Warming cocktails are perfect for transitioning into the fall and winter months, yet in the United States we’ve all but forgotten Europe’s oldest hot drink: mulled wine. “Mulled,” in this context, means heated and spiced; if you want to make it sound more exotic, call it by its medieval name, hypocras; folks thought it did a body good—so much so that they named it after Hippocrates, the ancient Greek father of medicine.
Like sangria in summer, mulled wine enhances the fruit of the vine with a wintry combination of spices, fruit, brandy and sugar. Think of it as liquid fruitcake, except that your guests will actually be glad to see it when the holidays roll around. It’s an easy alternative to the common spiced cider, and it’s a great way to breathe new life into a stale bottle of wine.
1 bottle of inexpensive red wine
2 sticks cinnamon
5–6 whole cloves
½ tsp. ginger root, coarsely grated
½ tsp. nutmeg, coarsely grated
5 pods cardamom, cracked
Zest of half an orange or lemon
½ cup brown sugar (maple syrup or honey is a great substitution)
¼ cup brandy
Wrap the spices and citrus zest in a large piece of cheesecloth, approximately 12 inches square, tying a knot to seal the bundle. Place the spice sack in non-reactive pot. Pour the wine into the pot and add the brandy. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. When the mixture is warm, stir in the sugar, syrup or honey. Don’t let the mulled wine boil, or you risk cooking out the flavors. Leave over low heat for about 30 minutes while the flavors meld. Continue stirring occasionally. When the liquid is steaming lightly, it is ready to serve. Ladle into warm mugs. Have lemon wedges and extra sugar on hand so guests can squeeze in extra acidity if they want to cut the sweetness or add more sugar to indulge a sweet tooth. Note: Adjust ingredients and proportions to personal taste, but don’t let the sweetness overwhelm the wine’s acidity or the drink will be cloying.