Mulled Wine for the Holidays

Monday, November 18th, 2019

With temperatures dropping and the holidays approaching, it’s the perfect time for a great mulled wine recipe.

What is mulled wine?

Mulled wine is simply wine that has been spiced, sweetened, and served warm, often with a shot of hard liquor. In the USA, that liquor is often Brandy. In Germany, it is called Gluhwein and the shot of liquor is rum or amaretto. In Scandinavia they serve Gløgg, adding blanched almonds, raisins, and port. Spain’s sangria is similar, although served chilled and filled to the brim with cut fruit. In England, it is called Wassil and is made with apples, cider, Port and/or Madeira.

The danger in mulling wine (other than imbibing too much) is: 1) the urge to overdo it on the mulling spices and 2) to boil the wine, removing the alcohol. Be judicious with the addition of whole spices; you need a lot less than you have been led to believe. A pair of cinnamon sticks and star anise pods and a mere four whole cloves will perfume a batch or two of mulled wine. You don’t want your guests to be drinking a mug of potpourri.

Helpful Hints:

  • You will need two bottles of dry red wine for 10 to 12 cocktails. The recipe is easily doubled for larger parties.
  • Whole cloves, star anise pods, and cinnamon sticks are the best choice for mulling wine. You want the flavor and aroma, not the grit from ground spices.
  • Maple syrup or Honey adds robust, earthy sweetness and dissolves more easily than granular sugars.

Mulled Wine Served Simply in a Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are the perfect serving vessel for winter cocktail parties. The drink stays at a constant cozy temperature and the only babysitting it needs is an occasional glance to let you know when to refresh the crock with wine, brandy, and maple syrup. You’ll know you need to replenish the spices when they appear saturated and their fragrance dwindles.

Be sure to offer garnishes, including cinnamon sticks, star anise, and orange peel. That way, when you refresh the slow cooker, you’ve already got half of the ingredients at your fingertips. Just open a bottle of wine, pour in a few glugs of sweet maple syrup/honey and a few shots of brandy, and you can keep on celebrating.

A Simple Step-By-Step Guide to Mulled Wine

  • Combine everything first. Combine wine, brandy, maple syrup, cloves, star anise pods, cinnamon sticks, and orange peel in a slow cooker. Choose an affordable dry red wine for mulling. Your best choice is one described as “jammy” or as having a “fruity, full-bodied flavor.”
  • Heat on LOW until hot. It will take about an hour for the mulled wine to get hot. Resist the urge to heat on HIGH so that you don’t boil the alcohol away and to give the spices time to permeate the beverage.
  • Reduce heat to WARM and serve. Mulled wine improves as it sits; the flavors mellow and the spices perfume the whole house.

How to Serve Slow Cooker Mulled Wine

Set serving glasses or mugs alongside the slow cooker and be sure to arrange a ladle on a spoon rest. Finish the setup with a few small bowls of garnishes — sliced orange, strips of orange peel, fresh cranberries, cinnamon sticks, star anise pods. A dark-colored towel or napkin set discretely nearby will ease any worry if spills occur. A make-ahead, serve-yourself custom cocktail means more holiday enjoyment for you, and if there’s any left at the end of the night, snuggle on the couch with a steaming mug of mulled wine and breathe in the scent of the holidays.

RECIPE: Slow Cooker Mulled Wine

SERVES10 to 12


  • 2 (750-milliliter) bottles red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 whole star anise pods 
  • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • Peel of 1/2 orange, white pith removed
  • Optional garnishes: cinnamon sticks, star anise pods, orange peel or slices, cranberries


  • Corkscrew
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • 3- to 4-quart slow cooker
  • Vegetable Peeler
  • Ladle
  • Knife and cutting board


  1. Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Stir the wine, brandy, maple syrup/honey, cloves, star anise pods, cinnamon sticks, and orange peel together 
  2. Heat on LOW for 1 hour. Cover and heat on the LOW setting until hot, about 1 hour.
  3. Lower the heat to warm, ladle into mugs, and garnish. Reduce heat to warm for serving. Ladle into mugs or heatproof glasses and garnish as desired. 

Storage: Strain leftovers to remove spices, then refrigerate in a covered jar or pitcher for up to 2 days.

Half batch: For a smaller batch, combine 1 bottle wine and 1/4 cup each brandy and maple syrup, but keep the same amount of zest and spices.

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