In the Spirit: A Christmas classic

Make any holiday get-together complete with a warm cup of mulled wine, a signature drink for the season.

Forget the eggnog. Mulled wine, or spiced wine, has been a holiday favorite dating back to medieval times. Stemming from predominantly German roots as Gluhwein (or “Glow wine”), every country seems to have their own version of warm wine for winter months that has become a seasonal tradition over the centuries.  

Some may add a splash of citrus, cardamom pods, or dried fruit, but the essential ingredients are the same: a mixture of spices – cinnamon, cloves, star anise – heated with a full-bodied red wine, and a shot of hard liquor for good measure. 

Simmer these together and you not only get a flavorful cocktail, but a fragrant home as well, making it the perfect drink to serve at a holiday get-together. You can prepare it in advance and dole it out generously or let it shine as a self-serve cocktail.

The best part is you can keep things quick and easy by tossing everything in a Crock-Pot and getting back to the party.

This basic mulled wine recipe can be prepared on the stove or in a slow cooker and modified to fit  personal tastes. Add or substitute different spices or garnishes to create your own tradition for holiday entertaining.

Recipe notes:

  • Start with a medium- to full-bodied red wine with fruity notes. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as delicate flavor profiles will be overpowered, it just has to play well with the mulling spices. 
  • Don’t go overboard with the spices. If three cloves are good, it doesn’t mean ten would be better. Use whole spices, not ground spices. You don’t want any grit in the wine as you ladle around the spices. 
  • Use sweet substitutes instead of sugar. Maple syrup or honey dissolves more easily than granulated sugar. Try brown sugar or even orange marmalade for different flavors.
  • Popular liquors to add in are brandy, rum, or cognac.
  • Don’t boil it. Heat your mixture enough to infuse the spices and fruit with the wine, but not enough to evaporate the alcohol.
  • Add orange juice or apple cider to balance dry wines or strong spices. Start with one cup at a time, to taste.
  • Play around with flavors. While cinnamon, star anise, and cloves are a good mulling base, feel free to add vanilla seeds, fennel, nutmeg, or ginger. Fresh fruit like orange slices and apples add a sweet finish or toss in a few cranberries or blackberries.
  • Serve in mugs, heat resistant glass, or pretty tea cups.

Mulled wine

Serves 10-12

  • 2          bottles red wine (750mL)
  • ½ cup   Brandy
  • 3          Cinnamon sticks
  • 4          Cloves
  • 2          Star anise
  • 1 cup   Sugar (or ¼ cup maple syrup)


Combine all ingredients in a saucepan or stock pot and bring to a low simmer over medium-low heat. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved and wine is heated through. Serve immediately.

Or, if using a slow cooker, combine all ingredients and heat on low for one to two hours, or until sugar is dissolved and wine is heated through. Reduce heat to warm while serving.

Ladle into mugs, leaving behind any spices. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, orange peel or slice,  apple slice, or cranberries.

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