20 December 2021 / Juli Lami
Once again, this proves that all roads lead to Rome, because if you trace the origins of mulled wine, the trail goes back to the ancient empire. At the time, it was commonly known as spiced wine, and was made to use up wine that was spoiling and turning to vinegar, with spices to mask its unpleasant flavour. Well, the misconception that mulled wine can be made from poor wine probably goes back to these times, because the pungent spices were there to hide the unpleasant flavours. In ancient times, mulled wine was reheated and drunk cold. In the Middle Ages, this drink became quite common and was also used to treat ailments during the winter months. Recipes from this period have survived, some of which are in Latin. So, mulled wine is a drink with a history, but nowadays, more and more people are approaching it with an openness and creativity that turns this great classic into a contemporary drink.
Attila Nemesvölgyi, owner of Babka Budapest
Attila Nemesvölgyi and the Babka team have also taken the widest possible view of this popular winter drink, dedicating a special section to it in their Christmas pop-up shop. Mulled wine is a drink that everyone has some idea about. Everyone has a version in their head, just like Attila. “My original image of mulled wine is linked to the ice rink in Szombathely, where I drank that awful, watered-down, over-sweetened drink as a teenager – one of my first experiences of alcohol. Yet, it still left me with romantic memories. I think almost all Hungarians have a version of it ingrained in their minds, just like Hungarian classics lecsó (pepper stew) or körözött (curd cheese spread)”, he adds.
We admit that the Romans were good at many things, but their idea of using spices to hide the shortcomings of wine thankfully no longer endures. Good mulled wine can be made from good quality wine. “Mulled wine has as much depth and potential as you give it,” says Attila. “You can play with regional flavours, fruit and spice. The spectrum is very broad, and there are so many ways to make mulled wine. Here at Babka, we have tried to do the same thing with mulled wine as we do with everything else: create it in our own image. We wanted to create a drink that was familiar enough to Hungarians, but still Babka-style thanks to its ingredients and seasoning.”
The spicy mulled wine smell of Christmas fairs can be conjured from the pot at home
We usually think of our favourite hot drink as a beverage to drink outdoors while strolling around, but that does not mean it has no place on the festive table! Quite the contrary! Attila and his team create very flavourful, spicy cuisine, so they have to be very careful with their drink pairings. Babka dishes, for example, are also very good with Tokaj wines. And their mulled wine is sweetened so that it makes an excellent pairing with hot, spicy dishes.
There are dishes on the menu that are especially recommended with mulled wine. “I think the more concentrated versions, rather than the dilute ones, might be more popular on the festive table. Drunk as an aperitif to set the mood, it is an excellent way to get into the festive spirit. I would serve it in small, pretty glasses at a nicely laid festive table,” adds Attila.
We already know that you shouldn’t make mulled wine from poor wine. But over-diluting and over-sweetening it is no good either. According to Attila, one important rule is not to add volume using water, and not to cover up flaws with sugar. It’s more important to emphasise the fruitiness of the wine, while retaining its acidity. Babka also uses orange blossom water in its mulled wine; this is also an important ingredient in the Babka brioche, so they also go very well together, for example.
Mulled wine is drunk in many parts of the world and is a particular favourite in Germanic and Anglo-Saxon countries, although it becomes less common when you head south. The region also very much determines the type of mulled wine popular there, and the local conditions usually decide whether its basis is red or white wine. Attila would recommend a medium-bodied wine with plenty of fruit and crisp acidity. They mainly make their own version from Portugieser and Kékfrankos. But, as we have seen so far, the decision lies in the hands and imagination of the maker.
You can make mulled wine a little twist, not just with spices - it also matters how you serve it
80 ml Syrah 10 ml Cointreau 10 ml lemon juice 15 ml honey water (2:1 honey:water) 40 ml fruit tea (berry fruit or hibiscus) 40 ml water to garnish: orange slices, cloves
To make the drink, you will need honey water, which dissolves more easily in liquid than honey does.
