Hot and Heavy: Vin Chaud

This winter warmer has, for many years, been an iconic presence in Christmas markets across Europe. Whether in the form of the French version (vin chaud), or any of its European contemporaries: English mulled wine, Scandinavian glogg, or German Glühwein, hot spiced wine is always a hit with the holiday crowds. In Europe, particularly during winter festivities, vin chaud vendors, rather like chip wagons, await the frozen shopper/adventurer/tourist with a treat guaranteed to chase away the chills.

My introduction to vin chaud came during a holiday vacation hopping madly about continental Europe in between university exams. This marvel of a beverage helped me through an underdressed weekend in Dijon and the cool evenings in the Grand Place of Brussels. Thankfully my enjoyment continued long after my trip was over, as I discovered that it was painfully easy to make passable vin chaud in my very own kitchen.

Not only will it keep you toasty, and not only will it be something different to offer guests, but vin chaud is the perfect use for those questionable bottles of red wine sitting menacingly in the cellar. Heat it up, spice it up, and quality concerns all but evaporate. There are many variations as far as recipes go, but a fairly basic approach contains:

  • 4 bottles of dry red wine
  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 small oranges
  • whole cloves
  • sugar or honey to taste (optional)
  • a shot of brandy, port, or cassis liqueur for extra warmth (optional)

Thinly slice the orange into rounds, and stud with cloves. Select your wine — I’ve seen it made with everything from Shiraz to Beaujolais, so don’t be afraid to be creative. The same goes for the spices; other possibilities include: nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, and bay leaves.

Toss all ingredients into a large soup pot and heat to a very gentle simmer. Do not boil! Leave this magical concoction at low heat for at least half an hour. The longer you leave mixture brewing, the spicier your final product. Serve warm and garnished with a cinnamon stick, or one of the clove-studded orange slices, and enjoy!

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