Warm Up with Mulled Wine

Warm, spiced wine has been around for centuries. The Greeks drank it, and Cleopatra and the tough Roman soldiers as they conquered the Western World; Vikings knocked it back, Medieval monks sipped it inside the stone-cold walls of their monastery cells; and the famous Victorian writer Charles Dickens apparently loved the stuff, as did the characters in his novels.

Some variation of mulled wine crops up all over Europe. In France, it’s “vin chaud,” (hot wine) usually made without cinnamon but with the addition of pear brandy. In Germany, it’s “Glühwein” (glow wine), ubiquitous in December. In Scandinavian countries, it’s “glogg,” pronounced “glook,” I am told, a version often fortified with vodka and flavored with raisins and slivered almonds. Not to be confused with the “grog” swilled by early British sailors--rum diluted with water, heated and doctored with sugar in an attempt to moderate drunkenness and save the King’s money.

Whatever you call it, whichever variation you go for, it is just the thing to take off the chill when the frosty winds begin their big blow off Lake Michigan. You could have it on hand warming in a crock pot for drop-by adult trick-or-treating. You could take it already warmed in a thermal jug to your tailgate parties. You could serve it in a punch bowl for a holiday party along with a simple cheese platter and some fruit and nuts or a selection of Christmas cookies.  Or you could do what my parents did and turn it into a family ritual.

A Family Tradition
My father was obsessed with Charles Dicken’s "A Christmas Carol."  Growing up, we heard it at least five times around Christmas, every year. Those snowy, dark nights, in the warm light of the fire place, we three kids wept at the plight of Tiny Tim and his beleaguered but loving Cratchit family and we cowered and scowled at Scrooge’s mean spirits. The two little kids pressed closer into Daddy as he read about the ghost of Christmas past.

I, by far the eldest, was charged with holding Dad’s mug of “Smoking Bishop” delivered from the kitchen by my mother about three-quarters of the way through the book. It steamed and smelled spicy and sweet, like magic. And when Dad’s dramatic reading finally reached the joyful ending, just before he uttered the words “smoking bishop,” he would reach out his hand for the mug and savor a swallow before launching into the final paragraph.

Only a few months ago did I come to know the depth of Dad’s obsession with Christmas and Dickens.  I spent a week work starting to sort more than 100 years of family letters, and books, and old toys and dishes and gnarled cords of Christmas lights and broken decorations in the house of my childhood. I uncovered a pile of a dozen Christmas cards addressed to my Mom seven months before she and Dad were married, one for each of the 12 days of Christmas, and all of them with illustrations from Dickens. I found eight copies of A Christmas Carol, more than enough for one per room, all inscribed with romantic notes to Mom from Dad.

In the kitchen, I found a recipe for “Smoking Bishop,” written in my Mom’s neat Catholic schoolgirl script and folded up in a beat up old edition of The Joy of Cooking. Here it is:

Smoking Bishop

  • 1 lemon, 1 clementine, 3 oranges
  • 20 whole cloves
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 750 ml dry red wine
  • 750 ml ruby port

How To: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F
  2. Stud oranges with whole cloves and cut in half, across the sections. Cut lemon and clementine in half, across the sections. Roast fruit, cut side up, on a sheet pan for 35-45 minutes until bottom is blackened and fruit swells.
  3. Put hot fruit in a glass or ceramic container with lid. Add brown sugar, cinnamon sticks and star anise and pour red wine over to cover.
  4. Cover with lid and set on counter for 24 hours.
  5. Remove fruit, and strain over a large non-reactive pot, pressing pulp in strainer to squeeze out as much fruit and juice as possible. Toss skins.
  6. Strain wine mixture into same pot. Add back the cinnamon sticks and star anise and heat until just "smoking” hot (just below a simmer). Add port.  Heat back up to "smoking" hot.
  7. Remove cinnamon sticks and star anise, and serve in mugs.

Basic Mulled Wine Recipe, in one sentence:
Pour 2 bottles of red wine into your crockpot/slow cooker, with 3 wide strips of orange and 2 wide strips of lemon zest, ½ C sugar, 3 cinnamon sticks and a couple of star anise and heat on high until hot but not boiling. Turn down to low for a couple of hours. Serve in mugs.

Mulled wine variations:
You can play with the recipe and invent your own versions.

  • Try white or rosé wine, a sweet red wine…
  • Add juice--orange, blood orange, apple cider…
  • Add a little hooch--rum, bourbon, brandy, triple sec…
  • Play with the spices— an inch of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin, a TBS of black or pink pepper corns, a few cardamom pods…
  • Change up the sweetener—honey, brown or demerara sugar, a flavored simple syrup, cane syrup
  • Add fresh or dried fruit fruit—slices of apple, pear, dried Michigan cherries,

Halloween Hack for this week, and beyond!
Grab a bottle or two of Leelanau Cellars Michigan Witches Brew spiced wine from your local wine department. Pour it into your slow cooker. Let it heat until hot, hot, but not boiling and turn to low. Add ½ C of brandy, pour into a mug and kick back with a good book in front of the fire or welcome adult trick-or-treaters in for a taste! If you want to carry on the warming tradition through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Superbowl, switch your purchase to Leelanau Cellars Michigan Spiced Wine. It is exactly the same stuff with a winter label!

Roz Mayberry

About Roz:
During her distinguished career, Roz has served a term as the Retail Representative on the MDA's Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council and Continues to serve on their Promotion & Education and Competition Committees. In addition, she has served as a judge in various national and international wine competitions.

Working with D&W's wine stewards and SpartanNash's vendor partners, Roz tirelessly explores the vast world of wine, discovering the finest wines for every budget and every taste. And she loves to discuss food and wine with customers and colleagues. As a lifelong foodie, there is nothing else she'd rather be doing.