Mulling it over...
Anyone who has been to a Christmas market, either in Britain or abroad, will be well aware of the array of mulled wines available as soon as it turns cold.
Warming, spicy, and available in the supermarkets to make at home, this popular drink can be traced back to the second century when the Romans heated up wine to defend against the cold winter weather. Over time, many spices got added to the mix as a way of protecting against disease, but it wasn't until the 1800s that mulled wine became associated with Christmas.
To this day, mulled wine continues to be a Christmas tradition alongside its sister drink, mulled cider, although there are many variations to the recipe.
To make mulled wine at home you have three choices;
The easiest (or laziest) way is to buy a premixed bottle - most supermarkets sell their own.
Almost as easy (or lazy) is to add a spice mix sachet, or syrup, to a bottle of red wine or third..
You can make it from scratch.
Here are the pros and cons
The supermarkets pre-mixed options are going to be the cheapest, because a 75cl bottle ranges in price from just £3 to £6. The reason they are cheaper than a bottle of red wine is because there is far less red wine in them! If you read the (very) small print on the label of Lidl's Christkindl Gluhwein, it is described as a "Flavoured beverage containing wine". Red wines would normally weigh in with 12 - 14% alcohol are reduced down to 8 - 10% alcohol in the mulled variety as they are watered down and then bulked up with glucose, fructose syrup and sugar.
However, they taste pretty good, although may lead to type 2 diabetes if you have too many glasses.
With sachets and syrups, you can at least choose the base wine to put it in. At around £1.50 for 6 sachets, it is less hassle than trying to get the mix of spices right yourself. They are cheap, easy and consistent. Use a favourite red wine as the base, splash in a touch of smooth orange juice and a little sugar to taste, add some citrus slices and a slug of brandy and warm through.
For totally homemade options, there are a great many recipes on the internet, and you can make them as alcoholic as you fancy by adding an array of spirits.
Use decent red wine if possible. Chianti, Rioja, Merlot or Rhone Valley reds have plenty of interesting complexity for a base.
If you have a slow cooker, keep the mulled wine warm all evening in this on a low setting. It'll retain the alcohol but keep mulling!
The traditional things to add are cinnamon sticks, cloves (only a few per bottle otherwise they may overwhelm, slices of lemon and orange peel, star anise. I've seen a recipe that uses dried figs... increases the fibre too!
Jamie Oliver recommends making a syrup first in his recipe, then adding the red wine to it so that the alcohol doesn't burn off and the flavours integrate better.
Always heat up the liquid slowly, bringing it to just under simmering point. Never let your mull boil or the alcohol will disappear into the winter night and the wine might taste jammy.
Good luck, and enjoy!