The Secret to a Mulled Wine Recipe with a Twist

December 15, 2013

The only thing that makes a chilly December more manageable is getting your hands on an easy mulled wine recipe, courtesy of Mark Sexauer. He's the author of Aphrodisiacs With a Twist, a cocktail book worthy for those working behind the bar or for those looking to get more passionate about mixing it up at home. (Note: this link to Amazon is an affiliate link.) I was fortunate enough to meet Mark at a recent cookbook social and sample his fantastic mulled wine. He was kind enough to answer my questions about hot winter cocktails and how to quell mulled wine anxiety. As a bonus, a recipe follows his answers.

[How about a take on mulled wine with tequila, agave syrup, and cumin for some Mexican flair?]

Are hot beverages like mulled wine or a hot toddy underrated? What advantage do they have over well-chilled cocktails?

Mulled wines and hot toddys are just not talked about enough. It seems to the average consumer like there is quite a bit of work to make them and that couldn't be more false. Wine+spice+fortifier+sweet=spiced wine. Hot water+spirit+spices+citrus=hot toddy. Chilled cocktails are great and punches are the best way to serve them at parties but during the cold winter months a warm cocktail can really hit the spot. Try serving them in bulk in a crockpot. Easy and approachable.

I've had mulled wine experiences that were, shall we say, less than desirable. What are a couple keys to mulled wine perfection? Something to avoid?

That's too bad, and disappointing because it's actually really hard to mess up. My advice:

Wine: Use any red wine, even boxed wine is fine. I've used 8 different varietals before. This is a great opportunity to use up those dusty bottles of cheap wedding wine. You are adding lots of strong flavors to the wine so it's not so important that it's expensive and holds well on its own. [Note: I tend to err on the side of using something you'd regularly drink without the addition of spirits and spices. But it's probably time to get rid of those bottles you've been staring at for too long. --Jameson]

Spices: Following a general recipe, flavor profiles like cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger, and even pepper will get you in the direction you need to go. I always preach that recipes are simply foundations. Spiced wine, like the Bloody Mary, lends itself to experimenting just fine.

Sweetener: This can really be anything. Brown sugar is amazing in spiced wine but can be heavy. I've used every type of sweetener there is so it really is up to personal preference. Sweetening though is the easiest way to mess up a spiced wine. You can always add, start with a very small amount, even a tablespoon at a time, and taste often.

Citrus: Fresh orange, lime, lemon zest and juice add an acidity to spiced wine that I find separates the mediocre ones from the good. Again, not need to overdo it, but a nice addition.

Fortifier: This is to bump up the alcohol content and add a flavor profile. You can use anything laying around your house but rum, brandy, and whisky tend to add a depth of flavor that some other spirits can't add.

Preparation and Infusing: Make your spiced wine a day or even three before hand. Leave it in a food safe container on your deck if it's cold so you don't take up refrigerator space. Day of, heat in a pot over the stove but be very careful NOT to boil (it will add off flavors)! Letting the wine sit over night infuses the flavors together for deeper complex flavor. I've served this on a pot, in a crock pot, and even a cleaned out coffee maker.

Experiment: Substitute the wine for N/A wine. it's a really fun option for the non-drinkers and kids!

OK, I have spirits and spices on hand, but not the exact ones the recipe calls for. Should I panic? Or can I improvise?

I can't stress more that recipes are guidelines. Use common sense and start learning how flavors work together and why. It will make you a better cook as well. You shouldn't have to spend much if any money on a good spiced wine. Use as much as you can of existing things. Great opportunity to finish off those old bottles of spices. Taste taste and taste again. If you get wrapped up about following an exact recipe it will take away from the most important part... fun.

(Hey, would you like 5 more recipes for creative cocktails that awesomely transform wine? Check out my blog.)

Mulled Wine (i.e. Spiced Wine) courtesy Mark Sexauer.

Few things get me in a positive mood for the long cold winter months like mulled wine. Most commonly called spiced wine here in the states or sometimes glühwein in German speaking countries, it is a great addition to any winter menu or holiday party.

Mulled wine in its many forms through time was created, like vermouth, because wine went bad much faster before refrigeration and vacuum sealed wine corks. Adding spices and herbs to wine was common even well into the 20th century. There are countless recipes available and even pre-packaged “mulling spices” you can buy at most grocery stores. Of course there is no way around it but the best spiced wines are made from scratch.

I have used the recipe below for many years with people begging for the recipe after parties. I like to use brown sugar in place of cane sugar; I feel a hint of molasses makes this recipe even more iconic for the holidays. I also use a Syrah (Shiraz) for my base wine because even though it is a dry wine, as most reds are, Syrahs are medium in tannins, medium in acidity, have rich full aromas of dark plums and ripe fruit, all of which are perfect for mulled wine.

    1 bottle syrah (I used a big syrah with notes of plums)
    1 cup brown sugar (how come you taste so good….)
    1/4 cup brandy
    Zest and juice of one orange
    Zest and juice of one lemon
    4 whole cloves
    8 whole peppercorns
    8 whole allspice
    3 small cinnamon sticks
    1 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
    1 Tablespoon honey

Pour the entire bottle of wine in a large pot with a lid over medium-low heat.  Put cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, and allspice into a pan over medium-high heat and roast until a strong aroma is apparent.  Some popping is normal but do not burn. After roasting the spices put them into the pot with the wine.  Combine the remaining ingredients and turn heat to low and simmer covered for one hour.  Remove from heat and let cool for 10-20 minutes to finish infusing spices into wine. Strain and pour wine into a sealable container.  It is much better if you refrigerate overnight if you have the time to let the flavors infuse completely but either way make sure to serve warm; it’s not so good cold.

Preparation Notes

Do not boil the wine, it will tasted oxidized! Taste often, especially if you are deviating from the recipe. The longer the spices sit, the stronger they will infuse into your wine which can be good or bad depending on the spice and be especially careful with cloves as they are very potent.

When serving, I find that using a soup warmer, crock pot or even a cleaned out coffee pot works well to keep the wine warm throughout the night.

Jameson Fink has been working in the wine industry and blogging about wine since 2004. Saveur Magazine nominated his site,, for a 2013 Best Food Blog Award in the Wine/Beer Category. He is a tireless advocate for year-round rosé consumption and enjoys a glass of Champagne alongside a bowl of popcorn.

Image Sources: