Why Mulled Wine Is the Best Holiday Drink Ever | Wine Enthusiast
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Why Mulled Wine Is the Best Holiday Drink Ever

There’s nothing quite like the spice-laden perfume of mulled wine warming on a stovetop. It’s an intoxicating scent that immediately rockets the mind to days spent bundled up outdoors, rollicking in the snow, only to come inside to warm up with a mugful of something warm and alcoholic.

It’s perhaps for this reason that mulled wine is especially popular during the winter holidays. Here’s everything you need to know about this cold-weather staple.

What Is Mulled Wine?

Mulled wine is a type of hot, boozy drink that is sweetened and spiced. To make it, wine is heated along with spices that commonly include cinnamon, allspice, ginger and black pepper.

Popular versions include glühwein, a traditional German variety; France’s vin chaud; and Norwegian gløgg, which features the country’s national spirit, aquavit.

You May Also Like: The Best Bottle Picks for a Delicious Mulled Wine

The History of Mulled Wine

Mulled drinks “date back to the first century, when a Roman gourmand Apicus wrote of ‘conditum paradoxum,’ a white wine with honey, saffron, mastica and black pepper,” shares The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails.

Other medieval-era mulled drinks include Hippocras gyle, which according to The Tudor Kitchen by Terry Breverton was a spice mixture of galangal, cardamom, cinnamon, grains of paradise, cubebs and long pepper infused in wine.
“The spices were filtered through a bag known to apothecaries as a manicum hippocraticum—the sleeve of Hippocrates, which gave the drink its name,” writes Breverton.

What Is the Best Wine for Mulled Wine?

Most mulled wines are traditionally made with reds, and the best red for mulled wine is fresh, dry, juicy and medium-bodied. Fruit-forward is key. Steer clear of oaky or overly tannic wines, which can turn bitter when heated. Light-bodied wines can get lost amid the intensity of mulling spices, while very jammy, full-bodied wines can become cloying.

You might be tempted to use big, “spicy” wines that reflect the ingredients that will be infused. But the spice and citrus added, not to mention sugar and brandy, will thwart any subtleties of a spicy wine.

Look instead for balance between the mulling ingredients and the wine’s fruitiness. Most wines will work, but try Grenache, Tempranillo, Valpolicella, Sangiovese, Merlot and warm-climate Pinot Noir that are unoaked, or aged in neutral oak. 

How to Make Mulled Wine

Recipe by Jacy Topps


  • 2 oranges
  • 1 bottle of a fruit-forward red wine like Merlot or Grenache
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sweetener, maple syrup or honey
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 3 star anise
  • 5 whole cloves
  • Optional garnishes: Fresh whole cranberries (about ¼ cup), cinnamon sticks, additional orange rounds or half moons.


1. Slice one orange into rounds and slice the other in half. Place the rounds into a medium heavy-bottomed pot or small Dutch oven. Squeeze the juice from the remaining oranges into the pot.

Making of Mulled Wine
Photography by Ali Redmond

2. Combine all ingredients into the pot except 1 tablespoon of the sweetener.

Making of Mulled Wine
Photography by Ali Redmond

3. Warm the mixture over medium heat until steaming (about 5 minutes) and keep an eye on it. When you start seeing the tiniest of bubbles at the surface, reduce the heat to the lowest of low.

Making of Mulled Wine
Photography by Ali Redmond

4. Carefully taste, and another tablespoon of sweetener, to taste.

Making of Mulled Wine
Photography by Ali Redmond

5. Continue cooking over very low heat for 5 to 10 more minutes.

Making of Mulled Wine
Photography by Ali Redmond

6. Serve in mugs with your desired garnishes! 1 Bottle wine serves 5 people. 

Making of Mulled Wine
Photography by Ali Redmond


Is Mulled Wine Always Made with Red Wine?

No! Although most mulled wines are traditionally made with reds, white wine makes for a lovely change of pace. Case in point, this fragrant Mulled White Wine with Mint and Ginger, which calls on two bottles of dry white wine and a cup of floral elderflower liqueur.

Why Is It Called Mulled Wine?

The term “mulling” may originate in the 16th century—it indicated grinding, as in spices, according to The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails.

Is Mulled Wine Alcoholic?

Yes. Mulled wine is only heated until steaming, not simmered, as to prevent too much alcohol from burning off and to maintain the balance of flavors. Mulled wines that call for the addition of other liquors, like aquavit or brandy, may be more alcoholic than other versions. 

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