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Only five days to Christmas! In Ireland that means the double-issue RTE Guide, Shane and Kirsty on every wireless, the airports teeming with returned emigrants, and that mad rush for last-minute presents. Last but not least it means plonking down the shopping and grabbing a seat by a turf fire with a glass of mulled wine.

Mulled wine is Christmas. All those traditional festive spices – cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg – Christmas in a glass. Mulled wine ought to be simple and straightforward, yet it’s often too sweet or too bland, too boozy (unless it’s UCD students trying to recreate a night in Coppers by adding a gallon of vodka to the punchbowl on top of a naggin of tequila), or not boozy enough.

The rules of mulled wine

First rule of mulled wine: if you start off with a wine that is shite / corked / nasty, the mulled wine will almost invariably end up shite / corked / nasty too.

Buy a good robust couple of reds – a Merlot or Chianti perhaps, a Shiraz or maybe a Zinfandel. They can be mid-price, nothing expensive, but not €4 a bottle either. That would be courting disaster.

Second rule: the wine will be warmed up in two batches, a first batch to carry the flavours of the other ingredients, the second batch to be added afterwards at a lower temperature as the main wine element. This second batch should be warmed up gently, never letting it boil or much of the alcohol will be burned off.

Third rule: your recipe can be quite rough and ready. Why get in a tizzy just because it’s Christmas? It will all depend on what you have in your spice cupboard, how sweet or fruity you like your mulled wine, what wine you’re using, what particular citrus fruits are on hand, and so on.

Fourth rule (isn’t this obvious?): taste as you go along. Otherwise you might end up with something tasteless.

Mulled wine ingredients

  • 2 bottles of red wine (see above)
  • Citrus fruits: 1 orange or 2 tangerines, a lemon or a couple of limes, all quartered
  • Your preferred spices (e.g. 4-5 cloves, a cinnamon stick, a teaspoon of sliced fresh ginger, some grated nutmeg, cardamom pods, a couple of bay leaves, a teaspoon of allspice berries)
  • A whole vanilla pod, halved (very optional)
  • Some good honey or brown sugar to taste

sliced-lemons-Add all the ingredients except the wine to a large saucepan. Add just enough wine to cover the honey/sugar.

Put on the hob on a medium heat, stir until the honey/sugar is dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil for about five minutes until you get a thick syrup.

Turn the heat way down low. Add the remaining wine. For an extra kick, you can add a quarter cup of brandy. No more.

Let everything mull away at this low heat for five minutes until the rest of the wine has warmed up and a gorgeous aroma has filled the house.

Mulled cider

Instead of the wine, try a good cider with much the same spices as above. Now you’re approaching “wassail” territory, though back in the mists of time wassail was more likely to be mulled mead.

Mulled cranberry juice

For the “designated driver”, an alternative non-alcoholic drink is to use cranberry juice (instead of the wine and brandy).

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