From the first bit of chill in the evening air, those of us who love the cozy season pull out all the stops to make home a bit more hygge.
For wine lovers, that means donning your favorite fuzzy sweater, throwing a log on the fireplace (or plugging in your faux version) and settling in with a nice warm mug of cinnamon-scented mulled wine. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
The History of Mulled Wine
Mulled wine is an ancient beverage. An archeological dig into the tomb of early Egyptian pharaoh Scorpion I revealed he was buried with 4,500 liters of spiced wine seasoned with tree resin, figs, grapes, coriander, sage and mint. The ancient Greeks and Romans also dug mulled wine, spiking theirs with citrus fruits and spices, and may have even considered it a type of medicine.
After all, the ancient Greek mulled wine with honey and pepper was called Ypocras or Hippocras, an homage to Hippocrates, the father of medicine.
The British took to mulled wine in a big way, embracing the social aspect of sharing warm, sweet wine with friends and neighbors. Their go-to was wassail, a drink that takes its name from the Anglo Saxon toast “waes hael,” which means “be in good health” or “be well.”
In areas with orchards, farmers and townsfolk would head outside with wine seasoned with spice and honey and bless the trees to ensure a good harvest. In other parts of the U.K., Christmas carolers would be rewarded with cups of mulled wine. Eventually caroling became to be known as wassailing.
Today, nearly every culture around the globe enjoys some form of warm wine simmered with spices, sugar and fruit. Whether you call it gløgg, gluhwein, wassail or mulled wine, there’s something quite satisfying about the feeling that comes from sipping fragrant hot vino with friends.
How to Make Mulled Wine
While red mulled wine is very traditional, there’s no reason you can’t make a delicious, spiced wine with white wine and even rosé. Generally speaking, making mulled wine is easy: Simply combine your chosen wine and various seasonings and gently simmer the mixture on a stovetop. Try this classic version, a German take on it, a tangy citrus one and even one from Norway for your cold weather entertaining pleasure.
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The Best Bottles for Mulled Wine
Tim Smith 2022 Bugalugs Grenache (Barossa)
This fruity, aromatic Grenache opens with lucid aromas of strawberry, blueberry and cherry compote, underpinned by white pepper, vanilla and floral nuances. The mid-weight palate is succulent and silky with oodles of plump red berry flavor and just enough acidity and tannin structure to make another sip an easy endeavor. Both serious and drinkable. 90 Points — Christina Pickard$24 Wine.com
Yalumba 2021 Samuel’s Collection Bush Vine Grenache (Barossa)
This is an aromatic Grenache with a perfume of ripe strawberry and cranberry fruit and a little spice and florals. The palate is mid-weight, fresh and silky with succulence amid a powerful frame of spicy, granular tannins. Elegant, varietal and easy-drinking. 91 Points — C.P.$20 Wine.com
Bliss 2020 Blissful Red Red (Mendocino County)
Vibrant, engaging, energetic and fun—what more could you ask for from a red blend, especially at such a friendly price-point? Aromas sing of boysenberry, marionberry, chocolate, tarragon, fennel, toasted wood, black pepper and olive. The palate follows suit and is knit together by a plush tannic texture carried by joyous acidity. It lingers on the finish. Best Buy. 92 Points — Stacy Briscoe$18 Brutocao Family Vineyards
Bliss 2021 Zinfandel (Mendocino County)
This full-bodied red is complete with mouthcoating tannins that are well-met by the voluptuous fruit and oak integration. Full of beautiful notes of blueberry jam, fennel, tarragon, cinnamon, black pepper, violets, toasted wood and forest floor. Pairings might include rare venison loin topped with a mixed-berry chutney and wilted greens. Best Buy. 92 Points — S.B.$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Valley of the Moon 2021 Pinot Noir (Sonoma County)
Well-concentrated fruit flavors form the core of this moderately tannic, full-bodied wine. Deep black cherries and black currants are handsomely accented by cedar and cinnamon from oak aging. Best Buy. 92 Points — Jim Gordon$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Kenwood 2021 Discoveries Zinfandel (California)
A great bang-for-the-buck Zin for folks who like bigger, bolder and darker wines with a strong tannic texture. Elevated (15%) alcohol is well met by plump, ripe black fruits, including cherry, plum and blackberry that are complemented by more herbaceous tones of fennel, tarragon, violets and bits of toasted wood and tar. Best Buy. 90 Points — S.B.$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Banfi 2020 Centine Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Sangiovese Red (Toscana)
The nose starts earthy, salty and metallic, with cherries providing pop, but gradually a deep, nuanced sweetness emerges with notes of dried fig and wild oregano. Strawberries join the cherries to highlight the palate, but balance comes from a continued herbaceousness, with mineral stoniness and acid bouncing around chewy tannins. Best Buy. 90 Points — Danielle Callegari$12 Wine.com
