I have to admit that I used to say “non, merci” to mulled wine; it always seemed like a waste of wine. But last winter, when I was collaborating on a dinner with Chef Baru, he proposed treating all guests to a glass of mulled wine as an apèritif.
Really? I thought? It sounds like something a ’70s housewife would make in a crockpot with Mogen-David. Is it even French?
But yes! Mulled wine is French and it’s fabulous…I had simply forgotten.
This specialty has been served in Alsace for centuries. If you’ve ever been to Strasbourg during their wonderful Christmas Market—the largest and oldest in Europe—you’ve likely seen stands selling it, and hopefully you’ve had a chance to give it a try. If you did, you likely noticed that it didn’t taste like most mulled wine you’ve had at home.
Many years ago, I visited Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik (what the locals call the festival, which runs from late November to late December). Last winter, one sip of Chef Baru’s version of mulled wine brought it all back to me: The combined depth of flavor from the tea and wine, the warmth of the cup in your hands and how the steam rises to warm your face and seduce your sense of smell with those fragrant spices.
Indeed. It is a wonderful thing. I had simply forgotten.
PS: If you happen to come to Amerique Profonde, David Baruthio cooks at a fabulous restaurant, Baru 66, in Des Moines, Iowa.
French Vin Chaud/French Mulled Wine
The unexpected ingredient here is, of all things, tea bags. It does this neat trick of adding flavor dimension while also a bit of caffeine—a nice way to stay alert amidst the coziness of a winter’s eve.
This recipe is courtesy of Chef David Baruthio of Baru 66 and Baru at the Des Moines Art Center. PS: For the wine, a good fruity wine will do. Don’t use plonk, but don’t use a Grand Cru, either. Use something you’d be happy to drink on its own.
1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1/2 bottle red wine
1 cup sugar
1 lemon, cut into wedges
1 cup water
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
1 cardamom pod
1 tablespoon cocoa nibs (or use good-quality grated chocolate)
3 juniper berries
1 cinnamon stick
2 tea bags
If using the vanilla bean, slice it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the vanilla bean (or vanilla extract, if using) and all other ingredients except the tea bags into a 2-quart saucepan (when you add the lemon wedges, squeeze their juice into the mixture before dropping the wedges in. Bring to an active simmer; reduce heat to a low simmer and add the tea bags, allowing the tea to steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags and the bay leaf. To serve, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into heatproof mugs. Makes 4 servings.
Looking for another terrific France-inspired warm+fortifying drink? Try un Grog, from Jacques the Barman at the Café de Cluny.