You can prepare this as follows: dissolve 200 g of honey in 100 ml of water no warmer than 60°C. Add a pinch of salt, smoked, if possible, but if you don’t have any at home, normal table salt will do. Always squeeze the lemon fresh, avoiding shop-bought products if you can.
Once you have prepared everything, mix the ingredients together and heat the drink in a small saucepan or using the steam nozzle of your coffee machine. Be careful not to heat it to over 70°C, because at higher temperatures, the alcohol will evaporate, and you won’t achieve the desired flavours and aromas. Garnish the finished drink with orange slices and cloves.
Cinnamon, coriander, star anise...make your own spice mix!
20 ml Sailor Jerry spiced rum 20 ml Benedictine 40 ml cider 40 ml fruity white wine (e.g. Irsai Olivér) 10 ml lime juice 15 ml spicy syrup (can be chai, but also works with plain sugar syrup) 30 ml water to garnish: dried apple slices
Preparation: make the homemade spiced sugar syrup! Measure out 200 g of granulated sugar into the bottom of a heatproof dish, add a pinch of salt, 3 crushed cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, 1 star anise, about 12 cloves, 5-8 green cardamom seeds, 5g of good quality black tea (e.g. assam) and grate a 3-4-cm piece of ginger on top of the sugar. Then add 200 ml boiling water, let it stand for 5 minutes and stir until the sugar dissolves. After stirring, leave the spices to infuse in the syrup for at least 4-6 hours and then strain.
To make the drink, use semi-sweet, quality cider and make sure you use fresh lime juice.
Once everything is prepared, mix the ingredients and heat the drink in a small saucepan or using the steam nozzle of your coffee machine. Be careful not to heat it to over 70°C, because at higher temperatures, the alcohol will evaporate, and you won’t achieve the desired flavours and aromas.
Never heat the drink above 70 degrees once the alcohol has been added
40 ml fruit tea infused red vermouth 40 ml Merlot 15 ml sugar syrup 15 ml lemon juice 30 ml water to garnish: dried fruit, lemon slices
Soak 30 g of good quality fruit tea in 200 ml of sweet, red Italian vermouth (we recommend Mancino Rosso) for about 12-24 hours. Berry fruit and hibiscus teas work best with vermouth, but more adventurous cocktail makers can try other teas (e.g. sour cherry) as long as they work with the flavours of the vermouth. After 24 hours, filter the vermouth and it’s ready to use.
To make the drink, you also need to make a simple 1:1 sugar syrup as follows: add 200 g of granulated sugar and a pinch of salt to 200 ml boiling water, then stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Always freshly squeeze the lemon, avoiding shop-bought products if you can. Once you’ve prepared everything, mix the ingredients and heat up the drink in a small saucepan or using the steam nozzle of your coffee machine
Be careful not to heat it to over 70°C, because at higher temperatures, the alcohol will evaporate, and you won’t achieve the desired flavours and aromas.
Garnish with dried fruit (blueberries, apricots, apple) and a slice of lemon.
Chocolate liqueur in a pretty jar is the perfect Christmas gift. It's worth consuming quickly - but as delicious as it is, you'll have no problem with this one.
350 ml plant-based milk (almond) 350 ml plant-based cream 75 g dark chocolate pastilla 75 g milk chocolate pastilla 75 g sugar 150 ml Cognac/Brandy 50 ml Cointreau/Grand Marnier 1 rounded tsp cinnamon 5-8 green cardamom to garnish: star anise, grated nutmeg or cinnamon
Start by heating the milk and cream on the stove top, stirring continuously, or slowly in a food processor with a heating function. When it reaches about 70-80°C, add the 150 g of chocolate, the cinnamon and the green cardamom. Once the chocolate has completely melted, reduce the temperature to a maximum of 60°C and add the cognac and liqueur. Make sure you use genuine, quality spirits to make your drink. Then heat for another 5 minutes on low heat to blend the flavours and you’re ready to serve your fresh liqueur.
Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and whole star anise.