The best red for mulled wine is fresh, dry, juicy and medium-bodied. Fruit-forward is key. Steer clear of oaky or overly tannic wines, which can turn bitter when heated. Light-bodied wines can get lost amid the intensity of mulling spices, while very jammy, full-bodied wines can become cloying.
You might be tempted to use big, “spicy” wines that reflect the ingredients that will be infused. But the spice and citrus added, not to mention sugar and brandy, will thwart any subtleties of a spicy wine.
Look instead for balance between the mulling ingredients and the wine’s fruitiness. Most wines will work, but try Grenache, Tempranillo, Valpolicella, Sangiovese, Merlot and warm-climate Pinot Noir that are unoaked, or aged in neutral oak.
- 2 oranges
- 2 bottles dry red wine
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks, 3–4 inches long, plus additional for garnish
- 12 allspice berries (can substitute 12 cloves)
- 4 whole star anise
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- ½ cup brandy
- Whole nutmeg, grated (for garnish)
Scrub oranges well. Using vegetable peeler, carve large ribbons of peel from 1 orange. Juice remaining orange. If it yields less than ¼ cup juice, juice additional orange.
Add orange peel, juice, 1 cup wine, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, star anise and peppercorns to a 3-quart stockpot or Dutch oven. Over high heat, bring to rolling boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add remaining wine and brandy. Heat until just below 170°F. Use candy thermometer to measure temperature. Grate nutmeg over top, and garnish with cinnamon stick.