Mulled wine garnished with cinnamon and star anise

Mulled Wine: A Classic Holiday Tradition

Warm Up Your Festivities with the Sweet and Spicy Tradition of Mulled Wine

My first encounter with mulled wine was at a Christmas market in Nottingham, UK. I handed £2 to a market vendor who ladled this steamy, spiced wine concoction into a festive paper cup for my enjoyment. Soon, I was in the holiday spirit, caroling along with friends and taking in all the sights and lights the market had to offer.

Since that moment, I have associated the holiday season with mulled wine. If you ever get a chance to visit Germany during the winter months, you’ll see something similar called “Gluhwein”. One of my favorite things about this holiday tradition is how easy it is to make it at home or at the lodge. But, one needs to gather the right ingredients to make a drink worth tasting.

The Essential Elements of Your Homemade Mulled Wine

There are many variations of the mulled wine recipe, but it’s best to start out with a classic approach. You will need to gather a suitable wine, fresh spices, fruit, and proper serving implements. Here’s a quick guide:

The Base: Wine

The wine you choose is the foundation of this drink, and some wines simply will not work. Red wines that are full-bodied, fruity, and dark will work best to support your additional flavors. Look for a Merlot, Zinfandel, or Garnacha. Light red wines such as Pinot Noir should be avoided since they are not full-bodied enough to support the spices and fruit you will be adding.

There is no reason to use an expensive bottle of wine for this recipe. In fact, it would be quite a waste. Find a solid, full-bodied wine in the 10 to 20 dollar range.

Pour your wine into a medium stainless steel pot or Dutch oven. Begin heating the drink on low as you add more ingredients. 

Fresh Oranges

Procure two fresh oranges for each bottle of wine you intend to prepare. I like to cut each orange in half, juicing half of each orange into the wine concoction. Then, I slice the other half of each orange into rounds, adding them into the pot. The orange rounds will be ladled into serving mugs along with your mulled wine to add a bit of visual flair.

Natural Spices and Sweeteners

It is incredibly important you use whole spices for mulled wine. You will need:

  • Cinnamon sticks (whole)
  • Star anise (whole)
  • Cloves (whole)

The amount of spices you choose to include is up to you, and the best taste really depends upon the kind of wine you are working with. I like to make sure everyone I serve has at least one cinnamon stick and one star anise in their mug, so that’s how many I throw in the pot! When in doubt, start small and add spice to taste.

Next, add something sweet. Artificial sweeteners will not enhance the taste of your mulled wine nearly as much as natural honey or maple syrup. Either of these natural sweeteners will combat the harshness of heated alcohol. Again, add to taste!

Mulled wine garnished with orange and cinnamon

Something Extra: Brandy

This ingredient is totally optional. Brandy provides an extra kick of alcohol content and warming flavor. Like your wine choice, look for an affordable brandy. Then add your choice of brandy to the wine, to taste. I’m sure you’ll find something else to use the remaining brandy for. My Wisconsin friends love a Brandy Old Fashioned!

Experiment and Enjoy Mulled Wine!

Once your mulled wine is spiced, fruited, and heated, it is ready to serve! Heat it on low to give the spices and fruit plenty of time to mix and stir occasionally. If you reach a light simmer, turn off the heat. You want a hot drink, but there is no need to boil the wine. 

Mulled wine is a beloved holiday tradition because it fits so well with the season. It’s warm, spirited, and spiced. I like to enjoy a mug before belting out “Auld Lang Syne”. It does wonders for the vocal cords and crushes stage fright!

Toss some fresh cranberries into your serving mugs for some extra holiday flair. You won’t get another chance until next year!

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