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Prague café hot wine / by Damon Krukowski

Svařené vino (hot wine) on the streets of Prague. Not as good as this recipe.

Hello everyone, my editor returned from her wanderjahr and so the Bottled Liquors column is back!

For those of you new to this space, this is a wine column by someone who knows nothing about the subject. I do not know the names of the "notes" in flavors. And I will not try and tell you what you like, because how could I know?

If you're still here, today's topic is hot wine - an anti- connoisseur subject if there ever was one. Because what kind of wine are you going to heat before you drink? A cheap one, that's what!

And yet, and yet, there is delicious hot wine, and a lot of disgusting hot wine. Here's how to sample a lot of disgusting hot wine: tour England near the holidays. The mulled wine at every pub smells great. But in my experience it's always somehow both harshly bitter and syrupy sweet. (Like the holiday season in general?)

But that aroma! Maybe it's because I grew up in an odoriferous New York, but for me a good smell trumps good sense. I have ordered mulled wine again and again, all across the colder bits of Europe that host American bands, and nearly always been disappointed.

I say nearly. Because once it was even better than the aroma.

We were in Prague, it was cold and bleak as Kafka. A small steamy café beckoned. Inside - that aroma. What was I to do? I ordered what my brain knew would be a disgusting glass of hot wine. But this time, it tasted like a dying Mozart, the Hapsburg chin, a siege by the Ottomans, the inn near the Castle.

The staff kindly shared the recipe:


First, choose a cheap wine, but make sure it is not tannic. Just make sure it is cheap. A good rule of thumb: if it would make good sangria, it will make good hot wine. Light and fresh wins the day - avoid anything the wine seller praises as rich, heavy, serious, or god forbid "with a touch of oak." What's going to happen to this wine as it heats is that some of the alcohol will evaporate, and other flavors will concentrate. You want a glass of hot oak? Ask Jamie Oliver for a recipe.

My go-to of the moment is a Spanish Garnacha that comes in 3-liter boxes for under $20. Reading between the words on the label - "dark cherries and blueberries," "light peppery notes," "bright fresh flavors," "crafted for your immediate enjoyment" - I found what I wanted: young, fruity and cheap. Throw it in a pot.


Melt sugar in a little hot water - about 2 lumps per cup of wine.

Add wine and mulling spices. (Clove, allspice, cardamom, mace, dried orange peel, etc. I stay away from cinnamon, but be my guest!)

Bring to just below a simmer - do not boil, and do not heat for too long. If you want to steep the spices longer, turn off the heat and cover the pot while it rests, then reheat uncovered before serving.

Adjust with sugar and hot water to taste.

Strain into glass.

Garnish if you like -- a slice of lemon and a few raisins were a nice final touch in Prague.

Na zdraví!

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