Mulled wine makes me happy for many reasons, but mostly because it reminds me of my days as a Parisian schoolgirl. (Or schoolwoman? However you want to think of a 23-year-old at culinary school.) Strangely, I had never experienced the wonders of mulled wine before living in Paris, but from my first taste of the stuff in October 2010, I was hooked.
Come fall, vin chaud (aka mulled wine) pops up on almost every Parisian cocktail menu, and it is a beautiful thing. I spent many a cozy afternoon sipping this warmly spiced concoction at neighborhood cafes, while attempting to read Harry Potter in French (I pursued fluency in several creative ways), and enjoying the unparalleled Parisian people-watching. Rocking stained teeth before 4pm on a weekday may have been less than chic, but I felt very European, and that is all that matters.
I sampled plenty of tasty mulled wines during my Parisian tenure, but none were better than the vins chauds sold at the Christmas market on the Champs-Elysees. Every year from mid-November through early January, the Avenue des Champs-Elysees is lined with mini “chalets” offering all manner of holiday treats, transforming the iconic boulevard into a Christmas wonderland. Vendors sell everything from waffles and sausages to knitted hats and old-fashioned wooden toys, but the most popular booths are always those boasting giant cauldrons filled with simmering, fragrant wine. Duh.
The mulled wines from different vendors varied somewhat in terms of sweetness and spices, but they were all equally delicious and festive. Multiple times a week, I would take a stroll through the Christmas market, reveling in the holiday magic while enjoying Styrofoam cups of my new favorite cocktail and perusing the endless supply of overpriced knick-knacks. Sure, the mulled wine sometimes led to poor decisions, like purchasing an enormous set of inordinately expensive Russian nesting dolls, but c’est la vie, non? It was glorious.
Sadly, I am no longer an American in Paris, but I continue to crave a good vin chaud around the holidays. So, now that the post-Thanksgiving holiday mayhem is in full swing, I figured it would be a good time to share my all-time favorite mulled wine recipe with you.
This mulled wine is probably the coziest cocktail in the world. Thanks to fresh orange juice and zest, and a tiny bit of honey, it’s fruity without being cloyingly sweet, and the combination of spices are guaranteed to warm you up from the inside out. You can use any type of red wine you like, but I strongly suggest a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon (and yes, you can use the cheap stuff). You’ll see that I listed brandy as optional in the recipe because it’s a matter of personal taste. Adding the liquor definitely makes for a more substantial and structured cocktail, but I prefer my mulled wine without it. If you’re on the fence or serving a picky group, you can always add a shot of brandy to individual glasses.
I’m actually planning on whipping up a batch of this mulled wine in a few hours because my roommate and I are going to pick out our Christmas tree this evening. “Christmas Tree Night” has become a tradition in recent years, and I’m very much looking forward to it. At 6pm, I shall put on my fanciest outerwear (lest I be mistaken for working at the tree vendor à la 2011) and accompany Logan to the nearest Christmas tree stand. We will annoyingly touch all of the trees to find “the best one,” and then Logan will carry it several blocks home, while I take pictures and periodically make empty offers to help him with his load. (So many double entendres.)
Upon arriving home, we will try putting the tree in ten different places in the living room and get pine needles all over the floor. (This will annoy my roommate because he’s a neat freak.) Eventually, we’ll choose a spot and decorate the tree with a fire hazard-worthy amount of lights and cheap ornaments that we buy at CVS every year because we feel too young to collect “real” ornaments. During the tree trimming process, we will happily sip mulled wine while listening to Christmas Pandora and embracing the holiday spirit. Needless to say, I’m pretty pumped.
Whatever your holiday traditions involve, I highly recommend throwing this mulled wine into the mix. It’s the perfect cocktail to serve at all of your upcoming fiestas, since it’s a breeze to make, and you can easily double (or quadruple) the recipe for a crowd. Plus, it will make your home smell unbelievably amazing. I swear, it’s like Christmas in a pot.
For the record, mulled wine is also an ideal companion for outdoor holiday activities, including tree-lightings, winter walks, and power-shopping. Just strain it into a thermos and be on your merry way. Here’s to the holiday season, friends!
(The Best) Mulled Wine: (Serves 4)
1 bottle red wine (I recommend a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon)
¼ cup brandy (optional)
1 orange, juiced and zested
3 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
8 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground all spice
1-2 tablespoons honey (depending on the sweetness of your wine)
For garnish: (optional)
Preparing your Mulled Wine:
-Pour your red wine into a medium saucepan.
-Add the remaining ingredients to the wine. I like to wrap the cloves in cheesecloth, so that I can easily remove them when the wine is ready. If you don’t have cheesecloth, relax. You can always strain your mulled wine before serving.