Most European countries have their variation of the British mulled wine, a drink made with red wine and spices, served hot during winter. Northern Italy’s version, popular around Christmas and especially at Christmas markets, is called Vin Brulé (from the French word brûlé, burnt).
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The practice of mulling wine goes back to medieval times, probably as a way to use up low quality or spoiled wines. Mulled wine has then remained popular as a comforting winter drink and as a remedy for colds and cases of flu. Its curative effects have then found confirmation in the anti-inflammatory properties of red wine and in the high content of antiseptics and antioxidants of cloves and cinnamon.
As far as the recipe goes, many variations can be found, although they all revolve around similar ingredients. The main difference between mulled wine and vin brulé is in the preparation. Vin brulé is usually boiled until no alcohol remains (a process sometimes accelerated by lighting a flame on the surface). Mulled wine instead is only warmed up for a short amount of time and at lower temperatures to preserve the alcoholic content of the wine. Occasionally, a shot of brandy or sherry is also added at the end for an extra bite.
- 1 liter of red wine (any full-bodied wine will do, choose an inexpensive bottle)
- 200 g of sugar
- 8 cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 orange (preferably with untreated rind)
- 1 lemon (also preferably with untreated rind)
- Peel the lemon and the orange making sure to discard all of the white part as it would bring an undesired bitterness.
- Put all the ingredients in a large stainless steel pan.
- Bring to a boil stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Ensure all of the sugar is perfectly dissolved.
- As soon as it boils, the alcohol vapors will start to form. By using a long toothpick, carefully light a flame on the surface.
- When the flame goes out, the vin brulé is ready. Filter it with a colander and serve hot.