Mulled wine – not just for Christmas

Plus a variation for those of you who want something lighter and more refreshing.

I love mulled wine. I drink it a lot during the autumn. It’s great if you have company because you can leave it on the stove and let guests help themselves. Halloween and Bonfire night are great times to kick off mulling season.

People think it has to take ages to cook. It doesn’t – and you don’t need to fiddle around with home sewn muslin bags or fuss with a search for the perfect ready assembled mix of spices. The chances are that you’ll already have some of the key ingredients if you bake or cook from scratch in the autumn and winter.

Today I made a pan for 12 guests. I did enough for everyone to have 2 wine glasses worth – although I serve it in modest sized mugs because of the temperature.

The ingredients are a 3l box of red wine – I chose one described as ‘fruity’. It seemed an appropriately cheery description and box wine isn’t complex. Then a large orange cut into quarters or chunky slices (remove any seeds) and put them aside. Then about 8 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar; 2 sticks of cinnamon; 2 whole nutmegs (I think that’s the correct use of the plural); 1 or 2 cloves (depending on your taste – I find they make it rather zingy); 3 dried bay leaves – or 1 or 2 fresh – and, last but not least, 2 or 3 cardamom seeds. You could add a couple of cubes of fresh ginger but not if you’re going to make the cold fruit cup version. My top tip is to have more of all the dry ingredients handy throughout the process – as the wine can change during heating and you may need to compensate.

You will need a reasonably substantial pan for the endeavour. It should have a lid. Plus a ladle if you’re trying to look like an expert – or just a wooden spoon and measuring jug if you aren’t a pretentious arse like me.

Put all the wine in the pan. There’s no point messing about and, besides, mulled wine can survive a little bit longer than you think. Add the Bay leaves and spices at the same time. You can put them in a little muslin bag if you want but they’re whole so you won’t lose them and you can just fish them out with a spoon at the end anyway.

Put the pan on a large hob at a high heat, cover with its lid and bring just to the start of a boil. You want a few bubbles around the edge – keep the top on at this point but check regularly. You don’t want it to boil over. You may need to keep popping back to the point where it becomes irritating – but it’s worth it in the end.

As soon as you get those bubbles take off the lid and turn it down to a medium heat. Only now add the orange quarters / slices. Pop back to stir gently every so often. I had a small assistant – see below – so I could actually put on a dress, for once.

The perfume will flood the house and welcome your guests happily. You need to start the cooking at least half an hour before the estimated arrival of guests – although you can begin before then and leave it on the hob on the lowest heat with the lid on and heat it up if necessary if you are going to be busy.

Taste it as you go along to check if you require more sugar. It should be sweet – like expensive cough mixture. Imagine what bronchitis medicine tastes like if you’re a Russian oil tzar. That’s what you’re aiming for – good for you but tastes delicious enough to make you a glamorous patient, rather than a snot nosed, plague carrying, painting clothes wearing, unwashed Netflix addict.

Then go and put on your glad rags. We can go into what I would choose another time – now it’s time for a cocktail recipe. Or two.

Mulled Wine Spritzer

Mulled wine is basically cordial and it’s delicious made into a simple spritzer made with equal parts cooled mulled wine and soda water.

Mulled zinger

It’s another spritzer but it’s made of equal parts cooled mulled wine and spiced ginger ale.

Now this can be tarted up with the addition of rum. Half fill the glass with mulled wine, add a measure of dark rum and top the rest of the glass up with either soda water or ginger ale.


Milenka means ‘Mistress’ in Russian – and it covers all the mistress bases. School teacher, kept woman, chatelaine, bossy sexual partner…

This is a cocktail that brings out either the best or the worst in people. I’ll leave you to decide whether you want to chance its charms.

Put one measure of vodka in the bottom of a champagne flute, top up to the halfway point with cooled mulled wine and fill to the top with champagne. Cava is a good substitute. It needs to be dry, though – none of the pink stuff.

Do not down this willy nilly. For the love of god, sip. It tastes incredible but it’s lethal.

I drank these with my best friends one New Year’s Eve and we started at around 6pm. We ate well at the same time but we got to 9.30pm and thought we’d missed midnight. Time moves at a different pace under the influence of the Mistress. Hopefully you’ll be going home to the comforting embrace of your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, best friend… Or even the relaxing sound of your pet sleeping nearby.

Keep water and painkillers by the bed. I needed to appease my aching head halfway through the night… Back then – BC (before children) – that meant about 7am. After that I slept for about 8 hours.

And it was a very, very, very good night.

This recipe is dedicated to my wonderful friend, Sophie – whose food blog is inspirational. Find out more by clicking on the link from her name.

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