The Christmas season is here and for me, the holidays are always marked by memories, family and tradition.

Around this time, one memory in particular comes to mind: when my husband and I took a trip to Paris in early December a few years ago. 

The Champs-Elysees (one of the main roads in Paris) was illuminated with elaborate window displays. The Cartier store’s chandelier glistened with thousands of crystals, and the street was filled with Alpine huts making up Paris’ Christmas village or “village noel."

Shoppers huddled together and scurried up and down the sidewalks as the December air whipped through the many buildings and structures. Vendors lined both sides of the streets selling crepes and spiced nuts, both of which perfumed the air with the smell of spice.

We also passed several chalkboard signs adorned with the handwritten words "Vin Chaud," which is pronounced “văn-shō” and translates, in English, to mulled wine. 

The smell from the hot cauldrons of steaming liquid wafted into the street and offered promise of warmth from the bitter cold.

So, we stopped to try some of the red wine laced with spicy notes of pepper, allspice and cinnamon and sweetened with honey and fresh orange.

Mulled wine has become synonymous with Christmas throughout Europe. And each time I make mulled wine, it takes me back to that winter day in Paris. 

While my recipe isn’t terribly difficult, the simplicity does seem to go well with the view of a Christmas tree and and a screening of “It's a Wonderful Life." 

When making this recipe, I avoid any red wines that boast highly pronounced tannins and oak usage. I look for fruit-forward wines that will be complemented by the fresh orange and sweetness in the honey.

Wines like Oregon Pinot Noir, Chilean Malbec and French Beaujolais are great places to start.

When you have selected your wine, pour the bottle in your pot, and place the burner on low. If it's too hot, you risk the alcohol evaporating and bringing out bitterness from the spices, leaving not much cheer in your cup.

Add in several sticks of cinnamon, a handful of cloves and freshly-grated nutmeg. Then squeeze an orange, or more to taste, and the juice and several tablespoons of honey to the pot. Let the flavors warm and come together.

Rather than straining the spices, I find sprinkling several of the spices in each guests’ cup to be a great visual to finish off the presentation.

As the holiday season ramps up, I encourage you to grab your loved ones and take a moment celebrate the flavors of the season with a warm mug of Vin Chaud, a drink guaranteed to grow any heart by three sizes.

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently studying for his certified CMS exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.