, named after the physician Hippocrates, because it was thought to be healthy (and probably beat the available drinking water). It was a hit in Victorian times, and these days it's known as Glühwein in Germany and Glogg in Sweden. (Those clever Swedes put almonds and raisins in it!) Nothing beats how great it makes the house smell when you make it.
Since you're going to be drastically changing the flavor of the wine, there's no need to start with a bottle you really love, but you don't want to start with something that tastes bad, either. Look for value reds; Syrah or Shiraz or Zinfandel are among the fruitiest of reds, and make a good base.
Most mulled wine recipes include sugar, which mellows the tangy flavor wine gets when it's heated. You can use white sugar, brown sugar or honey for a sweetener. About half a cup to a cup's worth per 750ml bottle of wine is a good starting point.
Nutmeg, clove and cinnamon are the most common ingredients, but ginger, allspice, peppercorns, vanilla beans, star anise, cardamom and juniper are sometimes used. Start with an eighth of a teaspoon per bottle of each spice you want to include, and increase from there according to taste. If you can use whole or fresh spices, all the better.
Citrus is a traditional part of mulled wine; you can use dried orange peel, or just slice up an orange and/or a lemon to float on top. I also like a couple of ounces of brandy (or rum or citrus-flavored liqueur) in my mulled wine; it adds a little something extra. So does adding a dash of bitters.
Heat the wine slowly—and be careful to not let it boil, or the flavors will deteriorate. Keep it barely simmering for at least 20 minutes to infuse thoroughly before serving. (You can also make it in advance and reheat it.)
These are just guidelines; interpret them as you will. When you're ready to drink it, strain and serve your mulled wine in a sturdy glass or a mug.
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