The warmth of summer brings to mind pitchers of sangria laden with fresh berries and fruit.
The frigid winds of winter bring to mind very different options.
I have found the extraordinarily cold weather has driven me to sit by the warmth of a fire more than I ever have. I discovered the quintessential fireside drink is mulled wine.
Mulled wine (mulled means heated and spiced) is delicious, warming and has a history that dates back centuries. Although who should be credited for the creation of mulled wine is up for debate, it is clear that the Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans have all played a part.
Like us, the Romans consumed mulled wine to keep warm during the cool winter months. The original recipe of their mulled wine included bay leaves, dates and pepper. Gradually, other herbs and spices were added for flavor and – it was believed – to ward off illness and improve general health. Eventually natural sweeteners, such as honey and flowers, were added in an effort to make the beverage more palatable.
As the Romans travelled across Europe, so did their habits and traditions, including the consumption of mulled wine, whether for its warming properties or simply for enjoyment. A number of countries adapted the original ingredients to suit their tastes and now they consider their take on mulled wine a local drink, serving the warmed beverage during the holidays and throughout the winter season.
Glögg, a classic Scandinavian warmed beverage, is somewhat similar to mulled wine, but contains raisins and almonds as well as other dried fruit and nuts which are meant to be eaten. This is the reason this beverage is served with a spoon.
The alcohol content of glögg is generally much greater than mulled wine. While traditional mulled wine contains red wine and either Port or Brandy, glögg contains wine and Aquavit, a Scandinavian liquor with flavours and aromas of spices and herbs, dominated by caraway. Aquavit has an alcohol content of 42 to 45 per cent and is added in considerable, often unmeasured amounts, which is why this beverage is frequently served in a much smaller portion.
What we now consider traditional or classic mulled wine – referred to as the Victorian English version of mulled wine – is quite simple to prepare. The recipe calls for red wine, orange, cinnamon, nutmeg and port or brandy. Some variations include brown sugar, cloves and lemon.
There are many variations of mulled wine just as there are for the warm weather beverage sangria. A quick search of the Internet reveals many. One such recipe is mulled apple cider sangria, an interesting combination of cider and white wine. Another is apple-pear mulled wine, a combination of oaked Chardonnay, pear and apple juice, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and honey with Asian pear and star anise to garnish.
These beverages can be made using a stovetop or slow cooker but a slow cooker is preferable as the temperature is evenly controlled and the beverage remains at the service temperature throughout the evening. Avoid boiling the liquid as alcohol evaporates and remember to serve warm beverages in heat proof glasses.
As the cool temperatures persist it seems likely we will have the time to sample many options while we keep the fireplace burning.