The Best Way to Drink an Inexpensive Red: Mull It.

Bonus: Your house will smell amazing.

Published Dec. 1, 2022.

As the days grow colder and shorter, its only a matter of time before snow, ice, and slush will start to appear. But the news isnt all bad: A carefully chosen recipe can be a real bright spot on a gloomy day.

Enter my one-step frosty-weather survival guide: Snuggle up with a steaming mug of mulled red wine. Heady with spices, citrus, and brandy, and only slightly sweet, this cozy warmer is sure to cure the chilly-day doldrums.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

My recipe has only a mild alcohol taste and deep—but not overwhelming—spice notes. I start with an inexpensive medium- to full-bodied red wine (there’s no need to splurge; just choose one that you enjoy drinking).

Then, for full, round flavor, I add a warming quartet of whole spices, all toasted to unlock their full potential, along with a few swaths of fresh, floral orange zest. 

Simmering the wine for a full hour ensures a deeply flavorful drink that doesnt taste raw; it also cooks off a good portion of the alcohol. Just before serving, I stir in a couple of spoonfuls of brandy for a fresh, boozy kick.  


I tested a dozen inexpensive reds in this recipe and found that most were good candidates for mulling. That’s not to say they all tasted the same: A lot of the differences have to do with “body,” a term that can be used to broadly categorize red wines. The more body a wine has, the richer and more concentrated it tastes. 

Light reds tend to be uncomplicated, fruity, and sometimes thin-tasting. Medium-bodied reds are smooth and lush, while full-bodied reds are often described as tannic, hearty, and robust. Light wines can’t support heavy mulling spices and sugar—they taste, well, too light. 

My advice is simple: Choose an affordable medium- to full-bodied wine that you enjoy drinking on its own. Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel are all good choices.


How To Cocktail

The first-ever cocktail book from America’s most-trusted test kitchen includes essential classics, twists on old favorites; and brand-new test kitchen creations.

Mulled Red Wine

Makes about 1½ quarts, serving 8

The flavor of the mulled wine deteriorates if it is simmered for longer than 1 hour. It is best served immediately after mulling but will keep fairly hot off heat, covered, for about 30 minutes. Leftover mulled wine can be reheated in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stovetop.

3 cinnamon sticks (3 inches each)

10 whole cloves

10 whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon allspice berries (about 25)

2 bottles medium- or full-bodied red wine

4 strips orange zest removed with vegetable peeler, each strip about 2 inches long by ½ inch wide, cleaned of any white pith

½ cup granulated sugar, plus up to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste

2-4 tablespoons brandy

1. Toast cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns, and allspice in medium heavy-bottomed nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add wine, orange zest, and ½ cup sugar; cover partially and bring to simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour until wine is infused; do not boil.

2. Strain wine through fine-mesh strainer; return wine to saucepan and discard spices and orange zest. Stir 2 tablespoons brandy into wine; taste and add up to 2 tablespoons more sugar and 2 tablespoons more brandy, if desired. Ladle wine into small mugs; serve immediately.

Hooked on mulled wine? Click here for my recipe for Mulled Red Wine with Raisins and Almonds, inspired by Scandinavian glögg.


This is a members' feature.