Saturday, December 24, 2011

Victorian mulled wine

It annoys me when something old and traditional is repackaged and sold as if it is new and exotic, especially if the new version is inferior to the old one. Every year I go through Halloween trauma, when the shops are filled with garish orange pumpkins and plastic vampire teeth, and my suffering is only slightly relieved by being able to buttonhole the occasional American and lecture them on the Scottish origins of the festival and the joys of turnip carving. Last year I was lucky to have a resident American in the form of Kaya's dad Jordon to play this part, and this year the role has been filled by our new friends Beth and Josh. I apologies to all of you for making you the recipients of my curmudgeonly rantings.

With Halloween barely over it is German Christmas Market time in Edinburgh and just about everywhere else in the UK (or Weihnachtsmarkt as they call it in Frankfurt). I'm partial to the odd bratwurst myself and am quite happy to browse stalls loaded with little wooden Christmas ornaments, but I draw the line at their  gluhwein. The problem starts with inferior wine, and is then compounded by excessive sugar, heavy-handed spicing, and stewing the wine. The result is a mug of expensive cough medicine.

So I decided to make some traditional Victorian mulled wine. The sugar, spices and citrus should be identifiable without being overpowering or sickly, and preparing a syrup which is then strained and added to the wine, which is in turn gently heated, has a number of advantages. You don't get any of the nasty bitterness from leaving the spices and citrus sitting around in the wine, you are not at risk of choking on the whole cloves floating around in your drink and, last but not least, you don't reduce the alcohol content of the wine by cooking it off.

250ml water
175g brown sugar
6 cinnamon sticks
2-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon of cloves
zest of 1 orange
2 bottles of red wine (I used a Chilean merlot)


  1. Combine the water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and orange zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until you have a thick syrup.
  2. Pour the wine into a large saucepan, strain the syrup into it, and heat well but take care not to boil or to allow it to simmer. Serve immediately or turn off the heat and cover the pan.
Photo credits
Together with my mulled wine, this photo features Gemma's handmade Scandinavian wooden advent calendar.

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