mulled wine

Tis’ the Season: An Introduction to Homemade Mulled Wine

Slightly spicy, warming, and delicious, mulled wine is quick to make. All you need is a few spices, some wine, and a few oranges. Learning more about spiced wine will help you create the best drink this holiday season.

Occasions For Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is typically a winter drink. This spiced, warm, alcoholic beverage is a perfect addition to cozy, festive, winter nights. Mulled wine is quick and easy to make and is great for hosting. The process of making spiced wine makes your house smell delightful. Any guest who walks into a house with recently-made spiced wine will appreciate the beautiful aroma of this festive drink.

Spiced wine is most popular in Europe, where it is served extensively at Christmas markets. Temperate regions around the world have adopted this beverage as a cozy drink for long, cold nights.

christmas market
led wine en masse. Photo by Rene Schwietzke via Flickr.

Necessary Ingredients for Mulled Wine

There are many ways to make mulled wine, but almost all methods include some of the same ingredients. The essential ingredients for a tasty mulled wine are whole spices, orange, sweeteners, and extra liquor.

The Wine Itself

You can’t make great mulled wine with wine you wouldn’t want to drink otherwise. The wine you use shouldn’t be fantastic wine, but it also shouldn’t be bad. Dry wines with bold flavors are typically preferred for mulled wine. Zinfandel, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec are all excellent choices. However, some people like juicier wines with fruity flavors. Economical options for large gatherings are decent-quality boxed wine. If you’re buying wine with the intention of mulling it months from now, sure to store your wine in the appropriate conditions.

mulling spices
Various mulling spices. Photo by Marco Verch via Flickr.

The Spices

It is best to use only whole spices when making mulled wine. Whole spices offer more subtle flavors and don’t produce bitter compounds. Ground spices are much easier to overdo, which can lead to a bitter mulled wine that tastes more like raw cinnamon than a delightful, warming beverage.

Cinnamon is the most essential spice in mulled wine. Every spiced wine recipe calls for this charming stick of flavor. Other very common spices include star anise (which gives a fennel, licorice flavor), cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg.

Fresh Orange

Fresh orange is a must. Some people squeeze the orange to just put the orange juice in the wine. Others cut the orange into little pieces so that there are yummy treats in the wine.

The rind of an orange contains the bitter compounds in the fruit. Some people like this taste in their mulled wine and some don’t. If you do like that flavor, peel some thin orange rinds and cook them will the wine.


Depending on the sweetness of your wine and your overall preference, you may want to add some sweetener to your mulled wine. People usually use white sugar, but brown sugar, honey and maple syrup are other options.

Perhaps Some Extra Booze

It is common to add some higher-alcohol booze to mulled wine to compensate for the alcohol lost from heating and to give the drinker some extra warmth on cold winter nights. Brandy, a hard liquor made from distilling wine, is the most traditional additive. Some people use bourbon, as it is a more common household liquor. Others add orange liqueur, like Cointreau, to compliment the citrus flavors in mulled wine. Be sparing on the amount of liquor you add to mulled wine because you don’t want to overpower the flavor of the wine.

A Non-Reactive Pot

A non-reactive pot is made out of a material that doesn’t react with highly acidic mixtures. Wine is an acidic drink. When combined with citrus it becomes especially acidic. Reactive materials, such as cast iron and aluminum, may react with the acid to cause some questionable flavors and, in the worst-case scenario, metals can each into the wine.

Stainless steel and enamel are the best kinds of pot materials to use for spiced wine.

mulled wine
Photo by Marco Verch via Flickr.

Variations on the Traditional Mulled Wine Ingredients

While the list above showcases the traditional ingredients in spiced wine, it is nowhere close to the whole world of ingredients you can use.

Additional spices that people use are black peppercorns, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla pods.

Other fruits that people include are apples, lemons, and raisins.

White wine can be used for mulling as well. Sweet varieties, like riesling, are best.

mulling spices
Photo by Nina Nelson via Flickr.

Simmering Alcohol is a Delicate Art

Alcohol boils at 173F (78C). Wine simmers between 185-205F. This means that the longer you simmer wine, the more alcohol it loses. Ideally, you bring the wine up to a simmer only briefly before turning the stove down to low. If you are particularly concerned about evaporating alcohol, use a cooking thermometer to determine if your wine is above 173F. Alternatively, you can be pretty sure that alcohol isn’t evaporating if the liquid is not simmering.

Using a lid reduces alcohol loss as well. The evaporated alcohol may condense on the lid and drip back into the wine instead of being lost to the atmosphere. Additionally, a pot that is deeper and narrower will evaporate less alcohol than a pot that is short and wide.

Serving Mulled Wine

Spiced wine must be served hot. It looks best when served in a heat-proof glass. Pre-heating the glass will ensure the wine stays hot for longer. Placing a stick of cinnamon and an orange rind into the spiced wine will give some extra pizzazz.

Spiced wine is an excellent holiday drink. There is no exact science to making mulled wine, rather, it is one of those things where experimentation over the course of years leads to the best results. With the right wine, spices, and technique, you’ll make a great mulled wine this holiday season.

Featured Image by Marco Verch via Flickr.

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