Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Warm the Soul

Travel around France in the winter and you will often see a hand written sign taped up in the café windows that reads vin chaud. A good vin chaud is the ultimate warm you up beverage. Countries throughout Europe all have their own variations, as we do in the U.S., usually called mulled wine here. The French variations I've had have often eclipsed the mulled wines I've tasted in the U.S., and when you start to compare recipes you'll see why.

There are as many variations of the French recipe as there are French cafés, kitchens, cooks and bartenders. My own recipe benefits from a few secrets given to me by the young and very French sous-chef of L’Hermitage Beverly Hills. He and I were playing a game of petanque one cold night at the Los Angeles Petanque Club, and he had brought a large thermos full of vin chaud. It was the best I’d ever tasted. After some cajoling he gave up a few of his secrets.

Here is my recipe:

      1 bottle of French red wine, on the lighter side, such as a Beaujolais or pinot noir.
      1/8 cup orange liquor, preferably Grand Marnier
      1/8 cup Benedictine
      1 large orange
      1 tablespoon of honey
      1 tablespoon of brown sugar
      6 cloves
      3 tablespoons vanilla extract
      2 cinnamon sticks
      1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger
      3 shakes of aromatic bitters, such as Fee Brothers or Angostura Bitters

Slice the orange into 1/4 inch thick slices, leaving the ends whole. Put slices into a large pot, squeeze all juice out of Orange ends into pot, and discard ends. Add vanilla, honey, sugar, cloves and ginger. Muddle a bit to break up orange slices and get everything acquainted.

Add the bottle of wine and the bitters. Turn heat on medium, stirring occasionally. Do not let it come to a boil.

Have a large thermos ready if you plan on transporting, or a big heat-resistant punch bowl or similar container ready if serving immediately.

Put the Grand Marnier and Benedictine in the thermos or punch bowl.

When the wine mixture is too hot to touch, but before it boils, transfer it into the thermos or punch bowl, mixing it with the Grand Marnier and Benedictine.

It is now ready to serve, and warm the soul.

Here are a few variations to inspire, or when you don't have the Grand Marnier and Benedictine handy:
      Use Cognac or Armagnac instead of the Grand Marnier and Benedictine
      Use Grappa instead of the Grand Marnier and Benedictine
      Add a half-cup of Pineau des Charentes
      Use a nut liquor, such as walnut liqueur or Amaretto (I have not tried this, but is sounds like it should work, no?)

And I’m sure you can think of a few other ways to make it your own as well.

Stay warm.

Le Capitaine

January 3rd, 1940, vin chaud is being distributed free to French soldiers a few months before the Battle of France, where things go very poorly for La Belle France.


  1. I've read that 2 pieces of Star Anise and a pinch of nutmeg add to the flavor. I am sure that a pinch of Cayenne pepper for the very cold days would really help the body and soul as well... So many recipes so little time!

  2. Fabrice, I've heard about the star anis as well, but have yet to try it. Not sure about the cayenne though.
    I have used cayenne in homemade sore throat syrup:
    - Juice of half a lemon
    - 1 teaspoon honey
    - 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    - 2 tablspoons Armaniac (optional)
    Blend well, sip slowly.

  3. Your recipe seriously healed my overall congestion that night in a matter of minutes, pretty special concoction I must say!