Mulled wine is a warm treat made of dark, full-bodied wine, fresh fruits, and spices heated gently. It’s particularly popular around the holidays, which is why making mulled wine is a beloved tradition in some households.
Apart from the fruits and spices that define the best mulled wine recipes, picking the right wine for a base is essential. Although no single brand or variety of wine works best, some have specific characteristics that make them better suited than others.
First off, put down that $50 bottle of pinot noir! When it comes to making mulled wine, you’ll want to stick to inexpensive wines. Most recipes involve adding many spices to the mix, so the complexities of expensive wines will most likely be lost in a dark pool of cinnamon and cloves. More expensive wines are sometimes more delicate, so heating them up changes the taste anyway. The best wine to use for mulled wine is something flavorful that won’t break the bank. Look for bottles that are between $10-20.
For Red Wines, Fruity, Flavorful, Full-bodied
When it comes to the best wine for mulled wine, nine times out of ten, you’ll want to reach for a red. Mulled wine made from a red wine base has a rich, full flavor that helps the other ingredients melt together into a warm, sweet drink that pairs perfectly with nuts, soft cheeses, gingerbread cookies, or anything with cinnamon and cloves, really.
For traditional recipes, aim for something dark, jammy, and full-bodied with notes of vanilla if you can find it. Zinfandels, Merlots, Syrah/Shiraz, or Garnache tend to work best. Avoid red wines high in tannins or have an oaky flavor, and avoid light reds. Sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to have a full-bodied, fruity flavor, can work in a pinch, as can Malbec, which tends to have a bold, spicy flavor.
For White Wines, Dry with Minimal Sweetness
White wine isn’t the traditional choice for making mulled wine, but some recipes use it to create a light, fruity, sweet taste. These recipes may incorporate ingredients like ginger or cider. Riesling tends to be the best white wine for making mulled wine.
High Alcohol Content
Mulled wine doesn’t necessarily have the highest alcohol content because the alcohol in the wine tends to be burned off to some extent during the mulling process. If you’re looking for a boozier drink, you can try to find a higher-proof bottle of wine, but this will make the drink marginally stronger at best.
A classic trick is to add some brandy to the mixture to give it a little extra kick. Brandy works well with mulled wine because of its natural fruity flavors, so adding a splash of brandy is an excellent way to increase the overall ABV of the drink without making it taste too boozy. As a rule of thumb, use a quarter cup of brandy per bottle of wine if you choose to go this route.
Putting It All Together
Now that you know all about how to pick the best wine for mulled wine, you’re ready to make a batch. Although some wines work better than others, don’t be afraid to experiment with different varieties, cooking styles, and spices. The best wine for mulled wine is the one you and your loved ones enjoy the most, after all.