vin chaud (mulled wine)
French Alps, 2006. My first trip to France with my boyfriend, who would propose to me a week later in Montmartre. It was also my first time experiencing any kind of significant jet lag, and the first time meeting his family. Any of them. Oh, and they only spoke French.
From the moment we landed in Charles de Gaulle it was a whirlwind of meeting and greeting and being told cruelly that I should not sleep however tired I felt. The only thing holding back tears of exhaustion was the idea that I was 45 minutes from Paris. I was aching to see it. It’s one of those places that is just so iconic and I was itching to lay my own eyes on it.
Which is perhaps why I was not jumping up and down to get into a car and drive 7 hours to the Alps. The day after we’d arrived. With his family.
I admit it. I was thinking, (silently, to myself, in English) “Hills? Rugged landscape? Snow? Hello, I’m Canadian! Can we skip this and head into Paris?!” However my mind protested, it was not speaking in a language anybody was paying attention to. So off we went to the snowy peaks of the Alps.
Now, it was breathtaking. Truly. Unlike anything I’d seen. It shut my self-chattering Anglais right up. And had it not been for the fact that I’d known his family for not yet 24 hours (12 of those which I’d blatantly slept through) and was trying to dazzle them while on a snowboard, I would’ve enjoyed it even more. But while my memory is somewhat foggy from the sleep, the language, and my bruised butt, I do hold on to one very distinct and shining memory.
Meet, vin chaud:
Isn’t she something? I met vin chaud somewhere between the top and bottom of a massive snowy cliff that took over an hour to slide down. (Even longer with my skillful slow-motion maneuvers attempting to save me from my imminent death. “Oh no, I’m just taking in the view, you guys. Go on without me!!”) The only one going at my pace was my later-to-be father-in-law. But I mean, he has a pacemaker. So…
Anyway bless this sweet French man, cause he’s the one who suggested half-way down the mountain that we stop off at a refuge (I swear he called it that! Little did he know that in my native tongue I took it to mean so much more.) And it was. Any chance to take a break that didn’t involve yet another enthusiastic video of my snow-stained behind following a wipe-out was OK by me.
I did not know quite what to order, or what was appropriate to order. (I was yearning for a Guinness!) To my relief, he recommended that I order a vin chaud. (Literally, hot wine, but in English referred to as “mulled wine”.) I was ever so willing to oblige. I don’t remember quite what I was expecting, but I remember being pleasantly surprised. Out came a warm, aromatic, spicy red wine garnished with a cinnamon stick, a wedge of orange, and canne à sucre (cane sugar) on the side. I felt like an alien. “What do I do?” Laughing and clearly delighted by my bewilderment, he said, “Eh bien, tu ajoutes le sucre, et tu le bois!” (“Well, you add the sugar, and you drink it!”) Solid directions, papa. It doesn’t get much simpler! So I added the sugar. And I drank it.
And let’s just say somehow making it down the rest of the mountain didn’t seem quite as daunting. Papa and me, we took our time cruising down the peek, smiling in the glow of our delicious, vin chaud.
juice of one orange
1 tbs cane sugar
rind of one orange
1 star anise
1 tsp whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 bottle of full-bodied red wine (I used a Chilean cab. sauv.)
In a pot, combine orange juice and cane sugar and stir over low heat until dissolved.
Either make a bouquet out of cheese cloth or simply add rind, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon sticks to the pot. Add vanilla and wine. (It’s a whole bottle, so, if you want to set a small amount aside in a glass to sample, it wouldn’t, say, negatively impact the recipe in any way. Yay!)
Simmer over super low heat. We’re talking, super-duper you didn’t even know your burner could go that low kind of heat. I like to simmer mine for a good 20 minutes to allow all the flavors to infuse, so that’s why teeny-tiny heat is important.
After 20 mins, or when all the spices come out beautifully and it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy when taste-tested, fish out the rind and spices (or discard your bouquet) and remove from heat.
Ladle into glasses and garnish with orange slice and cinnamon stick. If your (or your guests’) taste is on the sweeter side, provide extra cane sugar to add. Personally, I like my mulled wine to taste like spiced wine, not spiced sugar, but that’s up to you!
I wanted to create a recipe based on the flavors and feeling I remember. I have to say, we were very happy with the result! It’s a perfect, warming drink for an evening when winter, like a steep mountain in the Alps with prospective parents-in-law, is feeling just a little too daunting.