Mulled wine is just one of the many traditions that I look forward to over the festive season. And although it is an apparently simple concoction made from red wine, gently heated along with mulling spices and a small amount of diced fruit, it is actually one of those recipes that people just can’t leave alone. So, while some believe that the mulling spices should be restricted to cloves, cinnamon and (possibly) nutmeg, others include allspice, cardamom and / or bay leaves. Similarly, although apples and oranges are almost universally added to this brew, lemons and limes regularly make an appearance as well. Everyone, it seems, has their own perfect formulation; some of which, incidentally, are far better than others. But despite this – the lack of precision, the quantity and even quality of ingredients (including the red wine) – it is also a drink that seems endlessly capable of providing cheer, comfort and goodwill on these cold and wintry nights. And without it, Christmas would doubtless seem just a little less shiny. I know that there are many who would totally disagree with me, arguing instead that red wine is rarely mulled well and provides absolutely no solace at all. Oh, seriously? Bah! Humbug!
Having said that, mulled wine is not (at least for me), a drink for New Year’s Eve, when our mood should somehow be more frivolous. I did consider mulled white wine, which is something that I’ve yet to try. The recipes that I’ve found sound intriguing, full of sweet and spicy flavours that include cinnamon and cardamom, but also vanilla, honey and even star anise. But even this didn’t sound quite right for New Year’s Eve, when everything needs to feel lighter. This isn’t about feeling inconsequential or trivial – far from it – but somehow it does still need to be playful, optimistic, and positive. It almost goes without saying (doesn’t it?), that the perfect drink for New Year’s Eve is sparkling wine.
Inspired by all of this, I’ve taken the basic idea of mulled wine, and added fruit (pear poached with cinnamon and vanilla in a sugar syrup), to sparkling wine in order to make what I think is a fabulous winter cocktail, perfect for New Year’s Eve. It is a treat (vanilla pods are expensive, but are worth it just for the incredible smell that bursts out when you split the bean), and it is a drink that requires a certain amount of forward planning and preparation. But a New Year’s Eve celebration seems like the perfect occasion for that.
Anyway, whatever you’re doing this evening, I hope that you have a wonderful time.
Happy New Year to you all
Recipe: Mulled Pear and Vanilla Syrup Bellini
16 fluid ounces water
100 grams caster sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthways to expose the seeds
½ cinnamon stick
1 ripe pear
This makes enough for about 12 glasses of mulled pear and vanilla syrup Bellini
If you don’t want to use all the syrup at once, then I’ve found that it keeps well for a couple of weeks in a sealed container in the fridge
1 (or more) bottle(s) of Cava (or other sparkling wine)
To make the mulled pear and the vanilla syrup:
Put the water and sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Peel the pear, and slice in half lengthways. Remove the core. Add the prepared pears to the sugar mixture. Cover and cook over a medium heat until tender, probably about ten minutes.
Remove the pear halves with a slotted spoon and place to one side to cool. Discard the cinnamon stick. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds, stirring them back into the sugar mixture. Discard the vanilla bean.
Bring the mixture back to a boil, and continue to simmer until it has reduced and looks slightly syrupy, which will probably take about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Put the pear halves and the vanilla syrup into separate containers and place in the fridge to chill thoroughly.
To make the mulled pear and vanilla syrup Bellini:
Cut the pear into small pieces and put one (or a couple) into the bottom of a champagne flute.
Add about 1 fl oz of the vanilla syrup.
It’s a good idea to taste the syrup first. It is – of course – sweet, and has an intense flavour of both cinnamon and vanilla. You should be able to taste the syrup in the final drink, but you don’t want it to dominate. Exactly how much to add is really a matter of personal preference.
Top-up with sparkling wine (of your choice).