It’s fireworks weekend, and we’re firmly into the mulling season. As with everything to do with wine, that tends to elicit a certain sniffiness, often along the lines of: “Why wouldn’t you just drink a decent glass of red?” But I have to confess I actually like the stuff. After all, as I said last week, it’s all about hygge at this time of year.
Much as when you use wine in other cooking, there are some basic guidelines, my top tip being to use one you would actually be prepared to drink straight, though inevitably that’s controversial, too. I’ve lost count of the number of people who say it’s fine to cook with, and presumably mull, a corked wine, but why risk it when the other ingredients come at a cost? Certainly not one that’s badly corked, anyway. If no one else in the family can detect it, I guess you might just about get away with it, but I still wouldn’t risk it. Don’t use the dregs of a bottle you’ve had open for a couple of weeks, either, or an elderly wine that is almost certainly past it.
So what kind of wines would work? Probably the kind you’d expect: namely big, bold, ripe reds. It’s just a question of finding them at the right price – the higher-alcohol wines that make a good mulled wine or a rich sauce tend to be more expensive. Personally, I think Montepulciano d’Abruzzo works really well, but look, too, for deals on Spanish garnacha, malbec, shiraz and zinfandel, and maybe even a cheap rioja. Tesco wins the prize for the cheapest drinkable red right now with its Casa Maña Tempranillo 2021 at £3.79 (11%), though, as with other lighter reds, you might need to bump it up with a dash of port or brandy – dash being the operative word, because I don’t think mulled wine should be lethal: the idea is to make people feel warm and happy, not get them legless.
The other thing to remember is to make sure your mulled wine doesn’t boil, otherwise the alcohol will evaporate, which will emphasise the wine’s bitterness, rather than its sweetness. Better to bring it up to just below boiling point, take it off the heat for half an hour so the flavours can infuse, then heat it through gently again, leaving it on the lowest possible heat so the liquid is barely burbling.
You can also mull cider, which is just as good as wine and cheaper, too, though the addition of a splash of an apple-based spirit such as pommeau or calvados will definitely up your mulling game.
Five wines to cook with, mull … or even drink straight
Villa Verde Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2021 £5.19 Morrisons, 13%. Montepulciano is a great go-to for mulled wine. Good with pizza, too.
Sainsbury’s House Torla Rioja£5, 13%. A borderline drinking recommendation because it’s a bit light, but good for mulled wine or a stew.
Chilean Malbec Reserva Privada 2021 £4.99 Lidl, 13.5%. Decent basic malbec (if you want one for drinking, trade up to Lidl’s 14% Uco Valley Malbec at £5.99).
Cave des Roches Malbec Comté Tolosan 2020 £5 Tesco, 13%. Another solid malbec, this time from south-west France. Looks more expensive than it is, which is always a plus.
Asda Extra Special Zinfandel 2020 £6 (on offer), 14.5%. A big wallop of rich, brambly fruit. Almost too good to mull (though it would be perfect); a great wine for a Bonfire Night chilli or a cheeseboard.