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Mulling over a (delicious) mistake
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Mulling over a (delicious) mistake

There’s really only one time of the year for a story about mulled wine — and as they say, Dish readers, ‘tis the season.

(Fun fact: at the Free Press it’s pretty much taboo to use “’tis the season” in any capacity during the holidays, what with being a tired old chestnut of a saying. But if it’s good enough for Taylor Swift, ’tis good enough for this newsletter. But I digress.)

Gather ‘round the hearth, readers — it’s story time. Because there’s one batch of my mom’s mulled wine that stands above all others — one whose story I like to share at this time every year.

Walking into a room where mulled wine is being made is a bit like a festive holiday hug. Like many, my mom makes mulled wine every year when we gather to decorate the tree at their place. It’s a fun and tasty festive treat that can really bring some holiday cheer.

(OK, in looking back at that last paragraph, it reads like one of those online recipes with a 25-paragraph preamble before they get to the damn ingredient list and cooking instructions. Apologies. Moving on.)

SUPPLIED Decked out in a festive tie, glass of mulled wine in hand and looking positively thrilled about it all.

The year of mom’s memorable batch, I remember walking into my folks’ place and being hit with an intense smell of cinnamon and clove, some orange and, most of all, this incredibly rich, robust red wine aroma. When I mentioned I thought the mulled wine smelled amazing, my mom paused from her frantic kitchen activities, thanked me and carried on.

I grabbed a decorative festive glass, scooped a couple dollops of the stuff out of the slow cooker and into my glass, and added the mandatory cinnamon stick before retreating to the living room to bask in the sounds of A Very Special Christmas for about the 427th time before we decorated the tree.

SUPPLIED The toilet-paper roll Ben’s brother Stef made in kindergarten sits atop the tree at their folks’ place. Because tradition.

One sip of that mulled wine and I knew something was different. In addition to it bringing loads of dark, rich fruit flavours and the typical baking spice notes, there was something else — an excess of mouth-drying tannin typically associated with big, bruising reds.

When I mentioned to my mom that the mulled wine was really good, but quite… chewy, I got a thank you, a quick shrug of the shoulders and that was it. I started grilling her about whether she had done anything different this year, but she was busy cooking something festive or other and really didn’t have time for my nonsense.

But I write about drinks, and I’m a curious guy — I needed to know what was up, and kept pestering. Was it the spices? The cooking time? A new recipe? What kind of wine had she used?

Finally, mom fished the empty bottle of red she had used out of the recycling bin, and it suddenly all made sense. Rather than huff it to the store for a cheap bottle of red plonk to make the mulled wine, she had simply grabbed a random bottle of red from the wine rack.

That wine, as it turns out, was a $40 bottle of Shiraz from Australia’s McLaren Vale. On its own, such a wine is a beast — brash, intensely ripe, a solid dollop of oak and some heat on the finish from the high alcohol (we’re talking 14.5 per cent or higher). A wine like this, especially when young, delivers a boxing glove of tannin to your teeth. Throw such a wine into a slow cooker, add some spices and reduce it all for hours, and things are only going to get more concentrated.

That Aussie Shiraz could have aged gracefully for another decade into a complex, profound beauty. Instead the life had been slow-cooked out of it in the name of festive tipples.

Mom and I had a good laugh about it, and we all enjoyed a deep, dark and wickedly tannic mulled wine. And before I left for the night, I was made to go through their wine rack and write the ballpark prices on the back labels of each bottle, so as to not repeat that delicious mistake.

And a new annual holiday tradition was born.

(Last aside: This is where I interject, dear Dish readers, to ask you to send me your favourite mulled wine recipes. If I get enough, perhaps I’ll feature some in a future Uncorked.)

We love writing about local food and drinks news, and hope you’ll consider a paid subscription to the Free Press to support local, independent journalism in your community. Without our subscribers, none of this would be possible.

- Ben

Tasty tidbits

The cocktail bar at Patent 5 Distillery has launched a new drinks menu inspired by diner fare. The beverage list is made up of savoury mains, like the pastrami on rye (a wild combination of toasted rye bourbon, brisket infusion, vermouth, mustard shrub, black pepper tincture and lemon bitters), and classic desserts, like key lime pie, made with spiced gin, pie crust infusion, cream of coconut, lime and whip. The concept’s tagline, “the world’s strangest diner…where all the food is drinks,” is fitting.


If you saw Ben’s feature on the Fort Garry Hotel you’ll have noted sommelier Christopher Sprague made the move from iconic steakhouse 529 Wellington this summer. He’s not the only new face around the Fort Garry — in fact Jim Armstrong, former 529 manager, also made the leap with Sprague, and can regularly be seen busily hustling in and around the Oval Room Brasserie. And Kyle Lew, formerly of Lark on Albert St. (which closed mid-November) and Chew in River Heights, has also landed on Broadway at the Fort Garry.




Supreme Macaroni Co., a side hustle from The Mitchell Block housed above the McDermot Ave. eatery, was meant to be a temporary project for takeout pizza and pasta during the pandemic, but is now here to stay. On their Instagram account, Supreme Macaroni Co. announced they’re sticking around, and have in fact opened for dine-in service for all manner of food and drink in addition to takeaway and delivery (via the usual suspects). The Mitchell Block remains closed for dine-in service, with the Instagram post indicating they’ll be reopening the dining room in the new year.

Recommended fare

Ben: I’ve had Stanley Tucci’s memoir Taste: My Life Through Food kicking around for some time now, and I’m finally getting to read it. Tucci’s online negroni video posted in April 2020 became an early pandemic sensation, and his CNN travel/food series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy has also been a big hit. The book emphasizes the role food played in his childhood, and the importance it has held in his life ever since. It includes food and cocktail recipes (including for a negroni) — do not read on an empty stomach.

I went to a tasting of wines from Vancouver Island’s Averill Creek the other day at Tabula Rasa The wines are great, but not yet available in Manitoba (although you can order them directly from the winery). In addition to sampling the wines, we tried some of the dishes available at the south Osborne eatery, and they were outstanding, particularly the smoked goldeye fritters and the beef carpaccio. I’ll be hitting them up again sooner rather than later.

Eva: I’m currently in the throes of Christmas cookie chaos — for work and pleasure. I’ve been busy compiling recipes for the paper’s annual 12 Days of Christmas Cookies feature which launches today with Mexican raw sugar piggies. At the same time, I’m working through my own holiday baking. I said pleasure earlier, but that’s not entirely accurate. I don’t have much patience for baking, but I do enjoy gifting cookies and snacks instead of material gifts, so once a year I begrudgingly pull out the sheet pans and cover the kitchen in flour. These jammy pinwheels are next on my hit list.

 What’s simmering

Ben and Eva are compiling some of their thoughts on the best of local food and drink in 2021; watch for more in the next issue of Dish. In the meantime, Ben’s been doing daily tasting videos on Instagram as he works his way through the De Luca Fine Wines advent calendar.


Recipes and reviews

Chestnut ravioli

Find the recipe for chef Mark McEwan’s chestnut ravioli here.

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