Search & Distill: The Cure for Cold, Dreary Winters (and Sobriety)

Mulled wine is good wine gone bad.

Seattle's fall and winter weather is mild and dank, as if it could go straight through your bones. But a daily ritual hunched over a steaming drink can repel that chill, and with the right recipe, red wine makes a mean hot beverage. Called Glühwein in Germany and glögg elsewhere in Northern Europe, it's just the cure for cold, dreary winters not much unlike our own. But with such unappetizing names, no wonder this pleasant, warming beverage isn't so popular stateside.The principal behind mulled wine is simple: Wine goes bad—or is born bad, in some cases—and folks in countries that make or drink a ton of it have certain ways of remedying the situation. In America, our parents merely added ice to their Rossi Mountain Burgundy. In sunny Spain, they make sangria. In Germany, they add spice and heat to battle the bleakness.For mulled wine, the goal should be to make something with the very best characteristics of sangria, dosed with sweet spice similar to chai, while keeping the beverage from falling into the pumpkin-pie or spice-packet trap. Testing this theory, I combined one part Morning Glory chai with three parts red wine, and added orange slices and heat. The cheap wine tasted better warmed with the orange, but the chai mixture watered it down. Watering wine down just means less concentrated flavor and more bad aftertaste, which are what mulling disguises. But the spices didn't scream pumpkin pie—which was welcome—with a little peppery edge that worked well. (Be warned, though: If you add actual peppercorns to your mulling spices, it can lead to an unpleasant coughing fit.) In essence, this was a thin version of a mulled wine with potential.For every bottle of wine, use two to three teabags worth of spice. Look to your favorite herbal tea for inspiration, but be careful with licorice and mint, as they tend to come on too strong in the wine. A used vanilla-bean pod adds an amazing feel that negates most of the dry finish, but vanilla extract or a bag of vanilla rooibos achieves the same effect.For a classic base recipe for mulled wine, take one bottle of red wine and add three cinnamon sticks, a sliced orange, and a half-teaspoon each of crushed cardamom seeds, crushed coriander seeds, and nutmeg. Then add a tablespoon of grated ginger root, or use candied ginger as a substitute. Heat the wine to somewhere around 145 degrees, but no more than 170 (alcohol in wine begins to evaporate at that point). Steep it 15 to 30 minutes on the stove, then strain out the spices through mesh or a coffee filter.You can strengthen your mulled wine with brandy or a fruit liqueur, just as you would sangria. But wait until it's heated and spiced before you doctor it up to properly gauge the alcohol level. Hopefully, then, the wine will help you bear the seasonal cool-down—at least before it starts to get dark at 4 p.m.msavarino@seattleweekly.com

 
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