I sat down to write about Christmas music and mulled wine, but found myself sucked into an insidiously charitable vocabulary game instead (thanks, Ben). It's not an especially fancy game -- just matching synonyms of increasing difficulty -- but for every correct word, the FreeRice people donate 10 grains of rice. And you can watch the bowls of rice fill up just like your ego every time you get mouflon right.
But let me tell you about the mulled wine last night. No, first, let me tell you about the hot mulled wine served up for a quarter in steaming plastic cups at the Hungarian flea markets early on a Sunday morning. A pleasant way to end a long, long night, or to give you just enough courage to try bartering in a non-Indo-European language.
So last night: we emptied three bottles of 2buckchuck (cabernet sauvignon) into a large kettle, and while gently, gently heating it, added one thinly sliced orange (not peeled), several stars of anise, several sticks of cinnamon, and large pinches of peppercorns, whole cloves, and cardamom pods. Once it warmed up enough to taste excessively dry, we added brown sugar, then decided to swizzle in molasses, and finally went straight for the honey. Alcohol tastes dryer the warmer it is, and we figured this is why:
In the first place, all alcohol feels dry in your mouth because it evaporates more readily than water -- enough to be perceptible to our sensitive tasting mechanisms when sufficiently concentrated. So of course when the alcohol is hotter and even more inclined to evaporate, the effect is multiplied. Which is why you should taste your hot mulled wine immediately before serving and add lots of honey. (Question: does the sweetness simply mask the effect, or does the sugar make the alcohol less likely to vaporize somehow?).
And then somebody turned on Christmas music. It was ridiculous, really.