While most of us think of mulled wine and Christmas in the same thought, this traditional drink, also known as spiced wine, remains popular throughout the winter. Usually made with a variety of mulling spices and red wine, the drink leaves a pleasant scent that evokes memories of holidays past.
We refer to the spice mixture used in the drink recipe as mulling spices. Most grocery stores offer prepackaged mulling spice mixes or create your own mixture. The combination of spices varies but generally consists of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Some mixtures also include cardamon, peppercorn, and star anise. Prepacked mixes generally contain dried fruits ranging from apples to orange rind, to raisins.
To consider a drink mulled, one must prepare it with these spices by heating the drink with the spices and then straining it. The most common examples of mulled drinks, of course, include wine to make mulled wine or hippocras and apple cider to make wassail. Many brewers often utilize mulling spices in the brewing process to make spiced beer.
Serve mulled drinks hot or warm, but realize most prefer to serve them hot, and consequently, most consume these drinks in the fall and winter. Christmas markets across Europe regularly feature mulled wine. While in the past vendors sold the hot liquid in plastic cups, in recent years vendors increasingly offer the purchase in more eco-friendly ceramic mugs.
While many great non-alcoholic mulled drinks exist, our focus today remains on mulled wine in particular. Alcohol by volume in mulled wine varies greatly, as a result, one simply cannot define the drink’s ABV uniformly. Factors to consider include how much alcohol the base wine contains and the alcohol content of any liquor or liqueur you choose to add. Many factors affect a wine’s alcohol content including the climate where the grapes grow, the style of wine, and the wine’s quality level.
Generally, a standard five-ounce serving of wine contains between 11-13% ABV. Further, as a rule, red wine possesses a higher ABV than whites. For example, most Moscatos fall between five to seven percent ABV and most pinot grigios contain 12-13%. Crossing over to the reds, most Pinot noir and bordeauxs contain between 13-14% ABV, with Malbec wines ranging from 13.5-15% and some Californian zinfandels and Australian shiraz wines going as high as 16-18%. The takeaway, wines feature a range of ABVs. Understanding this, we advise checking the wine’s ABV and adjusting your liquor/liqueur content accordingly.
Spirits to Try in Mulled Wine
While our recipe calls for cognac, all brandy styles work in mulled wine. Both apricot and cherry brandy make subtle, but welcome additions to recipes. Bourbons, both darker and spiced rums, and ryes commonly appear in mulled wine concoctions. If your mulling blend features orange, try adding orange flavor liqueurs like Cointreau or Grand Marnier that provide more depth to the finished product. Further, experiment with some of the amazing, but lesser-known curacaos like Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao that bring amazing nuances to so many cocktails. Sloe gin also provides a great way to marry the berry flavors of the wine to the mulling spices.
With so many options, just keep in mind to avoid spirits that contrast or compete with your mulling spices. Additionally, avoid adding too much of a sweeter liquor or liqueur as the finished product easily becomes too sweet. To summarize, remain aware of your alcohol content, choose complementary liquors and liqueurs, and keep the drink in balance.
With most mulled wine consumption occurring around the holidays, a fancy garnish seems like a necessity. Sugared rims make an excellent contrast to the darker mulled wine, but also consider garnishes that include flavors from your mulling spices. For example, cinnamon sticks really jazz up a serving of mulled wine. Our recipe features a sugared rim with an orange wedge that contributed to a warm night of conversation around the fireplace, with guests sinking right into their seats.
Let us know how you did in the comments, we would love to hear about your mulling spice combinations, preferred wines, liquor-liqueur combinations, and of course your special garnish.
- Medium size pot
- Mesh strainer
- 1 bottle of red wine, we used Cabernet Savignon
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 7 whole cloves
- 3 slices of orange
- ½ to 1 cup of cognac
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- Put all the ingredients to the pot, and simmer for ten minutes. Strain to the glass.