This heady mulled wine recipe is festive enough for Christmas or other holiday parties, but easy enough to make on any cold night when you crave a little cozy comfort. While mulled wine, sometimes called gluhwein or spiced wine, is one way to use up subpar bottles, remember that bad wine is never going to be great, no matter what you do to it. Still, you don’t need to splurge on expensive bottles of wine here. We recommend a Merlot for its softness and fruit-forward flavors, but pretty much any decent dry red wine will do. Look for Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, or ask your wine clerk for a recommendation. Use the same varietal for both bottles and leave the white wine for another day (may we recommend this strawberry sangria once the weather turns warm?).
As for the other ingredients, look for fresh apple cider in the refrigerated section of your market or at a local apple orchard. Shelf-stable bottles will work in a pinch, but their flavor can’t compare. Next, while many recipes call for brown sugar or other sweeteners like maple syrup, we chose to finish the drink with a glug of sweet port wine instead, adding a deep, complex flavor. Finally, you should feel free to play with the spicing: Don’t like cloves? Leave them out. Add a couple of whole star anise pods or ½ tsp. of black peppercorns or allspice if you’d like. And if you only have big oranges, round orange slices are fine; just trim away the bulky white pith from the stem end and remove any seeds.
Be sure not to let the mixture boil; the barest of simmers will coax plenty of flavor from the warm spices without cooking off all the alcohol. While it doesn’t require much prep time, this mulled wine recipe can be made two hours before serving. Reheat it gently over medium-low heat on a stovetop, and if you want to put it out for guests to serve themselves during a holiday party, keep it in a slow cooker set to low and leave a ladle nearby.