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Mull Your Wine Over the Holidays

So, you’ve heated up red wine with a bunch of citrus fruits and some of the most intense and aromatic spices on Earth—and now you’ve thrown in some brandy and are about to serve it to your loved ones.

I wouldn’t blame your guests (or even yourself) for turning down your concoction.

There’s no wonder mulled wine isn’t better received. It doesn’t take much to turn your well-intended holiday libation into a pot of seasonal cough syrup. We’re dealing with a balance of extremes here. It’s very easy to throw in too much sweetener, use the wrong kind of wine, or go overboard on the spice. One or two more cloves are all you need to throw the whole thing off. You also do not want to be dishing out glasses of hot red wine with six sticks of cinnamon stewed in it (I speak from experience).

But I can assure you, mulled wine is not your enemy!

It is the coziest, most soulful beverage you could ever serve on a frosty winter night. It warms your hands and lights up your spirit. It’s vibrant and unique and it makes the perfect addition to those festive family dinners looking for something a little different.

Follow my advice and you’ll be pouring your family and friends a brand-new holiday staple.


1 bottle of red wine (750 mL)

  • Go for something dry and not as high in tannin. Grenache, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are all good options. (Don’t hesitate to go cheap on this purchase.)

¼ cup orange liqueur

  • McGuinness, Triple Sec, and even Cointreau will work.

1 whole navel orange, sliced

  • Orange peels are optional.

6-8 cloves

  • Or you can adjust to taste, but I wouldn’t go lower than 4.

2 sticks cinnamon

  • Ground cinnamon also works but serve through a sieve!

2 whole star anise

  • Or ¼ tbsp if ground.

Any kind of sweetener! 

  • This one’s up to you. I personally use 2 tsp maple syrup, but you can use honey, brown sugar, or even agave syrup. All that matters is you let it dissolve.


Add all ingredients into a vessel that can go on heat such as a pot (like a stock pot) or saucepan. Mix well.

Cover and let sit at medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Make sure it doesn’t boil. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than does water.

After the half-hour, it’s good to go! Pour the drink through a fine-mesh sieve to get all the loose spices out. You don’t want any cloves floating around in the final product.

Bonus advice

Want to save money?

You’ll want to take a trip to the bulk aisle for spices. Pre-packaged cloves, cinnamon sticks, and star anise aren’t cheap, but you’ll only need a few for this recipe. Buy only what the recipe calls for, and maybe a bit extra for garnish.

Want to enrich the taste?

I find that mulled wine tastes astronomically better when left to mingle with all the ingredients overnight. So, if you want a more concentrated spice experience, do not hesitate to let the wine you’ve mulled sit in the fridge overnight. On the next day, heat it to another simmer before serving, and you’ll have a delightful main drink for the occasion.

Want to serve with a nice touch?

I recommend serving the drink in mugs. Even better, serving it in a festive punch bowl looks fancy and really brings out the communal aspects of sharing this warm and uplifting holiday drink.