Cacao Mulled Wine

How do you cope with cold weather? Do you embrace it, avoid it or find carefully crafted ways to enjoy it (ie. with lots of layers and warm beverages)? I’m in the last category. I appreciate the magic of winter but need to be surrounded by multiple sources of warmth to get through it with a positive attitude. Mulled wine is one of those beverages that truly elevates the winter experience. Imagine standing in the midst of a Christmas market like Chicago’s own Christkindlmarket, surrounded by twinkling lights and enjoying a steaming mug of spiced wine as fluffy flakes of snow settle softly around you. It’s hard not to admit that winter has some charm when you find yourself in such a lovely situation.

Typical spices for mulled wine include ginger, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom and nutmeg. While I love the flavor and aroma of this combination, I wanted to try a different direction. What comes to mind as a natural pairing to red wine? Chocolate and cheese would be the most notable but cheese is probably not what you want actually in your wine (if you find a way to do it, more power to you). I settled on the concept of chocolate and thus decided to infuse my wine with cacao nibs, Ceylon cinnamon, cardamom and Cara Cara orange.

I looked for a rich red wine with chocolate tasting notes as the base to complement the cacao nibs. The Chilean Cabernet Sauvingon by Root: 1 was the perfect price point (I recommend not spending more than $10 on a bottle if you’ll be infusing it or adding juices) and the ideal flavor profile - black currant, mocha and chocolate.

Though I used cacao as my main flavor, I decided to add the Ceylon cinnamon and cardamom as they both pair beautifully with chocolate. I added both the peel and juice of a ripe Cara Cara orange to get both the bright essential oils of the skin and sweet tartness of the orange itself. Cara Cara oranges are my personal favorite as they’re sweeter and more flavorful than the typical navel variety.

Finally, I sweetened the wine with a German honey liqueur for both an extra kick and a smooth, richer sweet flavor. If you can’t get your hands on a honey liqueur, consider adding honey and brandy as a substitute. I prefer to make my mulled wine slightly more tart than sweet but feel free to play with the ratios to your liking.

The resulting mulled wine is warming and refreshingly bright with a delightful lingering flavor of spiced chocolate on the finish. It’s the perfect drink to share with friends or family anytime in the winter but especially over the holiday season.

Cacao Mulled Wine

  • 1 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon (Root: 1 or another variety with chocolate notes)

  • 4 oz honey liqueur

  • Juice and peel of 1 Cara Cara orange

  • 2 tbsp cacao nibs

  • 0.5 tsp cardamom seeds

  • 2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks

Add all ingredients to a pot and put on the stove on low heat. Bring to a light simmer and keep at that temperature for 45 minutes - 1 hour, stirring and tasting occasionally. Strain and serve immediately when ready. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or orange twist and enjoy with loved ones and good cheer.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the beautiful vintage glasses and tray.































A Modern Bouquet

Let's face it, roses, teddy bears, and the standard Hallmark festivities have gotten a bit too routine. This Valentine's Day, I encourage you to challenge tradition and present your sweetheart, best bud or gal pals with an unforgettably delicious cocktail. I guarantee that they'll be pleasantly surprised by the complex flavors and thoughtful presentation. Who knows, maybe this show of affection will pave the way of celebratory signature cocktails as your new tradition!

The inspiration for this cocktail grew out of a collaboration with KOVAL and West Elm. In selecting the glassware and serving essentials, I was looking for items that channeled vintage vibes with a modern air. I wanted to re-imagine the Valentine's Day color palette to appeal to a broader audience. In other words, I believe that the color pink can be enjoyed by everyone if executed with taste (and paired with gin). 

From the perspective of the cocktail itself, I was aiming for a rose hue, an elaborate garnish, and a flavor profile to please whiskey and gin drinkers alike. KOVAL's Barreled Gin built the foundation with it's oaky depth and balanced herbal notes. I've always loved the combination of gin and grapefruit, so I added fresh squeezed red grapefruit juice and supplemented with fresh blueberries to accomplish the rose color I was looking for.

I used a homemade honey cardamom syrup for sweetness to play up the touch of spice in the barreled gin and finished the cocktail off with cherry bark vanilla bitters to impart an almost creamy lingering smoothness. For garnish, I peeled several strips of fresh grapefruit skin, cut one of the long sides of each peel, then wrapped them in a spiral that I pierced with a cocktail pick. Note that it's best to pierce the spirals closer to the top so they don't keep flipping upside down. 

The resulting cocktail is a sensory experience of stunning natural color and well-rounded yet subtly unique taste. 

A Modern Bouquet

  • 1.5 oz KOVAL Barreled Gin
  • 2 oz fresh red grapefruit juice
  • 0.5 oz honey cardamom syrup
  • 1 oz blueberries
  • 5 drops cherry bark vanilla bitters

To make syrup, heat 1 cup honey, 1 cup water and 2 tbsp cardamom seeds in a small saucepan on low heat. Stir until honey dissolves and mixture has taken on the cardamom flavor (about 15 minutes).

To make cocktail, muddle blueberries in a cocktail shaker, then add ice and other ingredients. Shake until chilled and double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit peel rose. 

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography. You can find the West Elm items from this shoot, here, here, herehere and here