Mulled Wine: What Is It And How Do You Make It?

If you’ve ever been at a holiday party and seen a dark red, wine-like beverage with fruit and cinnamon sticks floating in it, chances are it was mulled wine. Mulled wine has been heated with sugar and spices and is drunk warm as a traditional winter drink in many countries. But what beverages technically count as mulled wine? And how do I make it?

In this article, we’ll detail the long history of mulled wine. You will learn how to make it the traditional way, and even give you some other fun mulled wine recipes to try at your next holiday party.

History of Mulled Wine

Today, you’ll usually see mulled wine at holiday parties and events. It usually consists of some inexpensive red wine, cloves, cinnamon, and citrus. Mulled wine is so popular in the modern era that you might be surprised to learn that it’s actually been around for centuries.

The origins of mulled wine can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. The Ancient Greeks didn’t like to waste wine. Still, unfortunately, it was inevitable that some of their harvests would spoil without proper storage. So, they added spices to the wine and heated it to make it palatable. Some claim that the Ancient Greeks referred to this as “hippocras,” after the Father of Medicine himself, Hippocrates, who often prescribed wine to his patients as a form of medicine.

Soon after, the Romans also began to heat their wine and add spices to avoid any waste. The Roman version was called “Conditum Paradoxum” and is actually still around to this day. In a recipe book written around the 5th or 6th century, Apicius described the recipe for Conditum paradoxum. The recipe calls for one part wine and one part honey, then boiled down and reduced and mixed with pepper, bay leaf, saffron, and dates.

Mulled wine became increasingly popular during the Middle Ages, as the added spices were often believed to make people healthier. It made the wine taste much better, too. The water wasn’t drinkable, and the wine itself wasn’t exactly delicious, hence, the added spices and sweetener.

The first use of the word “mull” as a verb was used in 1618, and it meant “to heat, sweeten, and flavor (as wine or cider) with spices.” However, recipes for mulled wine far predate the first usage of the term. 

Our present-day ideal of mulled wine came about in Victorian England. It was popular around the holidays, and Charles Dickens even references a version of mulled wine in “A Christmas Carol,” solidifying its association with the holiday season.

Today, you’ll find mulled wine at every festive party during the holidays. There are many different ways to make it, but most recipes call for a dry red wine, orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sometimes port or brandy. No matter what you add, it makes a delicious, warm, and toasty drink when the weather gets chilly.

photo-by-gaby-dyson-on-unsplash_what-is-mulled-wine and how is it made

Mulled Wine recipes

There are so many different ways to make mulled wine. Here are a few of our favorite recipes.

Traditional American Mulled Wine

This is the version of mulled wine you’ll find at most holiday parties or gatherings in the US. It’s sweet, lightly spiced, and incredibly comforting. For this recipe, we recommend using an inexpensive bottle of red, something like a Zinfandel or Merlot. Don’t splurge on your wine selection since so much will be added to it that you wouldn’t be able to taste the flavor of a really quality bottle. Aim for a price range between $10 to $20. We love Carnivor Zinfandel, Barefoot Merlot, or the Apothic Winemaker’s Red Blend.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  • 2 oranges
  • 1 bottle of affordable red wine
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey, to taste
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 3-star anise
  • 4 whole cloves
  • Optional garnishes: Fresh whole cranberries (about ¼ cup), cinnamon sticks, additional orange rounds

Begin by slicing one of your oranges into rounds or half-moons. Place the rounds at the bottom of a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot or a small Dutch oven. Squeeze the juice of the other orange into the pot. Pour your bottle of wine into the pot, and then your brandy. Begin by adding one tablespoon of sweetener. Add your cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves. 

Warm your mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After five minutes, you should begin seeing tiny bubbles rise to the surface. Reduce your heat to low. Carefully taste, then add more sweetener if desired. If the mulled wine isn’t spicy enough for you, continue over low heat for another five to ten minutes so the spices can become more fragrant. Once you’re satisfied with the flavor, pour into mugs and garnish as you please.

Glühwein (German Mulled Wine)

Glühwein is the traditional German version of mulled wine, popular at German Christmas markets, called Weihnachtsmarkts. Often, Glühwein is served in real mugs, which you can keep for an additional price. Glühwein is extremely similar to American mulled wine but with more exciting spices.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  • 3-star anise
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 6 cloves
  • Optional spices: Fresh vanilla bean, ginger, nutmeg, or fennel to taste
  • 2/3 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 750ml bottle of dry red wine
  • 1 orange cut into slices
  • Garnish: cranberries and orange peel

Place your spices, orange juice, and sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat for ten minutes until the sugar has dissolved, and the spices have become fragrant. If your mixture begins to bubble or thicken, you can add a few tablespoons of water. Reduce the heat, then add your wine and orange slices. Simmer on low until the wine is hot. Don’t boil it, or the alcohol will dissolve. Once the wine is warm, serve in mugs, and garnish with your choice of fruit.

Mulled White Wine

Mulled wine is traditionally made with red wine. However, if you’re a white wine lover, you can still enjoy a spiced holiday beverage. Like red wine, we recommend an inexpensive bottle of white wine, something on the drier side so you can control the sweetness—something like the Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling.

To make this recipe, you’ll need:

  • 2 (750 ml) bottles of dry white wine
  • 2 oranges, sliced into rounds
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup honey or sugar
  • 16 whole cloves
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 4-star anise
  • Optional garnishes: citrus slices (orange, lemon and/or lime), extra cinnamon sticks, extra star anise

Combine all your ingredients, except the garnishes, in a non-aluminum saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, but not a boil, as the alcohol will evaporate. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 15 minutes or longer for stronger flavors. Garnish, and serve warm in mugs.

Mulled Wine Margaritas

This is far from traditional, but a little tequila never hurt anyone. While you might not associate margaritas with cold weather, these Mulled Wine Margaritas are just as warming and festive as traditional mulled wine. For your wine choice, we recommend a Malbec, or your favorite spicy Spanish wine, such as Tempranillo.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  • 4 whole cloves
  • 8 whole black peppercorns
  • 8 whole allspice
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 bottle red wine of choice
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups spiced apple cider
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 1 large orange, sliced
  • Sea salt, sugar, and orange zest for garnish

Heat your cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan over medium heat. Allow them to heat and crackle, but not burn. When they’re fragrant, remove them from the heat. 

Add your wine, agave, brown sugar, cider, juice, liqueur, tequila, orange slices, and toasted spices to a stockpot over medium-low heat. Stir to combine, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for an hour.

After an hour, strain out your spices, and return the margarita mixture to the pot. Serve in glasses with a salt and sugar rim, and garnish with orange zest and a cinnamon stick.

The takeaway

Mulled wine is a staple of any holiday party. It’s spicy, warm, festive, and comforting. It has a rich history that dates back to ancient times. However, the classic mulled wine can get a little boring, especially if you’re drinking it at party after party. Try out some of these fun new mulled wine variations at your next holiday event.

For all your wine delivery needs, count on Saucey. We offer speedy delivery and no order minimums on a huge selection of wine, beer, and spirits. Treat yourself to a cozy night in with your favorite adult beverage, and let us handle the rest.

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