No wine is more closely associated with the holidays than Champagne. We pour it to welcome friends and family into our homes and it accompanies many of our various holiday gatherings. What reveler could possibly ring in the New Year without a glass of bubbles?
Champagne comes solely from Champagne, France, near Paris and retails anywhere between $40 and several hundred dollars. If you’re like me, you’ll be looking for less expensive alternatives.
California’s Anderson Valley produces high-quality sparkling wine in the style of Champagne at just a fraction of the cost. Another great source of quality sparkling wine is Italy with serious styles coming from Trentino-Alto Adige and Lombardy. Also, you can find a good prosecco for less than $15 to get the job done.
In Northern Europe we find another great holiday wine tradition: warmed and spiced red wine. This “mulled wine” was originally designed to show off the wealth and generosity of a medieval household, but it has now become a symbol of holiday cheer. Mulled wine can be made from white wine as well and is occasionally even made from a fortified wine such as Port (most often in England), but mulled wine is predominantly red, served warm, and is spiced according to local custom and familial recipes.
In Germany, Austria and Alsace mulled wine is known as glühwein, named for the glowing hot irons once used to warm it. Glühwein is a feature of the Christkindlmarkt, the popular Christmas markets that pop up in town squares each December throughout German-speaking Europe. The Bavarians drink it mit schuss (with a shot of brandy) but this is not required.
Mulled red wine is also found in Scandinavia where it is known as Glögg, and it’s found all over eastern Europe. There’s even a version popular in South America.
While regional differences exist, how you flavor your mulled wine is really a personal preference. As a general guide, I suggest two or three bottles of inexpensive but good quality red wine. There’s really no need to spend more than $10 per bottle because you’ll be altering its flavor and possibly spiking it with liquor for an extra holiday kick. Heat the wine on the stove over low heat or use a crockpot to keep the wine warm. As for the spicing, think of your favorite flavors of the holiday season and you’ll have the general idea.
The most common flavorings are cinnamon sticks, citrus peel (orange peel speaks to me), cloves, star aniseed, vanilla pods and ginger. Adjust the sweetness with sugar — some people opt for brown sugar — but be sure it thoroughly dissolves. Ladle it into cups and garnish with lemon peel and serve with a plate of ginger snaps.
1 large orange
2 cardamom pods
6 whole clove
6 allspice berries
6 whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, plus 4 for garnish (optional)
1 bottle (3 cups) fruity red wine
˝ cup sugar
Ľ cup brandy
With a fine grater, zest, then juice the orange. With the flat side of a knife, press firmly on the cardamom pods to bruise them. In a large pot (not aluminum), combine zest, juice, cardamom, cloves, allspice, peppercorns, cinnamon, wine, sugar and brandy. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low; simmer until flavors have melded, about 30 minutes. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve; garnish with cinnamon stick, if desired. Serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Living