Monthly Archives: December 2013

43 varieties

I first tasted Cuarenta y Tres in Seville. Drinking sangria in Spain is a sure-fire way to identify yourself as a tourist, but that’s never bothered me much. I speak a little Spanish and I’m sure my pronunciation is just as much of a giveaway.
One of the fascinating things about sangria is that, like paella, no two places ever produce the same even though everybody agrees (more or less) what the core ingredients should be. And, typically of eating and drinking out in Spain, just because the place looks, or is, cheap doesn’t necessarily mean the quality suffers.
It was an outside terrace in Triana. Just across one of the bridges. I can’t be certain, but it might have been Restaurante Rio Grande. What I can be certain about was that it was remarkably good sangria. More than just the usual red wine, fruit, sugar, and cheap brandy. The taste was much richer and complex, with one flavour that I couldn’t quite place. I thought it was fruit based, the person I was with thought vanilla. It turned out that we were both right.
So I asked the waiter what was in the sangria. The surprise was white spirit. No, not the sort you clean paint brushes with, but vodka. And the “secret” ingredient was Cuarenta y Tres. So named because it has 43 ingredients including fruit and vanilla. Unsurprisingly, I have a bottle on one of my shelves.
The last two weekends I’ve been abroad in Germany and France, photographing Christmas markets and other things that require you to be on the street, on your feet, in the cold, for long stretches. The stalls selling gluhwein or vin chaud were very welcome.
More than one of them had orange somewhere in the mix. It took a few days for the thought to surface, but something made me wonder whether Cuarenta y Tres might work in mulled wine, rather than sitting on the shelf until it’s sangria time again. It does.
And just as sangria should be individual and distinctive, so should mulled wine. What’s the point of buying those teabags of mixed spices that make your mulled wine taste like everybody else’s? Why not browse a few recipes, adapt and experiment. This worked rather well:

One bottle of red wine. I used Cotes du Rhone but I doubt that it matters much providing it’s a fairly meaty red. This is not the season for Beaujolais Nouveau.
One apple chopped into smallish bits. I’ve had some mulled wine where the apple has been cored and then sliced into rings. But life’s too short to core an apple needlessly.
Two clementines. Because I didn’t have an orange. Unpeeled and cut into quarters. You could peel and zest of course, but life’s too short and I’d doubt you’d really taste the difference.
Three or four cloves.
A couple of inches of cinnamon stick. I just took a whole one and snapped it in half.
Some freshly ground nutmeg. Optional because grating nutmeg is a pain. And if life’s too short to grate a nutmeg…
A tablespoon of sugar. Most recipes seem to call for caster sugar. Possibly because it dissolves faster? Golden granulated works just as well.
Two large star anise. This might be the “secret” ingredient that will make your mulled wine stand out from everybody else’s.
It all goes in a pan with a glass lid so you can keep an eye on proceedings. Heat it very very slowly. Do not, under any circumstances let it boil.
Fifteen minutes or so later take it off the heat. Add a large wine glass (mine was probably 150ml or more rather than the regulation 125ml) of Cuarenta y Tres. Or Cointreau.
Or similar as takes your fancy.
Plus a splash (25ml or so) of cheap brandy.
Leave to infuse for a while. I managed 30 mins while cooking dinner.
Re-heat if required.

And enjoy.