Mulled wine (forralt bor) is an inextricable part of winter in Hungary. At this time of year it’s sold all over the city—prepared and served in anything from vats, pots, and barrels, and even coffee percolators—and usually handed over in a plastic cup to enjoy on the run. Every family and vendor has its own recipe for forralt bor. But however its prepared, it is the perfect antidote to the business of the holiday season. Between running around gathering gifts, reuniting with family and making time for holiday parties, it can be hard to justify taking a break. Unless of course there is forralt bor on offer.
But when enjoying a mulled wine in Hungary, there are a few important things to remember.
- While both white and rosé forralt bor are available in Hungary, traditionalists prefer it red. The spices and seasonings benefit from the mellow heft of a dry red, even if it’s a cheap one. That’s because the hero of mulled wine is not the wine itself, but the selection and balance of the rest of the ingredients.
- Don’t be snobbish when it comes to your mulled wine. The wine used for street-bought forralt bor is usually on the cheap side. No matter, the wine is just a delivery system for the spices, more importantly, the alcohol. It’s important that forralt, ‘boiled’ bor is not actually boiled, despite its name, as boiling evaporates the alcohol. And despite its sweet and tart flavors, there should be a noticeable bite from the alcohol, the momentary reminder that you are stealing a little celebration, gifting yourself respite to break up the day.
- Recipes around the region vary—meaning that no two mulled wines will be the same—so don’t get overly attached to any one batch. Commonly used ingredients will be cinnamon, ginger, orange zest, cardamom, star anise, sugar, honey, and clove. The best mulled wines also add a dash of rum, a kind of drink for the drink. Your mulled wine should also be in a celebratory mood.
- When you find a good mulled wine, take advantage, and don’t let the opportunity slip by. Spots to acquire forralt bor are strategically placed around town, at least in Budapest, once the temperature drops and the dead of winter begins to threaten. This is no accident. There are few better feelings than taking a spontaneous break from the bustle and indulging in a cup of forralt bor. Only don’t overdo it. Mulled wine is not intended to get one drunk, only to brighten the day, and make the cold more bearable.
- Finally, do no confuse drinking an afternoon, or even morning mulled wine at a Christmas market with day drinking. Day drinking passes the day, mulled wine adds to the day, makes Christmas more celebratory, and generally brings cheer. The trick to mulled wine is to catch it where you can, not to drink too much, and let it work its warming charms on your frigid, busy winter day.
- The Vörösmarty tér Christmas Market is an excellent place to try forralt bor (though also one of the most expensive)!
How about making your own mulled wine at home? Recipes abound, or you can just create your own! Here are a few tips collected from Taste Hungary’s culinary ambassadors:
- Use medium quality wine, not the cheapest wine you can find (like many vendors do).
- Start by making a spice reduction by adding spices to about two cups of water. Put as many spices as you can, don’t forget the orange and lemon zest. Boil the mixture until it reduces down by half, and then add half a cup of sugar. Strain it.
- Try adding some fruit—such as apples, citrus, dried fruit, or pears—which has been cooked in water with sugar and spices.
- Spices can include anything you like, including cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, rosemary, cardamom, black pepper, and star anise.
- Try adding some black tea or fruit tea (or even a bit of fruit juice) to give the forralt bor more body and flavor.
- Add the wine at the very end, after you’ve made an infusion with all of the other ingredients.
- Don’t boil the wine! Otherwise all the magic (alcohol) will just disappear. Just warm it together with the spice mixture.
- How about a mulled beer instead? One of our guides recommends replacing the wine with a dark beer!
- Consider replacing the rum that is traditionally added with a bit of palinka! Or fortify it with an even fancier spirit (see the recipe below from Christian, a wine ambassador at The Tasting Table).
Want to learn more about the Christmas holiday traditions in Hungary? Join our Christmas Market & Food Walk to taste holiday foods and learn about the traditions, while visiting some of Europe’s best Christmas markets.
- 2 liters of red wine
- 2 dl (1 cup) of Grand Marnier
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) of brown sugar
- 100 grams of honey
- The zest of 1 orange
- The zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4-5 cloves
- 4-5 pieces of green cardamom
- 2 pieces of star anise
- 10 black peppercorns
- Heat the wine and Grand Marnier very gently, without boiling.
- Add all other ingredients, and barely simmer, letting the wine infuse for 30 minutes.
- Filter the wine and serve it warm. Or leave it warm (always without boiling) until it's ready to serve.