While living in Europe, visiting Christmas markets was high on our list each year. We got all bundled up and strolled through the markets while sipping on hot mulled wine, snacking on gingerbread or Trdelník, and shopping for local homemade gifts. I always tried more than one mulled wine vendor searching for the best version because—well, that’s how I roll.
Mulled wine originated in the 2nd century, created by the Romans to warm their bodies during the winter months. It consisted of juice from low-quality grapes (or leftover wine) warmed with water, sugar and spices to make it more palatable. As part of their ever-expanding empire, the Romans brought their love for mulled wine to the conquered cities and countries across Europe.
A European obsession
Over time, popularity grew across Europe; local names were given, and regional tweaks were made. Now, mulled wine is associated with Christmas traditions. Modern variations use white or sweet wine and include spirits like whiskey or brandy. Non-alcoholic versions use fruit juices like apple juice/cider (hot mulled cider).
Classic recipes use red wine, sugar, spices (such as cinnamon sticks, clove, star anise) and citrus (orange and/or lemon). These can be found in Germany (“glühwein”), Italy (“vin brulé”), France (“vin chaud”), Poland (“grzane wino”) and Czech Republic (“Svařák”, “svařené víno”).
Regional variations include:
- Poland – (“Grzane piwo”) Heated Belgian (sweeter) beer with traditional mulled wine spices.
- Nordic Region – (“glogg”, “gløgg”, “glögi”) Includes ginger and bitter orange, and sometimes raisins, almonds and even a splash of a stronger spirit like vodka, rum or brandy.
- Portugal – (“vinho quente”, “porto quente”) Made with Madeira or Port wine.
- Quebec – (“caribou”) Includes maple syrup and hard liquor.
My recipe for hot mulled wine
At the end of the day, the variations are unlimited, so it comes down to personal preferences on sweetness, spice and alcohol.
Select a good quality red wine
My preference is something in the $10-15 range with big fruit flavors like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a red blend. One bottle of wine will serve roughly 4.
Sweeten it with
Two to four tablespoons of sugar, brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. Start with two tablespoons, you can adjust it once it’s warm.
I prefer 2 cinnamon sticks, 7-10 cloves, 4 green cardamom pods and 2-3 whole star anise. Use a tea ball for spices if you don’t want them swimming in your glass later.
I add slices of orange (or peel) in the heated mixture but also save fresh slices for garnish.
Heat all of the above in a pot on the stove or in a crock pot (to keep your house smelling like Christmas all evening). Do NOT let the mixture boil. Once warm, it’s ready to drink.
Throw in any spices you fancy and even lemon or apple slices. Apple cider can be added with the wine or offer a splash of brandy, whiskey or rum to your glass for an added punch.
Stephanie Roberts, WSET® Certified, is passionate about educating people about wine and all its complexities. She believes that through education comes enlightenment and approachability—elevating the wine and food experience. Stephanie is the founder of Corks & Boards, offering unique and tailored wine experiences, and topic driven tastings/education. Furthermore, she has developed a wine education series that she will launch January 2020. She currently offers wine experiences and education to the Lake Norman community at Brick Row and Old Town Public House, and the Charlotte community at Camp North End and The Loyalist Market.