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Warm up this winter with steaming cup of comfort

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Cold mornings are enervating, snapping you to attention, and they are best accompanied by a steaming cup of coffee.

Perhaps it’s time to consider a similar ritual at the completion of your day.

A nice mug of mulled wine is the perfect pairing when the sun begins to set earlier in the evening, and you can’t decide whether to put on another layer that you don’t get to wear too often, crank up the thermostat or even start a fire.

Mulled wine is warm red wine, steeped with cinnamon, orange peel and assorted other spices, thickened with a sweetener, and with or without the spike of a distilled spirit,

There is a mulled wine custom in just about every eurocentric culture that grows grapes and ferments them into an alcoholic beverage.

From Scandinavia to Chile, and all points in between, mulled wine goes by many names, like glögg, gluhwein, vin chaud, vinho quente, vin brulé, but it is ritually enjoyed on the longest nights of the year.

Recently, stateside, it has become more common to encounter mulled apple cider, from Halloween to the high holidays, its seductive aroma wafting from a crockpot when there’s a nip in the air. This concoction does not commonly contain alcohol.

This is the year to reconsider the roots of that drink and start your own mulled wine tradition.

I used to make mulled wine from wine that I didn’t care to drink as-is, or from leftover, dead wine that had been oxidized or otherwise unfit to enjoy with dinner.

This was a mistake. If you don’t like the wine or if it has passed its “best by” window, just pour in down the drain. Mulling it won’t improve it.

First of all, start with a wine you like, but not too delicate or expensive, because you will be adulterating it and obscuring its nuance. Consider a medium to full-bodied, fruit-forward red wine low in tannin (that grippy feeling in your gums, from aging in oak or extended contact with grape skins).

I think grenache, zinfandel, and fresh renditions of shiraz or cabernet fit the bill. There are fantastic box wines available at most retail outlets that fall into this category.

This is a time to use whole (unground) spices, so they can be strained out of the final tipple. I like cinnamon sticks, orange zest, allspice, cloves and a touch of ginger. I prefer brown sugar for its duskiness, and avoid honey in most cooked applications. You can also incorporate sweet vermouth or bitters to add some complexity, if that’s where your tastes lie.

Second, I like to make a decent-sized batch of a few quarts, to store in the fridge, so I can zap a mug in the micro-zoom and be hunched over a steaming cuppa in no time, and decide at the last minute if I want the additional slug of dark rum or whiskey.

Put in the time to do it right but make enough for a few sittings.

And the third thing to remember is that you don’t want to boil the wine. Heated just below a simmer for a longer period of time will extract all of the compounds you are wanting from the aromatics while minimizing the introduction of harsh flavors.

Again, if so desired, you could swap out the wine with Welch’s or an unfiltered local apple cider to make the whole affair appropriate for abstainers. Whipping up a batch smells better in your house than a scented candle.

Regardless, a mug of mulled wine is a great companion with which to confront cooler nights, and if you don’t feel like devising your own, we’ll be simmering our rendition at Mozelle’s.

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