Mulled wine has become synonymous with the winter months — especially in European countries, where the beverage takes over Christmas markets during the holiday season. Made from red wine, a splash of port or brandy, oranges, and a number of mulling spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, mulled wine is the quintessential winter sipper sure to warm you up from the inside out.
Thought to have originated in ancient Greece as a method of reducing waste of leftover wines from harvest, mulled wine was later emulated and expanded upon by the Romans. In ancient Rome, the drink was known as conditum paradoxum and was made by combining equal parts wine and honey with dates and spices like bay leaves and saffron before boiling the mixture to enjoy it warm.
The version of mulled wine we know and love today hails from Victorian England, when Charles Dickens wrote about mulled wine, referred to as Smoking Bishop, in his novel “A Christmas Carol.” It was this exact choice that led to mulled wine’s association with the cozy holiday months and further popularized mulled wine’s ingredients list — red wine, port, oranges, cloves, and cardamom.
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When it comes to mulling our own wine at home, picking the proper bottle doesn’t need to be a fuss, but you should keep in mind that you don’t want to mull a wine you wouldn’t drink on its own. In the wise words of VinePair CEO Adam Teeter, “sh*t in, sh*t out.” The proper bottle of red for mulling, first and foremost, should be on the cheaper side, but never skimping on quality. There is an abundance of wines available with incredible depth, body, and character that won’t break the bank.
In terms of specific types of red you’ll want to be reaching for this winter, avoid lighter-bodied, higher-acid reds like Pinot Noir or Gamay, as their flavor and fruit notes have a tendency to burn off when heated up, resulting in a mulled wine tasting heavily of spices. Instead, you’ll want to grab a bottle with robust depth and rich fruit flavors like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or even red blends. Not only do these styles tend to have higher alcohol content — which is important for mulled wine as some of the alcohol will evaporate during the heating process — but juicy fruit flavors will also help bolster the mulling spices to warm you from the inside out.
For specific bottles to choose from next time you find yourself fancying a mug of mulled wine, here are five incredible picks.
Intrinsic Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($19)
Hailing from Washington State, Intrinsic’s Cabernet Sauvignon is, according to VinePair’s tastings director Keith Beavers, the quintessential red for mulling. With mild acidity and a myriad of plush fruit flavors, this red blends seamlessly with citrus and baking spices like cloves, star anise, and cinnamon. At just $19, this is a great case-buy — you’ll want some to drink sans mulling as well.
Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($10)
Priced at just $10, Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon is an ideal pick for mulling. With just a touch of oak and luscious medium-weight fruits, this Cab is a perfect bottle to keep stocked in your house for easy sipping and mulling.
Primus The Blend 2018 ($21)
Red blends are a great option for mulled wine as the various grape varieties add a depth that allows for residual sugars released in the heating process to further mesh with the mulling spices. The Blend 2018 from Primus Wines, with its strong fruits, slight pepper edge, and fleshy mouthfeel, is an ideal red blend for mulling.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Red Blend 2017 ($15)
With a whopping 14.5 percent ABV and costing just $15, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Indian Wells Red Blend is a perfect bottle for sipping warmed. Earthy notes and strong plummy flavors on the palate practically beg for a few mulling spices to be added to the mix.
Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel 2015 ($15)
If you’re looking for a mulled wine on the sweeter side, try making some with a bottle of Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel from 2015. With ripe strawberry and cherry notes, this bottling is robust and round, perfectly balancing out the savory mulling spices with supple fruit flavors.