A Foolproof Guide to Mulled Wine
Tracing the history of winter’s favorite warm, spiced wine, along with recipes and recommended bottles.
A mug of warm, spiced mulled wine is one of the most festive drinks of the season. Not only is mulled wine a fantastic way to warm up during the coldest, darkest nights of the year, but the beverage is one of the easiest to prepare. Just add a few spices and a sweetening agent to a bottle of easy-drinking wine, gently warm the mixture, and you’ll have a delicious, seasonally appropriate concoction.
Some bottles of wine, however, better lend themselves to mulled wine than others. Dry wines are key, and easy-drinking, straightforward options with strong fruit character typically work best. (Budget-friendly bottles don’t hurt, either – mulled wine is meant to be drunk in a crowd, after all!) Read on for five bottles of red and white—yes, mulled white wine is delicious, too!—are excellent choices for the season’s catch-all boozy beverage.
But first a little history
Most link the tradition of mulled wine back to the people who influenced so much of today’s winemaking and wine drinking landscape: the ancient Romans. An ancient Roman cookbook called “Apicius, de re Coquinaria” outlined a recipe for Conditum Paradoxum, a spiced, heated wine that includes honey, crushed pepper, mastic, “aromatic leaves,” saffron, and roasted date pits.
The tradition of sweetening and heating wine infused with spices continued through the centuries, becoming quite popular in England. In the final scene of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol,” the infamous Scrooge invites his clerk to discuss affairs “...over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!” A Smoking Bishop, in fact, was a mulled Port and red still wine, infused with roasted lemon and cloves.
Meanwhile, over in German-speaking parts of Europe, Glühwein became a staple of local drinking culture. The first documented recipe is currently from 1834, though the tradition dates back hundreds of years. Glühwein is very similar to traditional mulled wine, though it sometimes adds vanilla into the spice blend, and it is often served at Christmas markets in Alsace, Austria, and Germany. Those looking for some extra zing can opt for Glühwein mit schuss, or “Glühwein with a shot”— usually of rum.
Mulled wine in modern culture
Today, mulled wine is exceedingly flexible, merely a mix of wine, mulling spices, and some form of sweetener. The most common mulling spices are cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and orange peel, but some incorporate nutmeg, cardamom, star anise, peppercorn, and other fresh or dried fruits. While it’s easy to pick up a jar or satchel of mulling spices at the store, try experimenting with a blend of your own to create a custom, “house” mulled wine. Honey, sugar, and cider all act as good sweeteners for mulled wine.
While mulled white wine is less common, it certainly isn’t out of the question. It’s always best to look for an unoaked option when mulling white wine—a crisp, clean, blank slate, if you will, for the spices. Although this Austrian recipe for Glühwein specifies the use of red wine, its straightforward formula would easily accommodate white wines as well.
Courtesy of the Austrian Tourist Office
2 bottles of red wine
2 cups of water
juice of 2 lemons
.5 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 oranges, sliced, plus more for decoration
Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring it just shy of a boil (can also be prepared in a slow cooker) over low heat. Let simmer for at least one hour. Remove cloves and cinnamon sticks before serving into mugs. Garnish with a slice of orange.
LA Mulled Wine
David DeLuca, the owner of the newly opened wine bar LA Wine in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood, calls mulled wine “winter sangria,” as it is perfect for parties and easy to make. His recipe for mulled wine is a fairly classic iteration, using a healthy dose of brandy or orange liqueur to add a little boost, though the cola adds a twist on tradition. Warming the mulled wine in a slow cooker makes the recipe super hands-off and removes the risk of cooking all of the alcohol out of the beverage.
Courtesy of David DeLuca, owner of LA Wine
Makes 10 to 12 servings
2 bottles of red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
2 oranges, zested & juiced
4 whole cloves
2 cups apple cider
2 apples, pitted and thinly sliced
1 cup cola
2 star anise
2 cups of brandy or orange liqueur
Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker, turn to low until hot, then reduce to warm. To let the flavors develop, let the mixture mull for at least two hours before serving. Serve in mugs.
Mull Over One Of These Mulled Wine-Friendly Bottles:
Of course any of these are delicious straight from the bottle too!
Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2017, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy ($12)
Though the flavors of this wine are subtle, they are crisp and clean, with plentiful citrus and peach flavors. Its medium body will be just enough to stand up to a mulled wine recipe.
Alamos Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina ($10)
Juicy and easy-drinking, this dark-fruited malbec has just enough structure to stand up to layered mulling spices. This wine won double gold in the 2018 NY International Wine Competition.
Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Reserve Rouge 2016, Rhône Valley, France ($8)
Bright, ripe red cherry and berry flavors have soft undertones of earth and herbs. You’ll probably want to pick up an extra bottle or two for weeknight sipping, too (gold medal, 2018 NYIWC).
Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2016, Lodi, California ($15)
Soft and juicy, this wine has a bit of natural spice that will meld well with mulling spices, but it finishes dry, keeping the finished beverage from being overly sweet.
Viña Leyda Pinot Noir 2017, Leyda Valley, Chile ($15)
Just miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Leyda Valley produces cool, fresh pinot noir wines with exceptional balance. While this bottle is elegant and focused enough to enjoy any day, its friendly flavors make it a good option for mulled wine, too.