Nothing says winter like a steaming mug of spiced booze, whether it's cider or the perfect mulled wine. We share our top tips on how to make a festive toddy.
You know Christmas is on its way when you have your mitts wrapped around a mug of mulled wine. But while the comforting warmth and slightly stained lips are two happy by-products of supping this glowing ruby tipple, there are pitfalls. Insufficient sugar, a grainy texture and too much spice can all dent festive cheer, so we’ve got some tips for creating the perfect mulled wine.
How do I make mulled wine?
Start with a classic recipe to use as your base. Ours recommends adding a dash of sloe gin to give you an extra warm glow. Alternatively, try our easy mulled wine recipe, which includes a dash of brandy. Be careful not to overheat the wine.
Easy mulled wine recipe
- 750ml bottle of red wine
- 1 sliced clementine
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 3 dried figs
- 4 cloves
- 3 black peppercorns
- 50ml brandy
- Pour the red wine into a large saucepan. Add the clementine, cinnamon stick, star anise, figs, cloves and peppercorns. Heat very gently until simmering, then turn off the heat.
- Fish out the whole spices and peppercorns with a spoon, then stir in the brandy. Ladle into mugs or heatproof glasses to serve. You could drop in a slice of clementine to each.
What spices should I use?
The more traditional mulling spices are cinnamon, star anise, cloves and nutmeg, but you could try adding allspice, cardamom, bay leaves, vanilla pods or ginger, depending on the liquid you’re mulling.
Use all of these spices sparingly, particularly star anise and cloves, as they become very strong in flavour when left to stew at length. A touch of citrus complements these warm spices a treat. Orange and lemon won't let you down, but tangerine, clementine and mandarin will add an extra festive kick.
Alternative spirits to try
Ramp up the cheer – it is Christmas after all! Choose a liqueur or spirit that’s fairly low in alcohol to avoid completely incapacitating your guests. Cointreau, Grand Marnier or curaçao work with orange-based mulling blends, while a touch of sloe gin will bring out berry flavours in the wine. Check out our video on how to make sloe gin for your own homemade tipple.
A delicate drizzle of spiced rum, such as Sailor Jerry, ginger wine and cherry or apricot brandy can also work, but be careful not to go overboard. Avoid anything that might curdle, strongly contrasting spirits or anything cloying – while it’s tempting to match the spices with something aniseedy, sambuca mulled wine would kill the party mood in an instant.
Use a sweetener
Lighten up the heavy booze and wintry spices with a sweetening agent. Add sugar at the beginning of the recipe so it gets a chance to dissolve. Stir regularly until it has disappeared. Most of our recipes use caster or granulated sugar due to their fine texture. You can always add a little extra sweetness later but, again, make sure you stir to dissolve.
If you’re going freestyle, honey or a flavoured syrup can be added to taste as the mixture is taken off the heat, but make sure you give it a good stir.
More tips for DIY mulling
It’s worth investing in some muslin so you can create your own spice bag. Fill it with any unground spice such as cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, cloves or ginger slices. This way you won’t end up with floaters.
Dot cloves into the skin of oranges and lemons to kill two birds with one stone – it will infuse the mix and it looks pretty, too.
Twists on traditional mulled wine
There are plenty of drinks that are fit for mulling beyond the ubiquitous red wine. Cider works well, but make sure you avoid the sweet, fizzy, bottled variety – try to get your hands on some flat farmhouse scrumpy, perry (pear cider) or dry French cider. Alter your spices accordingly: lift the mix with apple or pear juice, some fresh cranberries, vanilla and apple slices.
While it’s usually enjoyed crisp and chilled, white wine can also be mulled. Team it with light flavours like elderflower cordial, rosemary, vanilla and thyme. And don’t forget any non-drinkers; mulled apple juice with mild spices and orange should fit the bill nicely. Our mulled rosé also makes a festive alternative – be sure to add a generous glug of crème de cassis.
Check out our guide to 5 mulled drinks you can make in minutes for your next festive gathering.
How to get ahead
Keep a pre-made bottle of spiced syrup in the cupboard to avoid a last-minute mulling crisis. Combine sugar and water with the spices of your choice and simmer for 20 minutes. Once cool, strain it through a fine sieve and pour into sterilised bottles.
Our recipe features instructions on how much of the syrup to add to wine, but if you're adding to your own taste, it's a good way of controlling sweetness and spice levels. It’ll keep for up to three months, too.
Want to prepare ahead of time? Try our slow cooker mulled wine recipe. The low heat ensures the wine doesn't boil and the flavours stay fresh.
How to serve mulled wine
Serve in style, going off-piste with your cups. While fragile glass is a no-no, sturdy dimpled half-pint glasses look good and have a useful handle. Garnish with whole cinnamon sticks and pared orange or lemon peel. You could also add a wedge of citrus studded with cloves – it’s best to make one fresh rather than fishing a soggy slice out of the mulling pan.
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