By: Erik Taylor

Drink of the Month: December

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Classic Mulled Wine

Cozy up with some mulled wine. Turn on some music, build a fire or light some candles, throw some spices and wine in a pot, and embrace the holiday season. It’s really that simple.
I’ve always associated mulled wine with holiday parties, but a single batch is perfect for two to four people. Mulled wine is unbelievably easy to make, even on a weeknight, and fills your home with holiday fragrance.

How to Make the Best Mulled Wine

Follow the foolproof recipe below, and your mulled wine will turn out perfectly every time. Here are some key tips:
1) Choose your wine carefully.
Use an affordable bottle of Merlot, Zinfandel or Garnacha. You’ll find more wine details in the ingredients section below.
2) Heat gently.
Resist the urge to crank up the heat on your mulled wine! If your wine is steaming, it’s hot enough. Wine is delicate. Heat it too long or too high, and eventually your wine will taste too spicy, syrupy and almost raisin-like, and the alcohol will evaporate over time.
3) Go easy on the spices.
You might be surprised by how few spices we’re adding, but they are potent. Upon first sip, you might think, “This doesn’t taste spicy enough,” but I promise you’ll change your mind by your second glass.

Mulled Wine Ingredients

Keep in mind that these ingredients are very easily multiplied. One bottle of wine will yield five drinks (enough for two to four people), two bottles yield 10 drinks, and so on.
Red Wine
Wine forms the backbone of this recipe, so naturally, your wine selection is important. Some red wines that you might enjoy at room temperature will not taste so nice when heated. Do not use expensive wine for mulled wine, since we’re adding so much to it. Just choose a quality wine (say, 10 to 20 dollars per bottle) and select the varietal carefully.
The best red wine to use for mulled wine is Merlot, Zinfandel or Garnacha (also called Grenache). These wines are dark, fruity and full bodied, which means they can support all of the flavors we’ll be adding. Look for labels that describe the wine as “jammy” or with “notes of vanilla.”
Avoid red wines that are high in tannins or super oaky in flavor, like Cabernet Sauvignon (I say this as someone who generally enjoys Cabernet Sauvignon). Also avoid very light red wines, like Pinot Noir, because they don’t offer enough body to carry the spices.

Brandy amps up the alcohol content a bit, though we aren’t using much. It’s more for warming flavor and a little bite than anything else. I used E&J VSOP, which is affordable and fine.

Fresh Oranges
We’re going to squeeze some of the fresh orange juice into the mixture, then slice the rest to make rounds. Oranges are in season during the cold months, so you should be able to find nice, juicy oranges at the grocery store. Buy two small oranges if you can, just because smaller rounds fit better into mugs. Or, one large will do—you just might need to slice your rounds into half-moons to fit.

Whole Spices
We’ll need whole cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. Whole spices, rather than ground, are absolutely key to mulled wine. The good news is that whole spices keep longer than ground spices (a few years, even). 

Maple Syrup or Honey
Alcohol flavor becomes harsher when heated, so we’ll balance out the flavors which just a tablespoon or two of real maple syrup or honey. Wine lovers will love this naturally sweetened mulled wine recipe because it is not too sweet. They both offer some extra flavor that plays wonderfully with the other ingredients.

To make mulled wine look even more festive, I love to throw a handful of fresh cranberries into the pot before serving. You might also like to serve individual servings with additional orange rounds or half-moons, cinnamon sticks and/or star anise.
Suggested Serving Equipment
Cook the mulled wine in a medium heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stainless steel pot.
Or, warm your mulled wine in a slow cooker. Simply combine all of the ingredients, cover, and cook on low heat until the wine is steaming hot (about 30 minutes to 1 hour). Once it’s sufficiently warmed up, reduce the heat to “warm” or the lowest possible setting so it doesn’t get too spicy.
Serve your mulled wine with a ladle. In a pinch, you can use a heatproof measuring cup to scoop. Place a dark tea towel on a plate to give your guests somewhere to place the ladle when it’s not in use.
Lastly, serve your wine in mugs. Glass mugs are fun because you can see the mulled wine inside. 
2 small oranges or 1 large
1 bottle of affordable Merlot, Zinfandel or Garnacha (also called Grenache)
¼ cup brandy
1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey, to taste
2 whole cinnamon sticks
3 star anise
4 whole cloves
Optional garnishes: Fresh whole cranberries (about ¼ cup), cinnamon sticks, additional orange rounds or half moons

1. To prepare the oranges, if using 2 small, slice one orange into rounds and slice the other in half. If using 1 large orange, slice it in half through the round middle, then slice one of the halves into rounds. Place the rounds into a medium heavy-bottomed pot or small Dutch oven. Squeeze the juice from the remaining oranges into the pot.
2. Pour the wine into the pot, followed by the brandy. Add 1 tablespoon of the sweetener for now. Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves.
3. Warm the mixture over medium heat until steaming (about 5 minutes) and keep an eye on it. When you start seeing the tiniest of bubbles at the surface, reduce the heat to the lowest of low. 
4. Carefully taste and add another tablespoon of sweetener if it’s not sweet enough for your liking. If it’s not spicy enough to suit your preferences, continue cooking over very low heat for 5 to 10 more minutes.
5. Serve in mugs with your desired garnishes! If you’re adding cranberries as I did, you can add them to the pot to make it look extra festive.
6. If you expect to polish off the mulled wine within 20 minutes or so, you can keep it on the stove over extra-low heat (it will become spicier with time). Otherwise, remove it from the heat, cover, and rewarm over low heat if necessary. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, covered (pour it through a strainer if you don’t want it to become any more spicy than it already is).