My first memory of a “holiday wine” would be a California Chablis, served in those reusable glass carafes from the ‘70s. Though my mom was French, she didn’t really have a mulled wine tradition like so many Europeans, just a wine tradition. My father really didn’t drink, and my mom actually did not drink that much, but we always had some wine available for guests and more guests come around the holidays. We all have a holiday wine memory; like bubbly on New Year’s Eve making our parents just a little more animated… or the first time the adults let you sample some of their “special” drinks (usually to find it very distasteful).
These days my “holiday wines” are situation specific, paired to meals or friends, but I love the European traditions of spiced and herbal wines, and in making mulled wine, I am drinking a tiny piece of history.
Yet again we have the inventive Romans to thank for spiced, heated wine, making its way to England via Roman soldiers, to become mulled wine. The spices range from clove, to nutmeg, to cinnamon and to mace, while port and claret were the most popular red wine bases. In Germany and Austria, Glühwein (or “glow wine,” referring to the hot irons needed to boil it) is made much the same way but often adding star anise, citrus and sugar, and even vanilla pods. Sometimes drunk mit Schuss (“with a shot”) where some rum or brandy is added for kick. In the Nordic countries they have glögg, with nearly the same recipe as above and often enhanced with vodka, though cardamom, ginger and bitter orange are mentioned as possible additives. There is a regional and seasonal bias, so you can use whatever is most prevalent when you start your mulling. Virtually every European country has a name for their heated and spiced wine. In South America we have Brazil’s quentåo (“big hot one”) and Chile’s vino navega’o (“navigator wine”), so wherever you are there is often some traditional mulled wine for the holidays.
If you have to have a recipe there are many on the web, but use the spices you like best. If you love the flavor of cinnamon, then use a stick with a pinch of grated nutmeg, a few cloves and cardamom seeds. If you hate cardamom, use ginger. Add lemon peel for some citrus zest and a cup of sugar to all of the above with a bottle or two of fruity red. I have a tangerine tree, so I’ll juice one of those and add that to the warming wine. The red wine can have some acid like a Spanish Tempranillo or Chilean Carménère, since you are adding sugar and maybe some seasonal fruit. Powerhouse winery Robert Mondavi released their limited Woodbridge Harvest Spiced Red Blend for the first time, at less than $5 per bottle to be served warm or cold. Many of our ABC stores are selling a classic German Glühwein, the Augsburger Christkindlmarkt from Schmitt Sohne for only $9 with just 9% alcohol, ready to go with spices already added, to serve either chilled or warmed up, as is the tradition. I tend to go warmed up as that releases the spice’s aromas.
So whether these European mulled wine traditions, a brand new California infusion, a bottle of your favorite Champagne, a cobalt blue bottle of “Let’s Celebrate” Moscato d’Asti, or a bottle of Bordeaux’s finest Pontet-Canet 2010, there is a holiday wine with your name on it. Remember it’s you who makes your holiday wine special and creates future memories that become traditions. Happiest of holidays to all of you!
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine & spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE