Making Mulled Wine – Justin’s secrets revealed...
By Justin Howard-Sneyd (Master of Wine and BIB Wine Co-Founder).
I can’t understand why anyone would buy a pre-mixed mulled wine.
Available from supermarkets at this time of year, they cost between £4-£6 a bottle for a lightly spiced, sweetened red wine of about 9% alcohol. They are frequently brewed up using the cheapest source of thin red wines, and then industrially flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, orange, and other Christmassy flavours. When hot, they taste thin and weedy and artificial.
Here are two methods that will guarantee you a decent drop.
1) The quick and easy method with a pre-bought syrup
– Buy a bottle of Mulled Wine syrup, or sachets of mulled wine spices
– Buy an inexpensive red, with a soft generous flavour. I find simple Côtes du Rhône a very reliable bet, or any other red that is ripe and not too tannic. If you are a millionaire, and you want to use Domaine of the Bee, that's fine by me, but it might be a bit of a waste... (I sometimes use up red wine that has been sitting around open for a few days, as mulled wine is a bit more forgiving if the wine has become a little tired.)
– Heat the wine in the saucepan with the recommended amount of syrup – or with the infusion of mulled wine spices steeping in the wine
– Add sugar or honey to taste
– Slice an orange into quarter slices and float in the wine. Be careful not to boil
– Serve in heat-proof glasses when piping hot
2) The slower and more complicated (but better) method by making your own syrup (serves 24-36)
Making the syrup
– Boil 3-4 litres of water, and dissolve 1 kg of sugar
– When the sugar has melted, add 3-4 sliced oranges (you can also collect orange peel over 2-3 days before, and add this too)
– Add 20-30 cloves, and 2-3 cinnamon sticks, snapped into 3-4 pieces
– Add 5-6 star anise. Other spices can be added if you like the flavours – nutmeg and allspice are good
– Allow the syrup to boil until it has reduced to half the original volume
– Allow the syrup to cool a little, strain into jugs, or bottles (especially if you want to keep it for a few days)
Mulling the wine
– Depending on how many guests you have, use 1 part syrup to 4 parts wine. (So 3 bottles of syrup + 12 bottles of wine will give you enough wine to serve 30-36 people)
– Heat the wine (see method 1) and syrup together in a saucepan. (Don’t use all of the wine and syrup at the beginning, but brew it in batches as needed)
– Float some freshly cut orange slices in the warming wine. Stud a couple of small oranges with 12-20 cloves and float them in the wine too
– Add port of brandy to taste (no more than half a bottle for 4-5 bottles of mulled wine)
– Counterbalance the extra alcohol of the brandy by adding some good quality apple juice (I find this works better than orange juice)
– Balance the alcohol and fruit juice to suit your palate, and whether or not you want raucous singing and dancing on the tables
– Ladle into jugs so that you can top up your guests glasses without needing to have them them cluster around the mulling pot
When you need to brew up some more, just add some more syrup and some more wine, and start again. If you have syrup left over, you can use it on another occasion, or even keep it for another year.