There’s nothing more seasonal than vin chaud – a festive winter drink. This delicious hot spicy wine is served at Christmas markets and bars all over France during the winter.
The smells of cinnamon, orange, cloves and star anise mixed with pungent red wine are redolent of the festive season and hard to resist. The first whiff of the year instantly puts me in a christmassy mood. It wouldn’t be Christmas for me without vin chaud.
Vin chaud exists in varying forms in many parts of the world, with local modifications depending on regional produce. It’s perhaps most well-known as the German/Austrian version glühwein, or British mulled wine. In Scandinavia it’s called glögg or gløgg and in Italy vin brulé. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, the Baltic States, Romania, Croatia and Hungary all make their own hot wines with similar spices as do Brazil, Chile and Canada. In Quebec maple syrup is added to hot red wine to make a drink called Caribou. Mmmm that sounds good!
Vin chaud is not only a Christmas drink, it’s also served in ski resorts as an indispensable part of the après-ski experience. There’s nothing so warming after a cold session on the slopes than a fragrant glass or mug of hot wine.
Every year at Lou Messugo we have a Christmas party that has become known simply as our “Vin Chaud”. We started the tradition back in 1994 when we lived in Hanoi, Vietnam, and it has taken place in six different locations in France since then as we’ve moved house from central Paris, to the suburbs and down to the Côte d’Azur. We make vat loads for 100 or so people and the quantities of the ingredients are fairly random but it always works out well and the house is infused with a gorgeous christmassy smell. It’s very simple to make, especially in smaller quantities.
Using the above ingredients: place the sugar, water or OJ and all the spices in a pan on a high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then reduce the heat to low and add the red wine and brandy, stir to combine, and bring back to a simmer (don’t let it boil). Slice the lemon and orange and add to the mix. Keep at a very low heat for the whole time you are serving it – your house will be infused with delicious spicy aromas. Sometimes I stud the orange with cloves making a pomander in which case I don’t slice the orange and need a lot more than a pinch of cloves. I usually do this when making large quantities, not just a small amount like in this recipe. The choice of water or OJ is up to personal preference and some people might like either more or less sugar.
Walking around towns in France at Christmastime you might see cafés with signs saying “vin chaud maison” which means homemade mulled wine (not house of vin chaud) and it’s sure to be good. It may be possible to sit out on a heated terrace while sipping your mulled wine, warming your hands around the hot mug. Or else you can get a disposable cup of takeaway wine to savour as you walk around the market.
Do you like vin chaud? Is it something you drink at Christmas too? I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks to Caro at Taste of Savoie for the lovely snowy photo of vin chaud.