When the temperatures drop, when shop windows are lined in blinking lights, and when holiday guests arrive by the dozen, it's that time of the year again:
Time to brew hot, spiced, mulled red wine and breathe in the aroma of Christmas in a glass.
Vin brulé, as mulled wine is called in Piemonte, makes its soul-soothing, bone-warming appearance in just as many outdoor Italian Christmas markets as it does in US holiday parties. The recipe is easy and forgivable -- a pinch more or less of spice, sugar, or fruit won't even be noticed.
The tradition of spicing wine goes back to the Ancient Greek wine hippocras, was subsequently kept alive by Italian monasteries and later the Victorians (heard of wassail?), and is still much enjoyed today in both Italy and the United States. The recipes have changed over the centuries in countless variations, from using white wine to adding egg yolks, from elaborate preparations to sitting the mix in a clay pot all day long without even bothering to heat it.
Today, the most notable difference among recipes is the counsel on boiling the wine for a long enough time to let the alcohol evaporate (in Italy); or an emphasis on boiling just enough to mix the sugar and to avoid alcohol evaporation as much as possible (in the US and UK), sometimes even adding brandy or additional alcohol. I fall into the latter category: who wants hot, mulled wine if half of its warming effects are dulled?
Here is a basic recipe. Adjust the ingredients according to taste, or enjoy it just the way it is.
Recipe for Vin brulé - Mulled wine
2 bottles of red wine
220 gr / 7 oz / slightly less than 1 cup sugar
1 organic lemon
1 organic orange
1-2 star anise
2 sticks cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Peel the skin from the orange and lemon. Combine the fruit skin, spices, sugar, and just enough wine to cover the sugar in a saucepan. Heat the wine to boiling and stir constantly until it becomes a syrup; add the rest of the wine and keep warm (not boiling, so as not to evaporate the alcohol), ladling out portions to guests as they file in your door.
1 apple, sliced thinly
Peel of 1 lime
2-3 bay leaves
1 vanilla pod
Pinch of ginger