In earlier times (picture the pyramids in a state of construction), water was often dangerous to drink. In order to stay hydrated, workers preferred heated wine or beer. Over time, people began to spice up their warm beverages with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, lavender, mint, sage, cardamom and ginger; to red wine, they added oranges, apples, raisins, nuts, honey and sugar. The wine, enjoyed during the colder months, was often fortified with a stronger spirit such as brandy.
When spiced wine is heated, it is called mulled wine; all mulled wines are spiced wines, but not all spiced wines are mulled wines. Incorporating different and new flavors can turn an ordinary wine into something extra special.
Local chef Joshua Smith is well versed in the art of mixing wine and food. Smith, general manager and executive chef of the Blufftop Bistro at Les Bourgeois Vineyards, says spiced wine “is basically just a sweetened red wine that has been spiced with orange and ‘baking’ spices and served warm.”
Spiced wine doesn’t enjoy much success as an accoutrement — it’s more of a standalone enjoyment. “Because of the sweetness and elevated alcohol content, I think it is best either paired with cookies or enjoyed alone after dinner or later in the evening, with friends near a fireplace or campfire,” Smith says.
When Smith is making spiced wine at Les Bourgeois or at home, he uses an inexpensive or value-oriented red wine that is already somewhat sweet. “Then I just add some orange zest and warm spices and fortify it with a little brandy, cognac, etc., and serve it warm.”
Les Bourgeois Warm Spiced Wine
1 bottle (750 ml) Les Bourgeois Riverboat Red
¼ cup sugar
2 cardamom pods
1 star anise pod
5 whole black peppercorns
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
Zest of ½ orange
⅓ cup Grand Marnier
Break up the spices by giving them a light whack with the bottom of a saucepan.
Combine the wine, sugar, spices and orange zest in the saucepan and slowly bring to just under a simmer in order for the sugar to dissolve and the spices to start infusing. Allow the spices to steep for about 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Add the Grand Marnier and strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Serve while still warm with an orange twist or wedge in each glass as an aromatic garnish.
“Orange zest and cinnamon are the most important. I like more exotic spices like cardamom and star anise as complements, but traditional fall and winter dessert spices such as clove, allspice, nutmeg and ginger are all options, depending on one’s personal taste.”
— Chef Joshua Smith