One of the greatest things about a December stroll through Berlin is the winter market, fit with holiday music, heirloom trinkets, and delicious, thawing gluhwein. Germany is one of many countries that specializes in and adores mulled wine this time of year. It’s an Old World tradition we Americans should definitely subscribe to, especially this year.
In short, mulled wine is warm wine hit with any number of spices, citrus, sweeteners, and sometimes even liqueur. There are no official rules, except to make something soothing (although we like this recipe). It’s like an off-season sangria, cozy and palate-coating as opposed to sprightly and refreshing. It’s exactly what you need in hand as you’re prepping feasts and listening to the best Christmas songs.
But there is a trick to pulling off a tasty mulled wine. Yes, you can make something palatable out of the cheapest bottle of red at the corner store (and we won’t stop you from doing so). It can also be pretty reasonably argued that there’s no luxury mulled wine. Some devout fan will say otherwise, but nobody should be tossing cloves and orange peel at their aged Burgundy, let alone warming it up on the stove.
The key is to find the perfect bottle somewhere in between — a table wine you wouldn’t mind drinking on its own but also something that won’t make you wince as you pour it into a pan. You’ll end up with some serious seasonal enjoyment in a mug and feel as though you’re parading through some fresh snow in the streets of Munich.
McManis Pinot Noir
The main draw here is significant ripe fruit flavors, like candied cherry and strawberry. The fiercely fruit-forward Pinot Noir from Lodi is tailor-made for mulling, with an already-concentrated build not unlike fruit preserves.
This approachable wine from one of the nation’s finest canned wine brands is already halfway toward mulled wine territory. Its flavor profile lends itself to gluhwein, with baked red fruit, nice acidity, and flickers of pepper and spice. Fashioned in the nouveau style made famous by Beaujolais, this wine is essentially ready to go right after harvest, meaning it’s incredibly fresh and inviting.
Pinotage is an ideal varietal for mulled wine, as it tends to show wild berry notes and offer enough muscle to take kindly to your spice additions. This one is very much in line, displaying flavors like pie crust, plum, and maraschino cherry that are just waiting to embrace some anise, cinnamon sticks, and brandy.
Bodega Garzón Tannat
A heavy red that’s taken to South America and Uruguay especially, Tannat possesses the richness and chewiness necessary for a hearty mulled wine. This ever-popular rendition is great with barbecue but also a great choice for a winterized warm wine. With plenty of alcohol (nearly 15% ABV) and flavors of earth and fruit cobbler, it’s a great backdrop for some orange peel, honey, and clove.
Leah Jorgensen Cellars Nisse + Hyggi
Oregon vintner Leah Jorgensen has been making excellent and often creative (Rosé of Cab Franc, anyone?) wine for years now. Here, she follows her Nordic heritage with a natural red wine made just for mulling. You can even get it as part of a gift pack that comes with a mulling spice blend and a candle, among other goodies.
Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot
Charles Smith has mastered the art of the table wine from his Washington state headquarters. This Merlot is great warmed and spiced, given its woodsy backbone of dark fruit and earth. And while it’s too heavy, you can take some of the weight off by adding a little cider to the mulled wine mix.
Gundlach Bundschu Tempranillo Rosé
A pink wine? Absolutely, especially when it’s a bit larger like this winter-friendly option. A little darker and a little more tannic than your run-of-the-mill rosé, this Tempranillo option transforms into mulled wine seamlessly. When mixing up a festive batch with this wine, try adding a little bit of port to the recipe.
Cascadian Outfitters Red Blend
The canned side project of Washington’s Goose Ridge Vineyards, Cascadian Outfitters boasts a brief but tasty lineup of wines. The red offers bold fruit components, as you’d expect from the Columbia Valley. It’s big, juicy, and spicy, a magnificent match for mulling.
Rex Goliath Zinfandel
You’ve likely seen the rooster label of Rex Goliath at your local supermarket, usually in the bargain section. The outfit’s Zin is arguably its best work and very reasonably priced. It’s also begging to be given the mulled wine treatment.
Austrians know Blaufränskisch, the late-ripening varietal known to produce deep black and blue fruit notes with heavy kicks of cacao and pepper. It’s versatile, too, and loves mixing it up with your spice cabinet during gluhwein season. This one offers some cherry cola notes and a bit of funk to give your winterized version a little more character.
Article previously published December 2019 by Taylor Tobin.
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