For whatever reason you want to avoid alcohol for the winter holidays, (or wish to help a loved one avoid alcohol), you can’t go wrong with serving an alcohol-free hot spiced wine. Alcohol-free wine is a great substitute when the choice is that or nothing, but it’s not always something you drink simply because it tastes good. However, when you make an alcohol-free version of the hot spiced wine, it levels the playing field. With all the citrus and spices, you don’t suffer from an inferior taste. At all.
I searched a bunch of recipes before deciding on one of my own, and although I followed only part of Jamie Oliver’s recipe, I did like his method of boiling some of the wine with the spices and citrus in a saucepan before adding it to the rest of the wine. I also took his advice and put the star anise in afterwards to avoid a strong liquorice taste.
So, I sliced a clementine, a lime, and a lemon and put them in a saucepan, along with a cup of castor sugar. I added a big chunk of peeled, sliced ginger (the size of my thumb, only thicker – sorry it’s not more scientific). I added 6 cloves, 4 cardamum pods, and I would have added 3 cinnamon sticks but I discovered the morning of that I had run out. Instead, I added a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and it was fine, but the sticks are more fun.
I covered the citrus and spices with wine and brought the mixture to a boil. I use the alcohol-free wine called Bonne Nouvelle. A cold white wine goes down really nicely with seafood. And a warmer red or merlot pairs nicely with pizza or French cheese (to cut the taste in between bites). However I’ve never had a good bottle of rosé (which is usually too saccharine-y sweet) and have tended to avoid it until now. Since all the spiced wine recipes I looked at called for a fruitier white wine or (alcoholic) apple cider in smaller quantities to offset the red, I decided to go with the rosé for the purpose.
While the spices were cooking in rosé, I poured the rest of the rosé plus three bottles of red alcohol-free wine in the crockpot.
Water spiders? Nope! Star anise.
I used 2 star anise, but you might want to consider using one. Even without boiling it with the rest of the spices, it was quite strong and might not please everyone in the crowd. As for me? I liked it with two.
When the spice mix has come to a boil, pour the contents into the crockpot and remove all but one slice of lemon and one of lime to keep it from being too sour. I kept the clementines. Of course, if you like it sour, by all means keep the citrus.
Since you’ve extracted the flavour by boiling the spices ahead of time, the wine is ready to drink once it’s hot – around a half-hour. But the great thing about a crockpot is that it can be prepared a couple hours in advance and kept warm as your guests arrive. They will enter a festive house, which smells absolutely divine.
I used a small tea strainer that fits over the mug to catch any loose cloves that slip through. We served it with the traditional buttered toast with smoked salmon and lemon juice, and also toasts with foie gras and fig jam.
If you’d like to see more French recipes, click here for my recipe page.