Holiday parties and mulled wine go hand in hand. It adds warmth to the ambiance—something sweet and spiced simmering on the stove while friends hang out. It’s also a long-standing European tradition. According to lore, in the second century, Romans began to heat wine to steel their bodies against the winter temperatures.
Chris Woodrow, former owner of Vin Master in South End, doesn’t just reserve mulled wine for parties or survival, though. “I’ve also made some on cold winter days, especially to warm up after being outside,” he says. “I would say after shoveling, but who am I kidding? We don’t do that here.”
Woodrow walked me through how to make my own mulled wine—and how you can, too:
1. Select your wine
Opt for good, but economical. “For reds, I go with something really fruity but not too heavy,” says Woodrow. Good options are garnacha or zinfandel. They both bring a little spice of their own to the mix.”
If he’s feeling more traditional, he goes for a Dornfelder or Zweigelt from Germany or Austria. But if you prefer a white wine, choose one with a little acid kick to keep the mix from getting cloying. Woodrow recommends a riesling or pinot grigio.
2. Pick the spices
“I have to admit, I’m a little lazy,” Woodrow said. “I just go to the Savory Spice Shop and pick up some of their pre-mixed packages. Go with the experts.”
Savory Spice Shop sells Mulling Spices (or Holiday Spice Tubes) online and in-store for a range of weights and prices, from $6 up. The packets contain saigon cinnamon, allspice, Ceylon and Madagascar cloves, blade mace and inner cardamom seeds.
3. Skip the sugar
I don’t love adding sugar to anything, especially wine. That’s where fruity wines come in. “They give the impression of sweetness without being really sweet,” says Woodrow. “A jammy Zinfandel won’t need any added sugar.”
4. Pick some snacks to pair
“Unlike fashion, when I pair food and wine, matchy-matchy is the way to go,” Woodrow said. “Spicy wine calls for spicy food. Ginger snap cookies or spice cake go great. This is also another time to get that pumpkin pie fix.” Yes, please.
5. Make some mulled magic
Your ingredients: a bottle of fruity red wine, a packet of mulling spices, and either cinnamon sticks or orange slices.
Instructions: Combine wine and spices in a saucepot, and warm on the stove until just slightly steaming. Ladel into glasses —or your favorite holiday mug!—and garnish with cinnamon or an orange slice.
Photo: Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS