I come from a little village located in one of the many valleys that cut through the Italian Alps. Although down in the valley we don’t get much snow, the winters are cold and snow tops the tall mountains all around. Once a year, on the night of Christmas Eve, the whole village gathers in the church for midnight mass. After the service, people linger in front of the church and take their time to catch up with friends and wish one another a merry Christmas. To fight off the cold and make this moment even more idyllic, mulled wine is served for free.
I know I sound cold-hearted when I say I’m happy with my life abroad and I have no intention of going back. It is true, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss certain small things from my hometown. The community feeling that exchanging Christmas wishes in front of the church creates is one of those. And the wine, don’t even get me started. I my humble opinion my region, Piedmont, produces among the finest wines you can find in the world. You can well imagine how delicious the mulled wine served in my village can be.
Since access to quality wine in Sweden costs a fortune, my parents visit once or twice a year with a suitcase full of local wine. That supply has to last until their next visit, so I have learned to enjoy it sparingly. Having guests over now for New Year’s Eve I opened a bottle of Dolcetto, probably my favourite red, and made some mulled wine with it. In Italian we call it vin brulé.Mulled wine (serves 2-3):
- 300 ml red wine
- 60 g sugar
- 1/2 orange, juiced and peeled
- 1 star anise pod
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5-6 cloves
Peel and squeeze 1/2 orange. Transfer the zest and juice to a pot. Add the sugar, the cinnamon stick, the cloves and 100 ml of wine and bring to a boil, constantly stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it reaches boiling temperature, add the star anise pod and the rest of the wine and keep it on the stove until it steams but does not boil. Remove from the heat before it reaches boiling temperature. Serve hot.The star of the recipe is definitely the wine. The higher the quality of the wine, the better the end product. Although some of the alcohol will evaporate, a low quality wine might still smell like it, alcohol overshadowing the combined smell of the spices. A good quality wine will give you a full bodied mulled wine that will also have a balanced smell of spices. The spices are another important feature. The cloves and cinnamon I used are from Zanzibar, and the star anise is from China. As for the orange, I advise to buy it organic if possible, which should always be the first choice when planning to use the zest of a citrus.
A glass of this mulled wine might not conjure up a merry community of villagers hugging one another in the cold air of a winter night, but it will certainly warm you up from the inside as if you were there, outside a church in a mountain village somewhere in the Alps on Christmas Eve.