This traditional homemade mulled red wine recipe is very easy to make. So warm and cozy for sipping on cool winter nights!
The first time I had mulled wine was at a Christmas market for artisan crafts that was held indoors in downtown San Francisco. The market was bustling with shoppers finding the perfect gift and I needed a break from the excitement. A small concession style café was serving mulled wine and you could smell it throughout the venue. It literally called to me. It was warm, slightly sweet, and fragrant with cinnamon, oranges, and cloves. That first cup of mulled red wine warmed my hands and made me smile.
Since then, whenever I am at a Christmas market, I must have a cup of mulled wine. For me it is a celebration of warm spiced memories of Christmas’s past.
In later years as I traveled, I learned that mulled wine is a staple at every Christmas market in Europe and each country has their own version. In Germany it is called glühwein, in Sweden it is gløgg, in France it is vin chaud, and in Italy it is called vin brûlé.
Most of the recipes start with red wine and add water or fruit juice, sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, and cloves. Some recipes include raisins and/or nuts and some recipes use a fortified wine like port. There are literally hundreds of variations of mulled wine.
Are you excited to try mulled wine? Great! So, let's cook!
In my version of mulled wine, I stick closely to the flavor profile of red wine, orange, and cinnamon. I enhance the spice profile by adding whole cloves and whole allspice.
I use apple juice instead of water to lighten the flavor of the wine, as it pairs well with most red wines. Since the wine is gently simmered, it will evaporate. If you do not add water or fruit juice the drink will be too concentrated and not as pleasant to drink.
I also add brandy and triple sec. The addition of these add more depth of flavor. The brandy brings flavors of oak (vanilla), dried fruit, and may have a hint of floral notes. The triple sec adds a greater depth of orange flavor.
Lastly, please use a full-bodied red wine that you enjoy drinking. It doesn't have to expensive, but it should be flavorful. Good choices are Bordeaux, Claret, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and my favorite, Malbec.
This recipe is very, very easy! Simply measure and add everything to a large sauce pan and let the wine simmer on very low heat for no more than 20 minutes.
In this photo I have added everything to a large saucepan and am adding the orange zest. The next step is to simmer the mulled wine. While it simmers, I cut the remaining orange into slices and quarter each slice for the garnish.
My Top Tips
♥ Use Cheesecloth - The whole cloves and the whole allspice can be placed into a small cheesecloth bag and then added to the mulled wine as it simmers. This makes it easier to remove these spices before ladling the mulled red wine into the mugs.
♥ Make Ahead - You can make this mulled wine up to 2 hours ahead of serving. Just cover the pan and let it stand at room temperature. When you are ready to serve it, slowly reheat it over medium-low heat.
Substitutions & Variations
♥ Substitute Grand Marnier - Instead of using brandy you can substitute the very lovely tasting Grand Marnier. Grand Marnier is a cognac that is blended with bitter orange liqueur. Simply replace the 1/2 cup of brandy with 1/2 cup of Grand Marnier.
You might think that you are doubling the orange flavors by also using triple sec, and you are. But Grand Marnier contains bitter orange and triple sec is sweet, so the two balance each other very nicely. Although Grand Marnier is expensive, this is a splurge that is absolutely worth the cost!
♥ Substitute Star Anise - Instead of using 6 whole cloves you can substitute one star anise. Star anise is an entirely different flavor from cloves. It tastes and smells like licorice. If you prefer that flavor to cloves, please do make this substitution. But in general, I do not recommend using both cloves and star anise. In my opinion star anise is a powerful spice and can dominate any other spice.
♥ Substitute Chinese Five Spice - If you can't afford purchasing whole cloves, whole allspice, and the cinnamon sticks, consider purchasing Chinese Five Spice which contains star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns, and fennel seeds. The flavor of this spice blend is well balanced and although different from the spices I listed, it is an economical way to get a pleasant spice profile from a single purchase. Although I cautioned to not use star anise together with cloves in this recipe, this is an exception.
Even if you can't go to a Christmas Market, you can make mulled red wine at home and have a taste of warm spiced memories of Christmas each and every year!
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Mulled Red Wine
- 1 750 ml Bottle of Red Wine
- 1 ½ Cups Apple Juice
- ½ Cup Brandy
- ½ Cup Triple Sec
- ½ Cup White Granulated Sugar
- 6 Cinnamon Sticks
- 6 Whole Cloves
- 6 Whole Allspice Berries
- 1 Small Orange
- To an 8-cup saucepan, add the red wine, apple juice, brandy, triple sec, sugar, cloves, allspice, and just one cinnamon stick.
- Cut the orange in half. Remove the outermost part of the peel from one half of the orange and add it to the wine mixture.
- Heat the wine over medium-low heat until the mixture barely comes to a simmer. Immediately, reduce heat to low heat and let the mulled wine heat for at least 20 minutes, but no more than 30 minutes.
- As the mulled wine heats, slice the other half of the orange and cut each slice into quarters. Set these quarter-slices aside for garnishing.
- Ladle the mulled wine into mugs and garnish each mug with a fresh quarter-slice of orange and also a cinnamon stick.
- Serve and enjoy!