In Romagna, mulled wine was called vino caldo (warm wine).
I use a form in the past tense since only a handful of memories and a few mentions in gastronomic collections of Romagna cuisine, above all dated ones, survive on that drink, which Romagna peasants used to fight winter frost and seasonal ailments.
The mulled wine implies a wine boiled with sugar and spices, besides homemade, peasant preparation.
Today, many Italians associate it mainly with Christmas and the Trentino-Alto-Adige region, but it was once widespread in many parts of Italy.
Many people do not know that vino caldo, sometimes called brulé, is a traditional food product of Emilia-Romagna. That is a clear recognition that testifies to its widespread use.
It was the habit in certain localities (of Romagna) to drink mulled wine on the evening of St. Sebastian (January 20). More generally, it was a great companion of conversations around the table on cold winter evenings, devoted perhaps to card games, besides a good drink for those with colds, sore throats, or about to get flu.
(from Dictionary of Romagna Cuisine. Recipes, wines, and characters, edited by E. Morini and S. Vicarelli).
Graziano Pozzetto, in his collection dedicated to Romagna kitchens, with a preface by Tonino Guerra, Italian poet and writer, also mentions the recipe for vino caldo using specifically that name.
Vino caldo season
The kitchen is the most welcoming room on the chilly evenings of January and February when, at last, winter extends its cloak over houses, streets, trees, and thoughts.
The warmth produced by a festive yellow light and the perception of the quiet flow of a family’s domestic life on a winter evening draw me in. You know, the world shut out, and the inhabitants gathered in the heart of the home.
It is after dinner. That family is again gathered around the wooden table that is now free of tablecloth, plates, and glasses. The sound of the nutcracker sets the pace. And the scent of cloves and hot wine spreads well-being in the form of steam. Again, the boiling glass keeps the shuffling hands warm.
Adults are taken in the game. Occasionally, the exclamations of regret and victory, as a result of the card game, broke the silence.
I calmly observe those faces dear to my heart.
At least, I smile at a player tiny in size and age.
She is a little girl about ten years old, thin as a reed. I can see she has a deck of cards, a few papers, and a pen to keep score, but she plays alone. The little girl eats nuts and plays a game of her own. I look at her while she follows the preparation of the vino caldo, which always happens in the middle of the evening.
She won’t drink it. But she likes that spicy scent that fills the room.
There is something of peacefully noticing her hands on her father’s warm glass, smelling the drink, and smiling at the woman who observes her from the doorstep of another time.
Winter, mulled wine and memories
Whenever the curtain suddenly opens on this memory, I see myself while observing, from some distance, a scene of family life. And what I see always makes me think of a nativity scene, even without the baby.
The lights, the endless lunches, the visits from guests and friends, and the festive atmosphere of Christmas have given way to the quiet and cold of January when, at last, winter can take over the world without seeming unkind.
I cannot say whether the reason is that winter was colder and snowed more often. Or whether the calmness of the early months of the year was a consequence of the frenzy of Christmas.
I can say that the cold weather of January kept people indoors waiting for February and San Remo when the Italian song festival stopped the whole country.
That cold weather also stopped my father, who was more out than at home because of his busy schedule, even in the evenings.
On those rare and happy occasions, the family would gather in the kitchen to play cards, eat dried fruit, and drink a glass of vino caldo, the mulled wine of Romagna.
Those evenings were a great joy for me and a beautiful memory today.
I loved the time we spent together. And, moreover, in the room I have loved most since childhood, the one where I spent my days in the company of Grandma.
The kitchen is a physical and metaphysical space.
And today, that I have made the telling of food my job, I can affirm that no other place is full of stories, voices, and feelings as a kitchen.
At home was Grandma, born and raised in the Romagna countryside, who prepared hot wine as her mother used to do. That is her version.
Buona cucina, Monica
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Vino caldo (mulled wine) of Romagna
- 1 l of Sangiovese red wine
- 50 g of sugar or honey
- 1 thin slice of orange
- a few strands of grated lemon zest
- 10 cloves
- 3 of bay leaves
- 1 piece of cinnamon stick
- a few grains of pepper
- In a pot, pour the red wine and add the sugar.
- Get a few strands of zest from the lemon and a thin slice from a fresh orange.
- Add the lemon peels and the orange slice into the wine. Now add the spices as well.
- Bring the ingredients to a pre-boil, stirring, to melt the sugar.
- Turn down the heat and cook for 15 minutes, never losing sight of the pot.
- Strain the mulled wine through a strainer and pour it into glasses or cups.
- Store in the refrigerator for two days and reheat before serving.