Alibi V.16 No.42 • Oct 18-24, 2007 

Cocktail Culture

Mull This Over

Spice up your wine on chilly nights

Mulled wine is a surefire way to get hot and steamy.
Mulled wine is a surefire way to get hot and steamy.
courtesy of

After a long summer of broiling in the New Mexico heat, cooler temperatures are finally in the forecast. It’s time to dump that jug of margarita mix down the drain, throw out those Coronas and serve something more seasonal.

Though it's seldom seen this close to the border, a cozy cup of warm, spiced wine is best paired with crisp evenings and cashmere sweaters. Mulled wine takes the chill out of your bones as well as it takes the edge off.

For centuries mulling was the solution to wine that had crept past its prime. The addition of spices and careful heating to the offending juice gave spoiled wine a second life—the spice took away from the bite of over-fermentation and the warmth brought it all together. It didn’t take long for the bolstered brew to catch on as a fall and winter staple.

Mugs of the aromatic concoction were believed to lift more than the drinker’s spirits. People in medieval times attributed good health to the drink. At the time it went by the name Hipocris, after the "father of medicine" Hippocrates. Of course, alcohol was safer to drink than water in those days, so our ancestors weren’t too far off the mark. And who’s to say a mug a day really won’t keep the flu and head colds away? It’s certainly a tastier alternative to vaccinations and VapoRub.

There are several variations of this fragrant libation, most originating in Europe where wine and cold weather are found in abundance. They most often consist of red wine, honey and any number of spices such as cinnamon, cloves and even black pepper. It can occasionally be found made from white wine, usually in Romania. Many recipes even call for a fortifying splash of brandy or Cognac. There’s no end to the diverse nature of this forgiving cocktail.

While mulled wine is often associated with the winter holiday season, it’s appropriate to offer it as soon as the weather permits. The spices and fruits used to give the wine a seasonal flair are as at home in October as they are in December.

Here's a traditional recipe that's simple to make and bound to catch your guests off-guard. Choose a red wine that's relatively inexpensive, but don’t use anything that you wouldn’t drink on its own. Bad wine that's heated up will only become terrible wine. Try a Bordeaux or a Zinfandel but avoid oaky wines. If you decide to use a white, a Riesling would do nicely.

Be careful that you don’t boil the wine, or the alcohol will evaporate. You can keep it warm for several hours, but don’t try to reheat cold mulled wine. This will result in a bitter, stale drink. You can always prepare the recipe in a slow cooker or crockpot. This method will gently heat the wine and keep it nice and warm.

For those who prefer a nonalcoholic treat, or want to include the kiddies in the fun, try the mulled cider recipe.

Mulled Wine with Brandy and Cardamom

For variation, try adding or substituting star anise, brown sugar, orange juice, lemon zest or anything else that strikes you.
Makes 5 servings


1 750 milliliter bottle of wine
Zest of half an orange, cut into thin strips
8 whole cloves
5 cracked cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, plus 5 cinnamon sticks for garnish
2/3 cup honey
½ cup brandy

1. Pour wine into a saucepan. (Use a pan that is non-reactive, such as stainless steel.) Place over low heat on the stovetop.

2. Lightly pound the orange zest strips with a mallet. Add zest, cloves, cardamom, the cinnamon stick, honey and brandy to the wine.

4. Gently heat the wine mixture, stirring occasionally.

5. When the wine is steaming, remove from heat and strain to remove all solid ingredients. Ladle into mugs and garnish each with a cinnamon stick.

Mulled Cider

This recipe begs for your own interpretation, too. Tinker with the spices to find your preference. If you care to make this drink a hard mulled cider, simply add a nip of brandy to each mug.
Makes 5 servings


1 quart apple cider
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 whole, unpeeled orange
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves

1. In a slow cooker or crockpot, combine cider, brown sugar, ginger and orange.

2. Bundle cinnamon and cloves together in cheesecloth. Tie spice bag securely with foodsafe string and add to cider mixture.

3. Cook on the low setting for two hours.

4. Remove the orange and cheesecloth. Serve hot in mugs.