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How to make the perfect mulled wine

by Sarah Alcock

By Kay Plunkett-Hogge

Now that winter is upon us, and the festive season fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about hot drinks. We’re not talking about boring old tea or coffee however, but the good stuff: mulled wine.

So, what’s the secret to making the perfect version of this festive tipple? Here are my five top tips and three favourite recipes.

  • Pick your wine carefully. There are some wines out there sold specifically as ‘mulling wines’, but I really wouldn’t bother. I’m a big fan
 of Australian Shiraz – it’s reasonably priced
 and will behave itself with the spices.
  • White sugar dissolves most easily, but demerara will introduce a hint of molasses 
into your mulling.
  • For the citrus, I like a touch of orange. But it doesn’t have to be orange, you could use tangerine, mandarin or lemon (I wouldn’t recommend lime or grapefruit). If you want to add cloves, stud them into the orange for easy removal.
  • I tend to go easy on spices like cloves and star anise because they can become dominant very quickly, but a mulled wine has to have cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Heat the wine slowly to extract the maximum aroma, and never, ever, ever allow it to boil. Firstly, you will lose the alcohol, and secondly, boiling will change the flavours of the wine.
    While you’re mulling that over, here are a few recipes to get you started...

Quick mulled wine

Serves 4 (about 800ml)
This recipe uses far fewer steps than some, which is a boon if you have to make something festive and delicious for unexpected guests.

1 x 75cl bottle red wine
60ml orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau
60g light brown sugar, or to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange, quartered
a good grating of fresh nutmeg
orange slices, to garnish

1. Put all the ingredients except the liqueur into a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Do not allow to boil.

2. Remove from the heat, stir in the liqueur, and strain into mugs or heat-proof glasses.

3. Garnish with slices of orange and serve.

Traditional mulled wine

Serves 6 (1.2 litres)
This recipe is adapted from one in Cooling Drinks And Dainty Cups by William Terrington, published in 1869. It is sweeter than some mulled wines and uses a wider range of spices. It is also less alcoholic.

25g ginger, crushed with the flat blade of a knife
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole cloves
a generous grating of nutmeg
150g caster sugar
1 x 75cl bottle red wine
1 orange, cut into 8 pieces

1. Put the ginger and spices in a pan with 750ml water.

2. Bring the water to the boil and reduce by half (this concentrates the flavour). Strain through a fine sieve into a clean plan.

3. Add the sugar to the spiced water, followed by the wine and the orange. Bring gently back to the heat, making sure the sugar is dissolved completely. Do not allow it to boil.

4. Serve hot, in mugs or heat-proof glasses.


Serves 20 (about 1.4 litres)
Try serving this in shot glasses as it packs a punch.

1 x 70cl bottle vodka
1 x 75cl bottle red wine
5 cardamom pods, cracked open
5 whole cloves
1 piece cinnamon
1 piece of orange peel
1 piece of ginger (about 30g), cut in half
200g caster sugar
almonds and raisins, for serving

1. Mix all the ingredients except the almonds and raisins in a large bowl or jug and leave to infuse for 2-4 hours.

2. Pour into a large saucepan and heat slowly. Do not allow to boil. Once hot, strain and pour into mugs or heat-proof glasses.

3. Garnish each glass with a few raisins and almonds and serve.

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