Marchesi Antinori 2020 Villa Antinori Red (Toscana)
The nose balances rich fruit and stony minerality, with a flash of raw meat lending additional depth. That sanguinity swells on the palate, but plum skin and sour cherries push back. The tannins and acidity are both composed and serene. Best Buy. 90 Points — D.C.$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Génération 1905 2019 Grenache (Vin de France)
The nose delivers red cherry and cranberry alongside a white pepper accent. Juicy red fruit is echoed on the palate that’s loaded with bouncy acidity and gentle tannins. A blanket of vanilla and white pepper marks the close. Best Buy. 90 Points — Fiona Adams$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Barton & Guestier 2021 Bistro Cabernet Sauvignon (Vin de France)
Refreshing acidity and delicious, lively aromas of rose petals open this elegant wine. Vanilla, raspberries, strawberries and garrigue flavors carry the palate, while medium tannins balance it all out. Best Buy. 92 Points — Jacy Topps$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Louis Jadot 2022 Beaujolais-Villages
This is a good, hearty and muscular Beaujolais that would pair with grilled vegetables and meats. This wine has a nose of black plum, rosehip, strawberry and blossom. On the palate the wine is firm with red and black fruit predominating. Best Buy. 91 Points — Reggie Solomon$14 Wine.com
Moillard 2020 La Roche Rose (Beaujolais-Villages)
This muscular Beaujolais-Villages has finesse. Ruby in color, this wine has a perfumed nose of black raspberry, rosehip, cranberry and black plum. Well integrated, red-and-black fruit concentration on the midpalate continue through to the long finish. Best Buy. 92 Points — R.S.$ Varies Wine-Searcher
What Are the Best Wines for Mulled Wine?
The best wines for mulled wine are on the lighter side, fruity and dry. The reason? Wines with a lot of oak aging or tannins will turn bitter once heated. Beyond these attributes, you can make your mulled wine with any style of wine you prefer, including white wines like Pinot Grigio or Verdejo, juicy rosés like Grenache, or reds like Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Merlot. It’s a great way to use up good leftover wine that sat in the back of the refrigerator for a few days too long.
As a bonus, many of the bottles can be affordable, so you won’t blow your entertaining budget on one drink.
Since you’re mixing your wine with spices and fruit, you wouldn’t want to use an expensive red wine with heavy tannins. Besides being a waste of the investment, the tannins and oaky flavors in a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon will be magnified when heated, yielding a bitter mulled wine.
The best red wines for mulled wines taste bright and fresh, such as Grenache, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, fruit-forward Pinot Noir. Inexpensive Bordeaux is another great choice for mulled wine; in fact, claret was a traditional choice for British mulled wine in William Shakespeare’s day.
What Spices Should I Use for the Best Mulled Wine?
Most of the spices you need for your mulled wine recipe are probably already in your kitchen. Javier Hernandez, senior spice associate with Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland, California says that their classic mulling spice mix contains cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cardamom and clove.
“Cinnamon and allspice provide warming notes, and then you get the ginger, which provides a little bit of heat; cardamom provides a nice camphor note and you get beautiful notes from cloves to round everything out,” Hernandez explains. This blend works equally well with red, rosé and white wines.
While you may have most of these spices on hand, if you can’t remember when you bought them, it might be a good idea to replace them before making a batch of mulled wine. Spices lose their potency in a year or so.
Can You Make White Mulled Wine?
White wines are lovely choices for mulled wine. Because of their natural transparency, white wines will showcase the spices and fruits you add, even more so than some red wines. Stay away from an oaky, buttery Chardonnay, however, as those flavors won’t deal well with heat. Instead, choose an affordable fresh, crisp and fruity white wine, such as Chenin Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or a Rhône white blend with Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier.
What Are the Best Glasses for Mulled Wine?
If you’re ladling out your mulled wine piping hot from the stove, then you’ll want to serve it in heat-resistant drinkware like a footed glass mug, a porcelain teacup or ceramic coffee mug. We’re partial to Wine Enthusiast’s Double-Wall Flared Tumblers, which feature an outer wall that protects your hand from warm beverages. These insulated (and super cute) Double-Wall Snow Globe Gnome Wine Tumblers will also do the trick.
Other possibilities: If you have a punch bowl, this would be a fine time to pull it out, along with the punch cups that came with it. The small cups encourage sipping. And coppery metal mugs, such as the kind used for Moscow Mules can work, too, as long as the wine isn’t too hot to handle.
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Last Updated: December 6, 2023