IN OUR village, I am known as “the wine man”. This title bears no prestige, as I am on the same level as the milkman, the coalman (though these now have rarity value), and the paper-boy. This is the time, however, when I come into my own: everyone wants to know how to make mulled wine.
The easy answer is that it is probably not worth the effort when you can buy bottles of it at a number of outlets. The question then is: “What do you want from your mulled wine?” Sainsbury’s offers one at £3 the bottle; it has a strength of eight per cent, and it is made in this country from imported grape juice. At least that label is honest.
ASDA also offers one at the same price and strength, but I could not see from the label where it came from, or from what it was made. Under the name Glühwein, Germany has a long tradition of mulling wine, and Aldi offers one from Peter Mertes, which is nine per cent (£4.49 for a litre bottle). This is perhaps the best value for money; but, at the end of the day, I would plump for another German mulled wine, this time from the Drathen company. It weighs in at a healthy 11 per cent, and is £4.99 the bottle from Waitrose.
If you insist on making it yourself, the first requirement is cheap red wine. The alcoholic degree has some relevance, as the higher it is, the less you will need. Thus Sainsbury’s has a Basic Red 10.5 per cent at £3.85 for 75cls., and a 1.5 litre of Dry Red, 12 per cent for £8. The cheapest red wine I located on the market: an 11 per cent from Spain, at £3.19 the bottle from Lidl.
Once having settled on my base wine, I add cheap orange juice in the proportion of two litres of juice to three litres of wine. For mulling this, you need a large pan (I use my mother’s old jam-pan). I put into the mixture four or five oranges studded with cloves, and then add other spices, such as cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, and ginger, and Demerara sugar to taste. This should be heated and left to simmer gently. The target I have in mind is an end product that is sweet and spicy, but where the taste of the wine does not come through — although to the consumer there is an impression of alcohol.
This has gone down well at Christmas concerts and carol services for many years, and any weaknesses can be masked by an accompanying mince pie.
We are lucky: a newcomer to our neighbourhood is a stand-alone Marks & Spencer Food Hall, where there is a wonderful range of different and interesting wines. Among these were red and white wines from New York State (£9); and a weighty 15-per-cent Grenache Frares Priorat (£13.50) from Catalonia. While these wines may only be in the larger M&S branches, they are worth seeking out.
If I were to make awards for 2017, Marks & Spencer would be my high-street wine retailer of the year. At the other end of the scale, Tesco would get my vote for the chain with the least imaginative range.