Warm up this holiday season with a mug of Vin Brulé, Italian mulled wine. This cozy winter drink is sweetened with honey, flavored with citrus peel and mulling spices, and given an optional extra zip with brandy.
'Tis the season for cozy warm drinks, and vin brulé never disappoints.
Vin brulé is an Italian-style mulled wine originating from the mountainous northern region of Italy nearby to France, hence its French name ("burnt wine"). It doesn't stray far from traditional mulled wines the world over, sweetened with honey and flavored with warm spices and citrus peel.
Mulled wines are a staple for sipping when strolling European Christmas markets, but lucky for all of us they aren't difficult to make at home for holiday entertaining.
What You'll Need for Vin Brulé
- Red Wine: To keep with the theme I like to use an Italian red for vin brulé. Choose a fruity, full-bodied variety on the drier side, like Chianti, Sangiovese, or Primitivo (Italian Zinfandel). Cabernet Sauvignon is another good option.
- Brandy: Optional, but added prior to serving for an extra-warming kick.
- Citrus: You'll use the rind of one orange and one lemon, as well as the juice of half of the orange. Zesting with a microplane is not necessary - use a knife or vegetable peeler to make large strips. Just take the outer skin, not the white pith underneath which is bitter.
- Honey: Sweetens the vin brulé and provides a nice complementary flavor.
- Mulling Spices: Whole cinnamon sticks, grated fresh nutmeg, a star anise pod, whole cloves, and allspice berries are classic mulled wine spices. While more convenient to have on hand, ground versions of these spices would provide a lackluster flavor and won't strain out smoothly. Whole spices are recommended.
- Heat Spices - Add everything but the wine and brandy (if using) to a medium saucepan and heat for 6-8 minutes, or until the honey has liquefied and everything is well-heated. I like to start infusing the spices ahead of the wine to give their flavors a headstart on blooming.
- Simmer - Pour in the wine and bring everything to a nice simmer for 15 minutes.
- Strain - Strain out the whole spices and citrus peel, then pour the spiced wine back into the pan.
- Serve - This Italian mulled wine is ready to be ladled into serving glasses. For an extra toasty kick brandy can be stirred into the whole batch, or can be added to individual portions.
Once the spices have been strained out, pour the vin brulé back into the now-empty pan and keep on the stovetop over the lowest heat. This way it will remain perfectly warm for guests to pour themselves a serving whenever they're ready. You can also transfer it to a slow cooker on a lower setting.
Brandy - Consider not mixing brandy into the whole batch, instead setting it near the mugs and allowing guests to add it individually if they'd like.
Mugs - I like ones with a substantial handle as to not burn your hands, but handle-less glasses with double-walled insulation are popular options, too. To keep portion sizes in check I use mugs smaller than the ones for my morning coffee. The mugs pictured here have a 10-ounce capacity.
Garnishes - Whole cinnamon sticks and orange slices make great garnishes for glasses of vin brulé. While these photos feature star anise pods for visual pizzazz, their small size can be unwieldy to sip around and aren't necessary for adding flavor.
Italian Mulled Wine Tips and Tricks
- Don't break the bank on wine. A pricey variety is not necessary for mulled wines. In fact, I'd recommend intentionally choosing a less expensive kind for this recipe. I can usually find a good number of options in the $10-15 range at my local liquor stores.
- Adjusting the sweetness. I've tested out varying amounts of honey, from to ¼ - to ½-cup, and have landed somewhere around the middle, ⅓-cup. It really comes down to personal preference. Vin brulé with brandy can handle more sweetness to temper the extra bite, while batches without can reduce it if you're not into a sweeter mulled wine.
- Make-ahead steps. Mulled wine really shines in the moment when entertaining as it scents your home beautifully and is served warm. That said, some steps can be prepped up to a few hours ahead, such as measuring out the mulling spices and peeling and juicing the citrus.
Frequently Asked Questions
While cooking wine for periods of time generally reduces the alcohol content, it does not remove it completely. In fact, recipes with a relatively brief simmer like vin brulé likely retain roughly half of the alcohol, more or less dependent upon specific cooking conditions. It is very much so an alcoholic beverage. To imbibe this holiday season without the worry, choose a non-alcoholic red wine and leave out the brandy.
Store leftover mulled wine in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. I've gently reheated an individual mug in the microwave, but you can also reheat it on the stovetop over low heat. Make sure it doesn't return to a full boil as that can negatively impact the flavor.
Add apple cider, more of the orange juice, or a portion of both to reduce the wine's impact.
More Holiday Drink Recipes
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- Peel of one medium orange
- Half of one medium orange juiced (about 2 Tablespoons)
- Peel of one medium lemon
- ⅓ cup (113g) honey (see note)
- 2 3- to 4-inch cinnamon sticks
- 8 whole cloves
- 8 whole allspice berries
- 1 whole star anise
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
- 1 750-ml bottle full-bodied red wine
- ¼ cup (60 ml) brandy optional
- Remove the outer peel from the orange and lemon using a vegetable peeler, taking care not to remove too much of the white pith as it is bitter. Juice half of the orange.
- Add orange peel, lemon peel, orange juice, honey, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice berries, star anise, and grated nutmeg to a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Set it on the stove over medium heat and stir periodically for 6-8 minutes as the honey liquefies and everything is well-heated.
- Pour in the wine and adjust the heat so it's at a simmer (not a boil). Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat and strain the wine through a fine mesh sieve to remove the citrus peel and whole spices. Add the strained wine back to the pan and set on the stove over the lowest heat to keep warm for serving. Brandy can be stirred into the vin brulé at this point, or you can add a small amount to individual glasses once portioned.
- Ladle into glasses garnished with cinnamon sticks and orange slices.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer