Mulled Wine with Whisky

I have always wondered why Christmas has to come at the beginning of the long winter rather than somewhere later on. Wouldn’t it be better for us to have something to look forward to during the long dark nights and bitterly brief days? Why kick off such a depressing season with our biggest to-do of the year? I mostly ask these questions because all the Christmas goodies would be so much more appreciated on say, January 28, when the cold winds are howling and the snow is piling up, than now, when it’s barely gotten cold enough in New York City for me to break out my awesome new Betsey Johnson coat.

Then again, who says we can’t have holiday treats outside the holidays? I’ve had so little time for baking this month that I anticipate making some of my favorite seasonal delights long after the gifts have been unwrapped, simply because I can’t wait another year to have them. Likewise with this mulled wine: it’s too delicious and, frankly, too perfect for chasing away the chill of winter to limit to one month of this long season. So I plan to make it again and again until the trees start budding and I can move on to that warm-weather wine punch, sangria.

This recipe is great because you can play around with all of it. Don’t like Syrah? Use another red wine. Don’t like red wine? Use white. Adjust the spices, sweetness, and flavorings to your taste. Leave out the whisky if you prefer, or use brandy, rum, or schnapps. Try adding other fruits, like cherries or pears. In short, go wild! Experiment and taste often. Mulled wine is a crowd-pleaser and excellent for parties because a) it’s cheap and b) you can make a big batch all in one go. (Pro tip: Keep it hot throughout an event on the “warm” setting in a slow cooker.) You can also make it ahead of time and store in the fridge for up to a week. In fact, I recommend making extra so you can let it macerate for a day or two and come back to it after a busy workday—time improves the depth and complexity, for sure.

Be warned: the smell of this simmering will intoxicate your brain even before you take your first sip! Prepare for a languorous evening and have bon bons on hand to complete the feeling of indulgence.

Mulling spices

Mulling spices: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fresh ginger.

Mulled Wine with Whisky

Ingredients:
1 bottle of cheap Syrah (like Trader Joe’s Three Buck Chuck) or other red wine
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, peeled and thin sliced
1 orange or lemon, peeled and segmented (reserve half the peel)
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
3 Tbs. honey
1/4 cup whisky (I used Brenne, a beautiful new single malt whisky aged in French oak and finished in Cognac casks. Its light, fruity sweetness marries nicely with the wine.)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients and heat just to a simmer. Barely simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes. Taste, adjust, enjoy.

An Evening with Gordon & MacPhail

Photo 10

Although it’s been nearly two months since Hurricane Sandy devastated many parts of New York, the city is still trying to pick itself up.* While clean-up and rebuilding will go on for months, other activities have resumed with the typical get-up-and-get-on-with-it attitude ingrained in most New Yorkers. Although a lot of events were interrupted by the storm, with some even being canceled, the inaugural whisky tasting at The Morgan Library & Museum went on as planned five weeks late. (And fortunately for me, the lovely and incredibly busy Allison Patel of Brenne passed on her ticket when another obligation kept her from going. Merci bien, Allison!)

The evening promised to be special just for the setting itself. If you’ve never visited, the Morgan is a repository of fine art and literature mixed with other rotating exhibitions; an archive of priceless artifacts, documents, and antiquities; and a truly unique architectural amalgam comprising J.P. Morgan’s purpose-built library/study, his son Jack’s family home, and a soaring modern space designed by Renzo Piano tying it all together. In a city chock-full of beautiful buildings, it has taken my breath away more than once. I am mostly serious about my desire to move into the East Room (a room lined floor-to-ceiling with books, with two hidden staircases to access them).

This is a safe. A safe of books.

This is a safe. A safe of books.

The tasting was held in the less fragile  Morgan Dining Room and introduced by none other than the Coopered Tot himself, Josh Feldman, who works at the Morgan. I was meeting Josh for the first time but any nervousness I might have felt was easily dispelled by his hospitality and relaxed personality. Together with Malt Maniac Peter Silver and Kate Massey, the Whiskey Dame, we enjoyed some amazing drams and good conversation with the enthusiastic guidance of Chris Riesbeck from Gordon & MacPhail who led the tasting.

The assortment of drams represented six different distilleries from all over Scotland. I enjoyed them all, and a few really stood out.

Connoisseurs Choice Clynelish 11 yo
Nose: Cherries, currants, sugar and hints of tangy smoke

Palate: An initial peppery whack slips in luscious rich fruit–cherry, apple–and a tinge of cloves.

Finish: Fades gently to a final fruity (melon? grape?) note.

Connoisseurs Choice Jura 12 yo
Nose: Brine and light peat with lots of kale and cucumber and a sharp spicy note.

Palate: Thick and chewy–eggplant and beans. The heavy spice lingers throughout.

Finish: After such an intense initial flavor and mouthfeel, the finish is surprisingly light and quite balanced, with the spice carrying through all the way to the end.

Old Pulteney 21 yo Exceptional.
Nose: Salt and brine–very much the sea in a bottle. Also some hard fruits–apple, pear.

Palate: Strong initial spice with vanilla and cinnamon too. Slightly thick and lovely, retaining the saltiness of the nose.

Finish: A lingering heat.

Benromach 10 yo
Nose: Peat, mint and watercress–very fresh despite the smoke.

Palate: Plenty of smoke, some baked bread, but that fresh note shines.

Finish: Didn’t note.

Imperial Port Finish 15 yo Exceptional.
Nose: Beautiful fruits, a total feast for the nose of grapes, cherries, and plums.

Palate: Full of fig jam and cherries, cherries, cherries. A beautiful, rich, indulgent dram.

Finish: On and on and on with fruit to the end.

Caol Ila 11 yo Cask Strength Exceptional.
Nose: As to be expected, smoke, salt, and brine with some vanilla sugar.

Palate: Packs a wallop but manages to maintain an even keel of sweetness and brine — incredible with a few drops of water.

Finish: Didn’t note, probably because I was too deep in the whisky at this point and enjoying this dram far too much.

Ready to review

Tasting toolkit

In sum, I drammed myself silly and so, it seemed, did everyone else. I also came away with a renewed passion for what I do and why. Chris said something in the course of the evening that resonated quite deeply with me and, frankly, the whole philosophy behind this blog.

“Whisky,” he declared, “should be what tastes right.” You shouldn’t feel that you have to put water in it–or that you don’t. Ignore the people who try to tell you how to drink. Like what you like–there isn’t a right or wrong way to drink whisky (or to drink, or eat, anything!).

To that I say, amen! Life is too short to eat (or drink) poorly.

*If you want to help New Yorkers rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, consider volunteering at NYC Service or donating to Occupy Sandy, Waves for Water, or another charity.