Travel Guide to Portugal

Annual Medieval Festival in Vic, Catalunya: The Culture of Vi Calent or Mulled Wine

By Gabriella Opaz

Last year, we hinted that we were going to be attending our first Medieval Festival in Vic, located north of Barcelona approximately 70 km, but we never let you in on the experience. Vic is the capital of the region Osona, nestled alongside the once beautiful Meder River. Now, unfortunately, the fumes that float up from the once pristine waters smell something closer to 2 month old rotten eggs, but the town itself is quaint, swanky and primarily built in Neoclassical architecture. On a crisp, overcast winter day, Vic is a wonderful and almost dreamlike town to visit.

Having gone with a large group of friends in December of 2007, we were completely swept away by its charm and beauty, motivating a much anticipated return trip yesterday. Ryan and I visited well over 200 stands adorned with: gigantic loaves of crispy bread, huge wheels of fresh cheese, greasy and delicious looking cured hams, perfectly browned sausages, thick slabs of bacon, handmade candles, scarves, hand painted wooden toys, customized perfumes, hundreds of bags of whole-leaf teas, brightly colored candies, medieval clothing, chocolates, 1meter long pastries, grilled ribs and freshly boiled octopus. This doesn’t even begin to describe the myriad of animals on display, such as vultures, owls, falcons, camels and half shaved miniature horses (don’t ask) .

But unlike last year, where our group of approximately 15, chose to escape the bitter cold into a warm and cozy restaurant serving traditional Spanish cuisine, Ryan and I opted to go rogue to feast exclusively on street fair.  With rich aromas of paprika and cumin in the air, we savored a plate of couscous, garbanzo beans, falafal, herbed sausage and a white sauce that reminded me of melted alfredo cheese. Doesn’t sound very Spanish, now does it? This is for good reason, as the Medieval Festival in Vic honors the Muslim armies (Moors) from North Africa who occupied the majority of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. Walking through the windy streets, you can encounter slightly sweet, or savory, Morroccan cookies, hot teas, fresh herbs and dried fruits.

With hot, spiced Moroccan tea in hand, we strolled for hours through the packed narrow streets, eyeing venders in their “traditional” medieval garb. While some enticed us into their stands with winks, sarcasm or song, others looked completely indifferent, most likely dreaming of a warm bed after hours of standing sedentary in the brisk temperatures as hoards of people scooted past their wares.

“We’ve got ribs! Octopus! Sausage,” venders screamed from behind a wooden counter layered in grease.

Unwanting to offend the guy, we caved in and bought an enormous plate of ribs for 10 euros. Sure, it’s a little steep, but worth every juicy morsel. Slightly crisp on the outside, moist and delicious on the inside, it was worth every penny spent!

Another worthwhile discovery, as the temperatures dropped in the late afternoon was Vi Calent. Vi Calent is Catalan for literally, “Hot Wine”. As Ryan and I typically enjoy a glass or two of wine on occasion, we thought this would be the ideal way to warm up the body and the icy cold hands. But unlike the Norwegian Grogg; Glühwein in German speaking countries and made with vanilla beans, cloves, citrus and cinnamon; Vin Fiert in Romania (meaning ‘boiled wine’ and spiced with peppercorns); or Izvar in Moldova spiced with both honey and peppercorns, Catalans do not differentiate between spiced wine versus wine that has been warmed straight from the bottle with zero added – and I do mean nothing! Bland, unsweetened, and slightly bitter, I quickly pawned off the second half of the 2 euro Dixi cup to Ryan.

However, to my great fortune, we did stumble across two more stands serving “vi calent” spiced with cinnamon, clover, allspice, nutmeg, and of course, sugar. These mulled wines bordered on ecstasy. Flavorful, slightly sweet, and a touch unctuous, this has reminiscent flavors of Port wine.

Historically, mulled wine was created as a masterful way of covering up bad wine. With a dash of this and pinch of that, as long as it helped you to forget those blistery winds sneaking into large stone castles, quality wasn’t nearly as important as taste. A large leg of lamb in one hand and hot spiced wine in the other sounds like a fabulous meal regardless of the time period!

How does one make Mulled wine? I did my best to find a traditional Catalan recipe online, but every time I Googled “Vi Calent” I came up with issues pertaining to climate change and wine. And as venders kept their family secret close to breast, I went for the Spanish version, finding several recipes which I have altered slightly to match what we had yesterday:

1 bottle red wine (cheap wine is great)
60g/2oz sugar

1 cinnamon stick
Grated nutmeg
Grated cloves
Grated allspice
1 orange, halved
60ml/2fl oz sloe or damson gin (optional)

1. Put the wine in a saucepan with the orange, sugar and spices.
2. Heat gently to a simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Taste to see if more spices or sugar is required.
3. Once ideal flavor is met, serve.

Spiking it! For a mulled wine with a kick stir in the sloe or damson gin.
Add some Goodies! Try adding some dried fruit such as cranberries and/or raisins.

Do you have an age old family recipe for mulled wine? If so, please share it with us!


Gabriella Opaz


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