Add the multi-pronged sensory delight of mulled wine to your holiday break

Vin chaud, gluhwien, mulled wine—whatever you want to call it, it’s great.
Vin chaud, gluhwien, mulled wine—whatever you want to call it, it’s great.
Image: Reuters/Vincent Kessler
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When it comes to Christmas, I’m not a grinch, but I’m also not what you would call an enthusiast. I can go without a tree, even presents, and my appetite for Christmas carols wanes sooner in December than most. However, if there is one thing I look forward to this time of year—one personal tradition I never skip—it is making mulled wine.

On the face of it, mulled wine is just a warm alcoholic beverage. But in fact it dates back to Roman times, when they thought the mixture of spices, herbs, and heated alcohol would help ward off sickness (seems reasonable to me). It was in Sweden, where the drink is called glögg, that it first became associated with Christmas, and later the Victorians popularized it in the UK. You can find it all over Europe this time of year in its various forms (glögi, gluhwein, vin chaud), but America seems yet to have caught on en masse.

I grew up in California, with little winter to speak of. So these days nothing delights me more than the first December pub visit on a freezing day London, where I live now, when mulled wine is on offer. It’s a fleeting and sensory punctuation mark on the year—one of winter’s selling points, in my opinion.

However, making mulled wine at home, I think, is even better. You get not only the taste and warming sensation, but the unmistakeable, memory-inducing smell that lasts all day. It’s also dead easy to make, and if you prepare it in a slow cooker like I do, you can keep it flowing all day long for a low-maintenance treat.

Recipes abound online, but here is mine:

  • Two bottles of red wine. Shiraz, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon all work well. But the main requirement is that the wine is not expensive, as the addition of sweetener will defeat the purpose of nice wine.
  • A small amount of apple juice. Some recipes call for sugar, but I prefer juice, which makes the wine a little cloudy and thicker, helping the drink feel more substantial. Here, I try to go for a more premium juice that’s not overly sweet. For two bottles of wine, I’d add about a cup and a half, but add more or less to suit your taste.
  • A mixture of spices (ground or not). Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and star anise all work. Some people put the loose spices in muslin cloth bags (I’m lazy, so I don’t) and in Europe, spices are often sold pre-mixed in tea bags or ground into blends.
  • One orange, sliced into thin wedges. You can also stud a whole orange with cloves, if you want to add some flair.
  • Optional liquor. Another liquor like Cointreau, Cognac, Grand Marnier, or even Port—for those that want to get boozy.

If you’re doing it on the stove, add all the ingredients into a large saucepan and slowly heat up. Note that the more you heat the mixture, the more the alcohol will evaporate, so don’t bring it anywhere near a boil. If using a slow cooker, add all the ingredients, and heat on medium for about 90 minutes, then turn to low for as long as you need.

As the mixture wanes—and wane it will—top up ingredients as needed. Pair with a cheese plate and do nothing for the rest of the day.