A French-Canadian vin chaud recipe to carry you through the cold

Glühwein, vin chaud, glögg or simply mulled wine simmers away in big vats found in Christmas markets around the world. This spiced, warm wine is a European classic with a history that reaches back to the numbed hands of Roman soldiers dutifully trekking their way across the continent in a quest to conquer. The aromatic cold-buster has now found its way into the frosted hearts of all those who brave the cold each winter.

birds eye view of a blizzard in NYC's Chinatown

Snowy Chinatown, NYC – by Emanuel Hahn

Though the holidays have passed, the cold has not (read: NYC’s Bomb Cyclone.) While sub-Arctic conditions continue to plunge the East Coast in unbearably frigid weather, Quebecois, have been battling the extreme cold since Jacques Cartier made land on the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence River. In 1534. The fur-trappers and settlers who left temperate France survived the brutal winter with an elixir known as Caribou. Caribou, the French word for reindeer, was supposedly a mix of fresh warm caribou blood, any hard alcohol on hand and maple syrup. Oh, Canada.

A modern take on staying warm

people lining to enter an outdoor winter festival

The 60th Carnaval de Quebec – © Matias Garabedien

While I hail from this great, frozen land and can vouch for our willingness to rough it in the wild, reindeer blood is a bit of a stretch for our contemporary tastes. Thankfully it never gets warmer in Quebec, and the ever-ingenious French Canadians have modernized the Caribou. It is now a staple during La Carneval de Quebec, a winter festival taking place since 1894, to warm up the inhabitants of the capital snow and give them a reason to celebrate even in the harshest of winters. Served in shot glasses carved from ice, a couple of Caribou are necessary to stay warm at the outdoor festival.

Today there are as many variations as snowflakes falling from the sky, but being the Grand Wine Tour, I created a recipe that uses red wine as the base. Everything in this recipe can be modified or adapted to your tastes, except the maple syrup – no other sugar will do. While any red wine can serve as the base, I recommend a light to medium bodied, low tannin wine such as a Barbera from Piedmont as it will hold up well to the liquor and maple syrup, but overpower the drink.

A note of choice of liquors.

maple syrup being taken from a ceramic pot with a honey dipper

Maple Syrup – by Sonja Langford

You can use whatever you have on hand –vodka, rum, brandy, etc. But as this is as ancient of Canadian recipe as it can get, it is most likely that it was historically made with either a French liquor such as sherry or with whisky, which was traded heavily at the time. A Canadian rye whisky such as Crown Royal would be my pick but play around with your favourite flavour profiles.

Spices, to use or not to use

While mulled wine is famed for the infusion of many aromatic spices that give it is classic taste, Caribou’s flavour comes from the maple syrup. Spices were (and still are) expensive, and it is reasonable to assume that these poor, frozen colonists were not financially in the way to include many of them. This recipe calls for cinnamon, but you can omit it or swap it as you like. Cloves, nutmeg and star anise would all work wonderfully with this cocktail, and if you feel like throwing caution the wind, then infuse them all for a jolly good warm up.

Caribou Vin Chaud

spiced wine in a copper pot

Spiced Wine – by Hannah Pemberton

Serves 2 – 4

1 bottle red wine

175 mL liquor of choice, or for a less alcoholic version, ginger ale

3 tablespoons of maple syrup, or to taste

1 cinnamon stick

Pour all the ingredients together in a small pot and gently warm it through for a few minutes at a very low temperature. Do not let it come to a boil or even a simmer. The goal is to keep as much of the alcohol content while incorporating all the flavours together. Once warm, ladle it into mugs and enjoy!

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