Indulging in a warm, spicy mug of mulled wine signals the start to the festive season. I can’t imagine a Christmas without it. What makes this drink so magical?
Is it the combination of Christmas spices…oranges, cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, cardamom pods and candied ginger?
Or is it the alcohol? Everything seems a bit more magical after a few alcoholic beverages…right?!?!
Honestly, I think the secret to a magical mulled wine recipe is a combination of factors really. The most important ingredient is choosing the correct wine. It’s so disappointing when people suggest using ‘any old bottle’ to make mulled wine!!!! Remember…your recipe is only as good as the quality of the ingredients you include. I’m not suggesting that you grab a bottle of your most precious Bordeaux premier grand cru, but you should take the time to choose a decent bottle.
Which wine to choose?
After mulling it over, I am convinced that a young, unoaked Malbec from Argentina makes the BEST mulled wine. Malbec wines from Argentina tend to be medium to full bodied, with medium alcohol levels, medium tannins, medium acidity and filled with flavours of black cherry, black plum, raspberry and hints of chocolate. There are many styles of Malbec wines found across Argentina, but most will follow this general profile. Malbec wines from Cahors, France are also well know, but they tend to be fuller bodied with higher alcohol levels, deep black fruit flavours, high tannins and lower acidity levels. These features are a bit too extreme for the style of mulled wine that I wish to create and this is why I believe that an Argentinian Malbec wine creates the perfect base for a delicious mulled wine.
What effect does the alcohol level have on a mulled wine?
First of all, heating wine causes the alcohol to evaporate; therefore, you need a wine with a medium to medium-high alcohol level. This ensures that a percentage of alcohol is still left behind once the wine is heated but that the alcohol level isn’t too overpowering.
Secondly, mulled wine should have a richer, more indulgent feeling in the mouth that comes from using a fuller bodied wine. Think of the weight of water. You want the wine to seem heavier than water. Look for wines that have medium alcohol levels between 13-14.5%. Anything lower will seem weak and anything higher will have a burning effect when drinking. A dry wine with higher alcohol levels will also be fuller bodied, thus having more viscosity and a rounded mouthfeel. I emphasise ‘dry’ wines because higher sugar levels in a wine also increase the body but these wines will have lower alcohol levels. The presence of alcohol can be seen by the presence of streaks, also known as ‘the legs’, that accumulate and trickle down when you swirl the wine. The higher the alcohol, the longer these trickles will linger in the glass. These sensory factors are often taken for granted, but if you were to make a mulled wine out of a Beaujolais Nouveau, your palate would definitely wake up and want to know if Christmas was cancelled!!!
How do I determine a wine’s acidity level?
Malbec wines tend to have a medium acidity levels which means that the wine is smoother, less sharp and more approachable…perfect for relaxing next to a warming fireplace.
Determining acidity levels is a bit tricky and requires some knowledge about the wine region. Generally, the warmer the climate and the longer the growing season, the lower the acidity levels. However, some areas are warm during the day and very cold at night, especially if the elevation is high. This is where a little research might be needed. Malbec wines are generally well balanced in terms of their acidity levels. Keep in mind, the higher the altitude, the higher the acidity levels.
What’s so special about tannins?
Tannins are found in grape seeds, skins and stems. You’ll know if you’re drinking a particularly tannic wine because your gums will seem dry and grippy. This sensation is fine, but not when you’re looking for a wine that will have a smooth sensation on the palate. Additionally, the spices (cinnamon, star anise, cardamom pods, cloves etc…) and orange peels added to the mulled wine already have bitter tannins, which continue to enhance the drying mouthfeel effect. It’s best to choose a wine that is unoaked and young because oak barrels impart further tannins and secondary aromas/flavours as well as oxidise the varietally specific fresh fruit flavours and aromas. You want those fresh fruit flavours to shine through!
Sugar, spice and everything nice!
Christmas spices are definitively unique and memorable. For my Malbec mulled wine, I made sure the spices didn’t overpower the Malbec’s fresh fruit aromas and flavours of ripe plum, raspberry and black cherry. Some Malbec wines even display chocolate aromas…what more could you ask for in a wine?!?! Additionally, I chose to only use sweet orange juice and peel. Citrus is necessary when using Malbec wine because it brings a little acidic zing to the table. Some recipes call for lemon peel, but the sharp, bitter flavour is just too much of a contrast for the Malbec. When deciding how to sweeten the wine, I used golden sugar primarily because it also offers a light caramel flavour. Some recipes use honey, but I find that it sometimes can be too definitely sweet. The goal is to enhance the sweetness and not create a lusciously sweet boiled candied concoction.
The mulled the merrier!
Now, that you’ve survived my Malbec Mulled Wine 101, let’s create this magical marvel!
Begin by peeling an orange, juicing it and setting the peel aside. Gather your spices so they are ready to go!
Add the golden sugar and orange juice to a saucepan. Gently stir and warm over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Stir continuously, or the sugar will burn.
Add the spices to the syrup mixture and continue to stir for another 2 minutes. You’ll be amazed with how seamlessly the flavours infuse with the syrup.
Pour in the Malbec wine and stir the ingredients together over medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Ensure that the mulled wine doesn’t boil.
Once the incredible aromas start filling the room, you’ll know that the mulled wine is almost ready. Carefully, ladle the wine from the saucepan into a mug. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, star anise and orange slice. If you’re after a little more heat and a tiny bit more alcohol, add a teaspoon of Calvados to each cup. Calvados is a brandy from Normandy in France that is made from apples. It’s wonderful! Then pair your Magical Malbec Mulled wine with my Swedish St Lucia Saffron Bun recipe. Trust me, it’s well worth it!
Enjoy and have a Merry Christmas.
Magical Mulled Malbec Wine
- 150 grams golden sugar
- 1 orange peel and juice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 3 cardamom pods
- 2 candied ginger cubes halved
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 bottle Malbec wine unoaked and young
- Calvados optional
- Peel and juice the orange. Save the peel.
- Add the golden sugar to a saucepan along with the orange juice. Dissolve over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Stir continuously.
- Add the remaining spices and warm over medium heat for about 2 minutes.
- Pour in the Malbec wine, stir the ingredients together over medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Ensure that the mulled wine doesn't boil.
- Once warmed, ladle into mugs. Add a teaspoon (or more) of Calvados to each cup.
- Garnish with a cinnamon stick, star anise and orange slice.
- Pair with Swedish St. Lucia Saffron buns.