Vin chaud, or mulled wine, is a favorite at French Christmas markets. Its spicy notes and warm aroma make this one of the most perfect holiday drinks.
I have many fond memories of wandering through the brightly lit stalls of Christmas markets with a cup of vin chaud warming my hands and lifting my spirits. The sweet, festive drink which is loved by many, has a history that goes back to Roman times. A honeyed version was probably made somewhere around the 2nd century and consumed not only as a winter warmer but also prized for its restorative properties. Medieval Europe took a special liking to the drink, adding exotic spices such as cinnamon, cloves and cardamom which were introduced through trade and exploration. Back then, the drink was an aid for digestion and popular at banquets. It was also a way to make wines last longer and improve their taste when they were bitter or unpleasant. By the end of the 19th century, mulled wine had become the Christmas drink we know today.
THE PERFECT GLASS
There are many different recipes for vin chaud, but the essence of the drink remains the same: wine (red is the most common, but white is also used), fragrant spices, a touch of citrus and, sometimes, a shot of brandy or rum. The most important thing to remember is to heat the drink gently. Never let it boil as this will affect the taste and lower the alcohol content. I like to make my vin chaud in advance so that the wine — my preference goes to a smooth merlot — becomes infused with the flavor of all the spices. My version has Armagnac (I was probably a Gascon in a past life), fresh orange juice (not the rind, it adds too much bitterness) and dark brown sugar for a deep, rich taste.
- 260ml red wine (preferably merlot)
- Juice of 1 large orange
- 2 small cinnamon sticks
- 2 cloves
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 tbsp Armagnac
- 2 tbsps dark brown sugar
- 1 star anise
Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Do not boil! Remove from the heat after 2 minutes and leave to stand for at least 4 hours at room temperature. Reheat gently when ready to serve.