This Is the Mariah Carey of Mulled Wine


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This Is the Mariah Carey of Mulled Wine

London sommelier Frederic Marti’s mulled wine is decadent to the point of being OTT and galaxies away from the tepid plonk served at Winter Wonderland funfairs.

Mulled wine has—probably quite justifiably—got a pretty shady reputation. It's either the signal you've arrived too late to a festive house party ("Sorry, the Cava's all gone, but there's still a vat of mulled wine over there." Of course there is), or an over-priced mug of hot, metallic plonk at a Christmas Euro-market that lingers like a bloody, silent scream and stains your mouth for the rest of the holidays.


But this year, Peg + Patriot in London's Bethnal Green is on a mission to reclaim the sweet 'n' spicy wine. On my visit to the bar, it's the last week in November and head sommelier Frederic Marti and bartender Alan Sherwood are cooking up one of the first batches of their special, luxe version of the drink.

Has the mulled wine season officially begun, then? Or is it still too early?

"No, it's never too early," says Sherwood. "You should just drink it as soon as you feel like it. And if that's in the summer when you're still wearing a t-shirt, then go for it."

Great news.


Peg + Patriot bartender Alan Sherwood and sommelier Frederic Marti mix the mulled wine. All photos by the author.

Even if it's a pre-mix bottle from the bottom of the bargain bin, there is something incredibly soothing about that first mouthful of mulled wine each year. Sherwood thinks this is primarily down to the fact that it's a hot cocktail, which despite Britain's love affair with drinking, are surprisingly fairly few and far between.

"I think people love mulled wine because it's a nice alternative to what they drink for the rest of the year," he says. "When it's finally cold enough to have it, people think it's a good excuse. I think people don't always see it as booze, they see it more as a cup of something sweet and warming, like a cup of tea or coffee. I think the alcohol is almost a secondary part."

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Mulled wine is said to have originated from the Romans, who brought it over to Europe, with individual countries mutating the drink to make different versions, like the ever-popular Glühwein in Germany or Glögg in Nordic lands. Marti tells me the Romans necked the hot wine like a hungover commuter downing Red Bull on the Tube. A prominent writer of the time, Marcus Porcius Cato, believed that even slaves should drink 5 litres of the stuff a week. As Marti rightly points out, "that's a shitload of wine."


In the UK, mulled wine is mentioned in writings from the Norman age, and one of the first recipes is found in OG cookbook The Forme of Cury (The Method of Cooking), written by King Richard II's personal cook in 1390. The medieval method of making what was known as "Hypocras" (a spiced wine, sieved with a Hippocratic sleeve—hence the name) included adding ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and "grains of paradise" (a sort-of peppercorn from West Africa) with a fiery and citrusy heat.


Star anise, cinnamon, and cloves ready to be added to the wine.

Hot wine became synonymous with Christmas around the same time Charles Dickens published his festive redemption novella, A Christmas Carol. As Ebenezer Scrooge tells Bob Cratchit at the end of the story: "I'll raise your salary and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!" The Smoking Bishop was made from red wine, port, sugar, spices, and a roasted lemon. There was a range of other toasty drinks from this family, too: the Smoking Pope (made with burgundy), Smoking Cardinal (made with Champagne), and Smoking Beadle (made with ginger wine and raisins).

It's kind of staggering that all these drinks have been lost to history now, with not even one Christmas-themed pop-up or immersive event trying to cash in on these once super-popular hot booze cocktails.

But maybe they should. It may be early in the season but mulled wine has been proving very popular at Peg + Patriot.


"It might be a little unexpected to order mulled wine somewhere like here, which is why we've put our own twist on it," says Marti. "But we're definitely seeing a renewed interest in it. In fact, we're seeing people drinking it as their choice of wine with their main meals at this time of year, as it pairs really well with meats like venison and game."

He goes over to the well-stocked bar and brings out a few bottles that make up their version of the drink.

"We start with a nice Malbec from Argentina called Cuatro Manos. It's a great, accessible wine," Marti explains. "You shouldn't just use a really cheap bottle of red for the mulled wine, as even with all the spices, you want to start with a nice base, something that's big in terms of flavour, body, and texture. You can get some really good New World wines for about £5 a bottle which would be perfect for this, and which is why we've chosen this wine for our drink."

Next: onto the secret ingredients, most notably a Noix Du Pays Doc wine, which is a fortified wine made with green walnuts.

"It's a traditional wine from the south west of France where I'm from, which is macerated with with green walnuts," says Marti. "It's syrupy, like a dessert wine. You can only get it from this one place in France and it's traditional this time of year to drink the nut wine—it's great with a cheese board."

No wonder the French have been keeping this stuff to themselves—it's delicious. Like a sticky Pedro Ximenez sherry infused with Christmas cake, a glass of this stuff definitely gets the festive vibe going.


Mon Mume plum sake.

Then, there's the addition of a Mon Mume plum sake, made in the style of a Chardonnay just outside Tokyo by an experimental winemaker, which will add a bit of fruitiness and umami to our cocktail. The drink goes turbo with the addition of a little chocolatey Nardini grappa and a honey-infused shot of Chartreuse, the yellow herbal liqueur made by Monks.

Sherwood sticks a portable hob onto the bar to make the fresh batch of mulled wine from scratch, lightly toasting the spices—nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves—before adding in some apple juice, which dramatically billows out steam as it lands in the pan. Next, he pours in the wine and spirits. Within a few short minutes, we've got ourselves a very fragrant broth going on.


Nardini grappa and Chartreuse liqueur.

"You don't have to do much," Sherwood says. "Just gently warm it up and don't overheat it otherwise you'll lose the alcohol. It takes just a few minutes to make sure the sugar is dissolved and the spices are infused."

The bar actually uses a sous-vide machine for their mulled wine. This keeps all the flavours in tact and at a warm-bath level of 60 degrees to prevent overheating. But if you're making the drink at home, just watch out it doesn't come to the boil—you might as well cancel Christmas if you end up with booze-free mulled wine.

Sherwood also says the mulled wine recipe is easy to switch up if people aren't into red wine. In fact, he also offers customers a mulled ale drink, based on another medieval favourite, the Purl. This used to be made in taverns using gin, beer, and spices, with punters sticking a white-hot poker from the fire into a tankard of the stuff to heat it up. Anybody want to throw a fiver into a Kickstarter to recreate this in a Victorian drinking den in Hackney Wick next Christmas?


It's traditional to spike an orange or lemon with cloves and add it to your pan of mulled wine, but Sherwood reckons you should ditch this idea.


Peg + Patriot mulled wine.

"I don't think it actually does anything. Potentially pushing the cloves through the skin of the orange helps with the oil extraction but it's incredibly unlikely," he says. "The best way to extract the flavour is to steep the peel in vodka or something. And you'll lose that flavour quite quickly when you heat it, which is why it makes more sense to do it at the end—take a twist of orange peel and spritz it over the drink when you serve it."

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I take a sip and, yep, all my Christmases have come at once as the warming and sweet liquid hits my bloodstream. There's the hefty kick of the other spirits coming through the spice's heat, too. This is the Mariah Carey of the mulled wine world: decadent to the point of being OTT and galaxies away from the tepid brew flogged at Winter Wonderland funfairs.


Sherwood and Marti give me my own mini bottle to take home. I venture back out into the cold, rosy-cheeked and warmed by the wine.

People: the mulled wine season is officially on—and let's keep it all year round now, yeah?