Mulled wine is a spicy, warmed wine traditionally enjoyed in Europe at Christmas.
The spices used in a traditional or classic mulled wine are cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise; however, different countries have different recipes.
Like sangria, it is a versatile recipe and many elements can be substituted.
Other popular spices that work well include: peppercorns, cardamom pods, allspice berries and nutmeg.
Why spices are added to mulled wine
Spices are added to wine for many reasons including:
Flavor Enhancement: Spices infuse wine with rich and complex flavors. They bring warmth, depth, and a spiciness that complements the flavors in wine.
Aromatics: Spices release pleasing aromas as they warm in the wine. These fragrant notes, such as cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel are pleasing to most and are often associated with Christmas.
Balance: Spices can help balance the sweetness in wine, especially for recipes where sugar or honey are added. They prevent the flavor from becoming sickly sweet.
Warming: Spices add a warming quality to mulled wine, making it a comforting drink during colder months.
Tradition: Using spices is a time-honored tradition that adds a sense of nostalgia and cultural significance to the drink. Many mulled wine recipes are family recipes that have been passed down through generations.
Customization: Spices can be adjusted to suit personal taste preferences. Some may prefer more cinnamon for a pronounced spiciness, while others may opt for subtler spice blends.
Mulled wine variations across the world
Mulled wine recipes vary from country to country, reflecting cultural traditions and available ingredients. Here’s how mulled wine recipes and names differ around the world:
Glühwein is a popular German mulled wine. It’s typically made with red wine and flavored with cloves, cinnamon sticks, and star anise.
Citrus fruits like oranges and lemons are often added for a hint of citrusy brightness.
It’s sweetened with sugar and sometimes fortified with a shot of rum or brandy.
It is served warm and is a staple at the world-famous German Christmas markets.
Vin Chaud (France)
Mulled wine is known as Vin Chaud in France. It’s made using red wine, similar to Glühwein.
French recipes often include spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
Orange zest or orange liqueur like Cointreau are often added.
It’s traditionally enjoyed during the winter months, especially in the Alpine regions for après ski (a drink after skiing).
The Swedish version of mulled wine is called Glögg, and it is known for being very spicy.
It’s made with red wine or sometimes a fortified wine like aquavit.
Spices like cloves, cardamom, and ginger are used, as well as dried fruit like raisins.
It’s sweetened with sugar and sometimes flavored with a dash of brandy.
It’s served warm with gingerbread cookies.
Svařák (Czech Republic)
The Czech version of mulled wine is called Svařák. It is usually made with red wine, but sometimes white wine is used too.
It’s flavored with cloves, cinnamon, and often lemon zest. Sugar or honey are used for sweetness.
It is served warm throughout the winter season.
The Netherlands and Belgium
The Dutch and Belgian version of mulled wine is known as bisschopswijn (‘bishop’s wine’).
It is made with red or white wine and flavored with cinnamon, cloves, star anise and orange peels. It can be sweetened with sugar or honey.
Bisschopswijn is drunk warm during the Sinterklaas holidays in December.
History of mulled wine
The origins of mulled wine can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. They heated and spiced their wine as a way to make lower-quality wines more palatable and to have a warming drink during cold months of the year.
The practice of making mulled wine then spread across Europe.
In medieval Europe, spiced wines were a popular drink among the upper classes. It was served at feasts and gatherings and special holidays.
Spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg were prized for their exotic flavors. Spices were also a sign of wealth.
During the Middle Ages, mulled wine was also considered medicinal. Spices were believed to have healing properties, and warm wine was thought to cure various ailments.
Best red wines to make mulled wine
Ideally, choose a full-bodied, fruity wine as the spices and fruit will disguise any nuances in a delicate wine like pinot noir.
Zinfandel, Merlot or Malbec will work well, as will Chianti and Rioja.
Best fruit to put in mulled wine
If you don’t have clementine, you can substitute with oranges.
Limes can also be used instead of (or as well as) lemons.
Add a twist to mulled wine
Add a dash of sloe gin, rum or brandy to your mulled wine recipe if you want to give it a stronger kick of alcohol.
Easy traditional mulled wine recipe
- 1 bottle fruity red wine
- 1 large cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- 4 cloves
- 1 clementine
- 1 lemon
- 4 tbsp caster sugar
Using a vegetable peeler, peel 2 strips from the lemon and peel all of the clementine.
Put the red wine, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, lemon and clementine zest and sugar in a large pan. Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and cool. Leave to infuse for about 30 minutes.
To serve, heat without boiling, and pour into mugs or heatproof glasses.