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Holiday Cheer: Mulled Wine (or Apple Cider) Recipe

Two clear footed glass mugs on a wooden star-shaped tray. Both mugs are filled with mulled wine that's garnished with a clove-studed orange slice, star anise pods, and a cinnamon stick.

Photo by George Dolgikh

About fifteen years ago, one of my coworkers intoduced me to the magic of glühwein, a warm, spiced wine beverage served at Christmas markets in Germany, Austria, and other parts of northern Europe. In the U.S., of course, we serve mulled wine. As best I can tell the big differences are:

  1. the mix of spices involved; and
  2. whether to add hard liquor and which kind to use.

Cardamom, for example, is more common with glühwein. Glühwein is often spiked with rum or brandy. Mulled wine, on the other hand, may or may not be spiked. Plus mulled wine — mulled means spiced — typically uses cinnamon, clove, and orange peel.

If you search the internet for recipes, you'll find a lot of overlap between the two styles, and lots of suggestions for what to use to spike it.

In other words, there are many ways to make a warm, spiced wine. Here's my way. This is a party-sized recipe that should serve 8-16 people depending on how much everyone consumes.

If you're not into alcohol, you can still make this with apple juice or cider. I strongly recommend using Simply Apple, since it's made of pressed apples and not much else. If you use apple juice, skip the sugar. The juice doesn't need it.


  • A 4-quart or larger non-reactive pot, or a similarly-sized slow cooker
  • A long-handled wooden or silicone spoon
  • A ladle for serving, if you own one. A mug or measuring cup if you don't. No judgments.


  • 3 liters (that's 4 750 mL bottles) of the cheapest, yet most palatable dry red wine you can find. One box of Black Box’ Wines or 4 bottles Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (formerly known as “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s) are good choices. No need to use the good stuff.
  • 1 navel orange
  • 12-16 whole cloves
  • 6-8 whole allspice berries
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3-4 green cardamom pods or a whole star anise (optional)
  •  – 2 cups white granulated sugar or to taste
  • ½–¾ cup of your favorite brown liquor, ideally bourbon, rum, Cognac or brandy (optional)

If you're using apple juice, adding salt to taste makes it taste a bit like an apple pie.

How to make it

  1. Empty the wine box or bottles into the pot.
  2. Stud the orange with the cloves. You may need to use a toothpick, skewer or the tip of a small knife to help you shove the cloves in there.
  3. Add the clove-studded orange, allspice, cinnamon, and cardamom to the pot.
  4. Heat the wine over medium heat until it begins to steam. This should take 15-20 minutes depending on how much heat your stove burners generate. Do not let it come to a boil, because you'll cook off the alcohol. You're mulling wine, not grape juice.
  5. Turn the heat to low, then add the sugar. Stir until it dissolves. Taste. Add more sugar, a quarter cup at a time, if desired. The goal isn't to turn wine into juice, it's to soften the wine's edges.
  6. Optionally, stir in the bourbon, rum, Cognac or brandy.
  7. Remove from heat and ladle into mugs to serve.

If you have a crockpot, induction burner, or insulated beverage container to keep the wine at a steady temperature, use it. Otherwise, you can reheat the wine by the mug in the microwave, or warm the whole pot on the stove.

I usually leave the orange and spices in the wine until all of the wine is consumed. The flavors will intensify a bit, as you get to the bottom of the pot. You can also strain them out as you go, or as you transfer the wine from a pot to another container.

By all means tweak this recipe to suit your tastebuds. Use one or two spices instead of all four. Increase the number of cardamom pods or leave them out entirely. Swap the orange for tangerines or kumquats, and so on. It's very flexible.