When the days become short and the nights long in Portugal, it also becomes the cold season. We don’t get snow in my area, south of Lisbon, but sometimes in the mountain regions and the northern rock studded areas where the homes are made of dark blocks of granite and rows of low stone walls that separate each quinta, a dusting of snow can be found. That doesn’t mean wrapping my frozen fingers around a warm mug of vinho quente is just a way to reminisce about cold days back in the states!
No, the cold isn’t just a fantasy in the rest of Portugal. The Atlantic waters to the west of Portugal turn the air humid, and combined with some of the mildest winter temperatures (16°C or 61°F on average) you get something that can only be called as “bone chilling”. In the light of the sun, it can be pleasant at those degrees, but once the sun has retired for the day or disappears behind a cloud that’s when the search for comfort becomes an urgent need. The best places to find it are in a warm cozinha cooking comfort food or snuggled under a thick blanket before the glow of a wood fire with a warm drink in hand.
When it comes to warm drinks, you have the same choices here as anywhere amongst Portuguese coffee, tea and hot chocolate, but if you want something that hits the right chord between comfort and cheer look no further than vinho quente!
Vinho quente (mulled wine) is a warm red wine rich in spices, citrus fruit, and honey or syrup. The Romans were the first to write down this technique in the second century, and then spread it across Europe as they conquered and traded with its people. This is why we often hear about mulled wine in northern European countries, where the winters are harsher, more so than in the south. I’s still enjoyed in the southern countries and throughout the Iberian peninsula as well, and comes with a variety of different recipes that are only limited by the imagination.
In Portugal there are a few traditional ways to make vinho quente. In Porto, port wine (here it would be called Porto Quente) is traditionally used while in the Douro and Minho areas Madeira wine is also used. The benefit of these fortified wines makes it so that added sugar or honey isn’t required. Where those sweet dessert wines aren’t readily available, vinho tinto or red wine, is a fantastic alternative. This doesn’t have to be an expensive bottle from the most upscale casa de vinho. In fact, a bargain wine will do just fine. Add the sweetness of honey or sugar, strong spices and some gentle heat and the flavors will blend together so well as to elevate the taste without breaking your budget.
Think of it like a warm sangria, but where sangria is refreshing in the hot summer, vinho quente is a comforting blanket that not only warms you from head to toe, but lulls you into the spirit of the season. A simple sip of this sweet warmth at this year’s holiday festas is sure to bring friends and family together!
- 1 bottle of Red wine
- 1 orange, sliced
- 6-8 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 2-3 inch knob of fresh ginger root
- ⅓ cup honey or sugar
- Pour the wine into a large pot and add in the orange slices, cloves, cinnamon sticks, ginger root and honey. Stir it well and place on the stove over medium heat.
- Allow the wine to heat up until it starts to steam, stirring occasionally to help the honey or sugar dissolve, but don’t let it come to a boil.
- Pour the vinho quente into a large pitcher or ladle it directly into mugs and enjoy!
- If you like fruit in your vinho quente, feel free to add chunks of apple or pear to give it even more flavor!