Drink & Dine: Elevate Your Holiday Entertaining With Mulled Wine and Cream Liqueur
While neutral varietals such as Pinot Grigio and Merlot are typically crowd-pleasers, they don’t really underscore the festive vibe of the holiday season. Photo: Westend61/Getty Images
Despite the challenges still facing our post-pandemic world, simply congregating with friends over a few drinks and snacks brings outsize joy after several seasons cooped up alone in sweatpants, especially at this time of the year.
No need for lavish, showy spreads. A quaff and a small bite in the company of others is plenty, particularly when backdropped by music, candlelight or — best — firelight, even if it’s just an image of a burning log on TV.
What to serve to maximize the pleasure? As we’ve mentioned in this space before, taste in wine is as subjective as taste in music or film; ultimately there are no right or wrong answers. You like what you like and buy what you can afford.
Hosting others complicates matters. It’s hard to anticipate people’s tastes and, as we’ve also stated in this space before, certain varietals such as Chardonnay inspire love or hate in equal measure.
While neutral varietals such as Pinot Grigio and Merlot are typically crowd-pleasing, they’re also kind of boring and don’t really underscore the festive vibe of the holiday season. Colder temperatures and a spirit of rare indulgence make two other grape-based options especially appealing when entertaining now: mulled wine and cream liqueurs similar to Irish cream but made with … wait for it … fortified wine instead of whiskey.
An ancient wintertime favourite served in various permutations all over the world, mulled wine is just warmed red wine augmented with fruit, honey and spices like cinnamon, star anise, vanilla, cardamom or cloves, or some combination of these.
Premixed packages of mulling spices can be purchased and added to wine, but mulled wine from scratch is cheap and simple and recipes abound online. There are some pro-tips, however.
First and foremost: Don’t buy expensive wine. Since you’re adding other flavours, the baseline taste of the wine will be obscured so there’s no need to shell out for the fancy stuff.
A drier wine is better since sweetness will come from added honey, maple syrup, orange slices, cranberries or even brandy to also zip up the alcohol quotient. Also, stick with sturdier reds and save gentler whites and rosés for another event.
Remember to simmer gently. Mulled wine isn’t soup, so when heating with the other ingredients, low and slow is the way to go.
If possible, serve mulled wine in glass mugs, so the added extra tasty bits can be seen, and use a ladle to be sure to snag the same. One 750 ml bottle of red wine yields roughly five servings, so tally the number of guests to ensure you’ve got enough. Three glasses per guest maybe? You know your guests … use your judgement. Pair with roasted nuts or salty blue cheese on a good baguette.
Wine-based Cream Liqueur
Most people know Baileys Irish Cream, that buttery sweet concoction boosted by Irish whiskey that tastes so delicious in coffee, Earl Grey tea, or straight up over ice. We love Baileys, too. A comparable though less expensive option comes in the form of cream liqueur boosted by fortified wine. That may sound all kinds of wrong but believe us when we say it tastes all kinds of right.
In Ontario, Wine Rack and The Wine Shop offer Cartier and PJ’s, respectively. Both brands offer multiple flavours such as Salted Caramel and S’mores (Wine Rack), Espresso and Red Velvet (Wine Shop) that taste great and come in considerably cheaper than Baileys.
As someone who has served these types of products for years, I can say unequivocally that almost everyone loves them. They really are scrumptious if quite sweet, and their surprising ingredient list makes them a fun talking point at a party. Their price-point is also hard to beat. Excellent served alongside shortbread or poured over quality ice cream for an amplified dessert. Don’t forget the coffee.
A version of this story was originally published in 2022.