Mull the wine, being careful not to maul it

December 22, 1996|By Rob Kasper

IN SOME HOMES, making mulled wine is as much of a holiday tradition as making eggnog. I believe that just as there is an etiquette to follow when making a proper nog (use no artificial ingredients), so, too, are there rules to follow when mulling a wine.

When you "mull" a wine, you add spices and heat. The results are not always pleasing. Improperly mulled wine can taste like bad medicine. The trouble usually comes when either the heating or the spicing gets out of hand. An easy mistake to make is boiling the wine. If you are an aspiring muller, write this on the back of one of your hands: "No cooking the vino."

Contrary to the advice given in some mulled-wine recipes, I don't believe in heating the wine until it bubbles. Putting the naked wine in a naked pan on a naked flame strikes me as indecent behavior. Instead, I believe in heating the friends of wine -- the fruit juices, the oranges and other components of the mulled-wine recipes. As good friends do, these companions

warm up their colleague, the wine, when they come in contact with it.

You can boil the cider or whatever fruity, nonalcoholic fluids you might want to add to your mulled wine. These fluids can survive a bit of bubbling as they sit on the burner.

But again, remain in control. Don't let the liquids reach that wild, roiling boil, the kind you see in movies when the mad professor is boiling stuff in beakers. If you let the friends of wine get too worked up, they will maul the wine and make it taste like something that came from a chemistry laboratory beaker.

Mad professors could probably offer a detailed explanation of what happens to the chemical structure of wine when it gets too hot. I'll just say cooking wine changes "its precious fluids, in a bummer kind of way."

Another tip: Use an inexpensive jug red wine.

The only flame an expensive red wine should get near is a candle.

Still another tip: When adding spices to mulled wine, don't overdo it. The object of adding some cloves or cinnamon to the beverage is to highlight a flavor, not to swamp it. Some mixologists seem to think that making mulled wine means emptying the spice rack. Not so. Spices, like after-shave, should be applied sparingly. Write this on the back of your other hand: "Be subtle with the spices."

The other day I found a promising recipe for mulled wine in "Now You're Cooking for Company" (Harlow & Ratner), written by Elaine Corn, former food editor of the Sacramento [Calif.] Bee.

In this recipe (reprinted below) most of the heat comes from apple cider that has been boiled, and from baked oranges that are so hot they sizzle when they hit the wine mixture.

Once the wine has been warmed by the cider and sizzling oranges, Corn suggests keeping it in a crock-pot, which is an OK way to handle mulled wine, as long as you keep the heat very low.

Finally, mulled wine is not for every sipper. Some folks don't like wine, some don't like any spice or any heat in their wine. For them, there is always eggnog. (See my recipe below.)

Elaine Corn's mulled wine

Serves 12

1 bottle whole cloves

4 oranges

1 gallon apple cider

3 cinnamon sticks

1 1/2 cups light rum

4 cups red Burgundy jug wine

Stick the cloves in the oranges in some kind of pattern, or simply stick them tightly into the rind. You can do this one night when you are watching television.

Two hours before you'll serve the wine, put the oranges on a cookie sheet and bake them in a 350-degree oven for two hours.

Meanwhile, pour two cups of cider into a small pot. Add the cinnamon sticks. Bring the pot to a boil, uncovered. Turn down heat and simmer for five minutes. Pour the rest of the cider into a very big pot that you can serve from. Put it over low heat.

Pour the boiled cinnamon-cider into the big pot. Pour in the rum and wine. Keep warm.

Drop the hot oranges into the wine. They should sizzle, and they'll continue to add flavor as the wine mulls on low heat.

Set out cups and ladle, and let guests serve themselves.

Rob Kasper's eggnog

Makes 8 to 10 cups

2 cups bourbon

1 1/8 cups sugar

6 egg yolks, beaten

4 cups whipping cream

Blend bourbon and sugar in large mixing bowl. Let sit overnight. Beat egg yolks until they turn dark yellow. Add to bourbon mixture. Mix well. Cover and let sit in refrigerator at least 2 hours. Whip cream, add to bourbon mixture. Nog starts off very creamy, becomes soupy the longer it survives.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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