My aunt likes to call the foods that comfort us, soothe us, and/or give us a boost "little mothers," a nickname I love. Buttered toast can be a little mother, as can oatmeal or milky tea or rice pudding or an egg sandwich. And so can mulled wine.
Mulled wine can begin an evening or end one; it can be bright or sultry, red or white, luxurious or scrapped together. And guys! It's so easy. Grab a couple of bottles of wine—drinkable, but not fancy (this might be a good way to use up the wine you got at your office's holiday gift swap)—and get a-mulling.
1. Gather your ingredients.
For enough cozy mugs of wine for 2 to 3 people, here's what you'll need:
- 1 bottle fruity, dry, not too acidic wine. And not expensive, since you'll be adding a bunch of flavors. For red, try Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. For white, Chardonnay. Don't overthink this too much.
- 1 orange, peeled in long strips and sliced
- 1 lemon, peeled in long strips and sliced
- Fresh ginger—about 1 inch, peeled and sliced thinly
- Spices galore. Use what you love, and not too much. Cloves, star anise, and cinnamon sticks are standard, but cardamom pods, whole nutmeg (cracked into pieces with a mortar and pestle), vanilla beans, and peppercorns are also welcome.
- Honey or white sugar to sweeten. Go slow here—start with 2 tablespoons, and then, depending on how sweet you like your wine to be, work up to as much as a 1/2 cup. You can always add more later, so err on the side of not sweet enough.
- Complementary "strong stuff," like port or pear or apple brandy. You could also use vodka or aquavit for a glögg spin. When deciding what to use, match like with like: Darker spirits, like port, will be better with red wine; apple brandy will go well with either white or red wine.
2. Add everything to a pot.
That's really it. Just add all your ingredients to a pot—except for the brandy, port, vodka, or whatever you're using to give your mulled wine an edge. The alcohol in the wine will burn off as you heat it, so if you want your mulled wine to do something more than warm your hands, it will need a stronger spirit stirred in just before serving.
This is also a good opportunity to look around in your refrigerator and get crazy! Add apple cider for a fruitier, less wine-focused result; toss in a handful of raisins or fresh or dried cranberries, and let them bob around looking festive in the pot. More ginger slices never hurt anybody. Slice an apple and toss that in, too.
A note on scale:
Feel free to add a lot of different things to your mulled wine, but use a light hand. One bottle of wine really only needs a few slices of citrus—3 to 4—and 1 or 2 pieces of each whole spice. If you feel, upon tasting, that you've gone too far in any direction, fear not: Just add more wine, some cider, or a bit of honey until you reach equilibrium.
3. Light a fire under it.
Heat the wine slowly over medium-low heat until almost simmering, then turn off the heat. Add the brandy, give it a taste for sweetness, and then cover the pot and let it all steep at least 20 minutes. To serve, simply ladle it into mugs. You can strain it first, if you like, but I like to have the fruit and spices in the mug, too.
In the (unlikely) event that you have any leftovers, strain out the aromatics before refrigerating.