French wines – doesn’t the very thought conjure up images of lavender fields in Provence, of rolling countryside in Burgundy, or perhaps of a more rugged landscape in Bordeaux. And, of course, you see yourself sipping your favourite tipple while bathing in France’s glorious sunshine or relaxing after a day of swimming and sightseeing with a glass or three while basking in the gentle evening heat. Perhaps you dream of a rosé in Le Midi, a crisp Sancerre or Chablis in the Dordogne, or perhaps a claret or Beaujolais drunk not five miles from the grower.
But winter is upon us right now, and you’re probably thinking more about booking that French ski deal and heading for the slopes and the snow. Good idea – but what will you drink at the après-ski parties? Well, there are still your old favourites, of course – and chilled champagne and a cosy log fire do go awfully well together. After all, the wine is going to be cheaper in France, and you will have far more local varieties from which to make your choice. But maybe it’s time to be more adventurous, and consider the joys of a good mulled wine – or Glühwein as it commonly known in German-speaking countries and the French region of Alsace.
Naturally, you can also drink it outside of Alsace. Maybe you’re in the Savoie or Rhône-Alpes region – Val d’Isère for example – spending your days on the slopes and your evenings with friends and family exchanging tales of daring do and near misses on the mountains. But that’s also a great opportunity to try something new in the way of experiencing wine.
But you don’t have to wait until your French skiing holiday to enjoy a good mulled wine – the vine’s version of a classic hot toddy. The practice of mulling wine can trace its origins way back to 1869 and Mrs. Beeton, but here’s a nice simple recipe to get you going over the festive season.
For every 75 ml bottle of red wine (cabernet sauvignon and/or merlot work particularly well):
• 60g/2oz Demerara sugar or half a cup of honey
• 3 cinnamon sticks
• 8 to 10 cloves
• 2 tsp ground ginger
• 1 orange, halved
• 1 dried bay leaf
• ¼ cup of brandy (optional – but makes a nice addition!)
• some grated nutmeg, to taste
1. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, squeezing the orange as you do so.
2. Heat gently until the sugar or honey has dissolved. Taste to see if you want the wine sweeter, and add more sugar or honey as required.
3. Let the whole simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes: don’t let it boil, or you will distil off the alcohol.
4. Using a strainer to keep back the solid ingredients, pour or ladle into pre-warmed mugs or heatproof glasses, and serve at once.
People have different tastes, of course, and you may well need to experiment with the proportions of sugars and spices to find what’s perfect for you – but that can be a pleasure in itself.
Now, the choice of what wine to mull can be a source of great controversy. Naturally, you’re not going to crack open a few bottles of Château Mouton Rothschild 2005 – at around £800 per bottle, that would not only be a foolish extravagance, it would be a criminal waste of a superb wine. But on the other hand, do you really want to use a cheap wine? As with all aspects of life, you get out what you put in; and while many people are happy to use a standard red wine box to fill up their saucepan, they are probably the same people who prefer hamburgers to a good juicy steak. So don’t overdo it, but do choose a reasonable quality of red wine: something reasonably mid-range from the supermarket should work perfectly. Just remember, the idea of mulling a wine is to create a new experience and find a new pleasure: it’s not supposed to be a way of making a poor wine drinkable.
So try something new this winter, whether by yourselves or entertaining friends. A few glasses of mulled wine on arrival is the perfect “ice-breaker” – in more ways than one.