On a cold winter’s evening, there’s no more welcoming smell than that of mulled wine wafting from the kitchen.
The air heavy with spices, fruit and alcohol, it transports you to those jolly Christmases from books or films.
The problem, however, comes when you taste the stuff. It’s often much too sweet, bitter with overcooked spices or, worst of all, lacking in alcohol from being boiled. Some of the worst I’ve tried are at Christmas markets, where they’d been stewing for hours.
There are plenty of good mulled wine recipes on the BBC Good Food site, plus I have a few insider tips to take your winter drink to the next level.
Best mulled wine to buy
If you want to cut a corner during the busy festive season, then you can always buy ready-made mulled wine. I was surprised by how palatable some of them were.
With the best, you could really taste the quality of the – usually Spanish – base wine, with fairly discrete levels of sugar and spices. Serve them in little glass cups with handles, add a bit of orange peel and nobody will know that you didn’t make it yourself.
Ableforth’s Christmas Mulled Cup
This is a really clever drink. It’s a blend of cognac, port and various fruits and spices. Yes, it’s expensive, but you only add 75ml to each bottle of table wine with some sugar to create probably the best mulled wine you’ll ever taste. Perfect every time.
King’s Ginger liqueur
Another fancy way of cheating at mulled wine. This is a delicious sweet liqueur made with citrus fruits and ginger. Add a little of King’s Ginger with some citrus fruit and sugar to hot wine, or even better, cider, for a delicious warming drink.
Lyme Bay mulled wine
This offering is a bit different. Instead of grapes, it’s made from a blend of damson and elderberry wine – extremely English. It smells highly-spiced, with the damsons coming through strongly, but it’s quite gentle on the palate and only 5.5% ABV, a good lower-alcohol option.
Felix Solis glühwein
I’ve had some of the worst mulled wine ever in Vienna, sickeningly sweet and hardly any booze. This is much nicer, made from a decent-quality Spanish red with plenty of spice, not too sweet and a handy 12% ABV. A proper winter warmer.
Tesco mulled wine
Cinnamon and clove forward, very spicy indeed and not too sweet, this isn’t bad at all, especially for the money. Another one that’s low in alcohol at 5.5 % ABV, it really benefits from a good slug of port added to each cup.
Waitrose mulled wine
Another one made with Spanish wine and you can really taste it. Lots of fruit, just a little tannin, plus a good healthy 11% ABV. The wine leads here, with the spices and sweetness kept in the background. Mulled wine for grown-ups.
How to make the best mulled wine
What’s the best wine for mulled wine?
Mulled wine was originally made to disguise the taste of wine that had gone bad, but that doesn’t mean that you should follow in this tradition.
Use a decent-quality wine, something soft, fruity and not oaky. I’ve put a few suggestions in below, but you really can’t go wrong with a simple tempranillo or garnacha from Spain.
Bruce Jack pinotage & cinsault
Nowadays you can get some very nice wine in boxes. On offer, this South African blend works out at only £5 a bottle and is absolutely delicious, flavourful with lots of cherry fruit and a light body. This made a lovely, subtly-spiced mulled wine.
Waitrose Mellow and Fruity Spanish red
Always one of the great supermarket bargains, this garnacha (grenache) from Spain, with its easy strawberry fruit, medium body and smooth texture, is perfect mulling material. Look for the words garnacha and Spain on a cheap supermarket wine, you can’t go wrong.
Fonseca Bin 27
Port is the secret weapon in the intelligent muller’s arsenal, providing sweet fruit, spice and a good hit of alcohol. This ruby from one of of Portugal’s best producers is gorgeous with ripe damsons, cloves and a fresh finish, so don’t just use it for perking up mulled wine.
Great mulled wine recipes
Try one of BBC Good Food’s mulled wine recipes, from classic versions to alternative options for non-traditionalists.
Top tips for making mulled wine
- You don’t have to stick to red wine. White wines – especially off-dry ones – can be delicious, as can good-quality cider.
- With a nice fruity wine, you don’t need so much sugar. Go easy with the spices and, whatever you do, don’t boil it or you will lose the alcohol and bring out bitter flavours.
- Keep tasting; once it tastes right, remove the spices, fruit etc or it will start to go acrid.
- And finally, whether you’re buying it in or making it yourself, a glug of port, sloe gin or even rum before serving will lift the whole thing. Just let your guests know to expect an extra boozy kick.
This review was last updated in November 2020. If you have any questions or suggestions for future reviews, or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at goodfoodwebsite@guide to drinking responsibly.. For information on alcohol guidelines, read our