When the temperature starts dropping, mulled wine is the perfect way to warm up. It’s easy to make and easy to serve—have a pot of piping hot mulled wine at the ready when guests stop by for the holidays.
What is mulled wine? It’s made by infusing red wine with autumnal spices, dried fruit and a hint of liqueur. “For added depth, I use brown sugar as a sweetener and add a small amount of vanilla in addition to the normal seasonal spices of cinnamon, clove, star anise, and cardamom,” says Gabe Sanchez, the general manager and beverage expert at Midnight Rambler at The Joule in Dallas. “I also recommend toasting your spices before you add to the wine!”
“You should also look for a wine that is low in tannin,” says Robert Kidd, Head Bartender at Le Cavalier in Wilmington, Delaware. "If you’re using dried spices and herbs in your mulled wine, you will be adding extra tannin to wine that already has it. And, I would avoid a wine that’s spent a lot of time in a barrel. The oak can add a bit more tannin to the wine." Not sure what to buy? Any of these bottles will help you kick off a great batch of mulled wine.
Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha
Easy-drinking, affordable, and packed with big notes of cherry, plum and blackberry—essentially, all the things that make this the perfect wine for mulled wine. The wine isn’t overly oaked and still has a light freshness that will marry well with spice. Medium body with lush notes of cinnamon, black cherry, and vanilla.
Sommelier Jillian Fontana recommends Spanish garnacha for mulled wine. “You want to avoid more tannic varieties—when hot, those tannic sensations become more heightened and unpleasant.”
Price at the time of publish: $11.99
Region: Rioja, Spain | Varietal: Garnacha | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, blackberry, black cherry
Santa Julia Organic Malbec
“Don't overspend on mulled wine, but don't totally cheap-out, either. Something in the $9 to 15 price range will work well,” says Fontana. In that vein, Santa Julia’s organic malbec offers a lot of flavor for a low price point.
The Santa Julia bodega is a project by the Zuccardi family, renowned for making some of the best malbec in the world, with a focus on sustainable and responsible farming without the addition of extra chemicals. The Zuccardi family projects are run by an almost century-old family, but this project is just Julia Zuccardi, who runs the newest generation. It’s flavor-packed, so expect a big dose of purple fruit, including dark berries, black currant, plum, and raisin. In the glass, it’s a lovely concentrated violet color bursting with ripe fruit.
Price at the time of publish: $13.99
Region: Mendoza, Argentina | Varietal: Malbec | Tasting Notes: Plum, raisin, violet
J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot
J. Lohr remains one of the most recognizable vineyards in Paso Robles, known for its household-known label, constant quality, and a consistently reasonable price tag. Case in point: this Italian clone of merlot, grown in a higher-elevation, cooler plot in the region. It drinks with a touch of juicy acidity, giving a wonderful freshness to the velvety merlot.
Expect milk chocolate and oak immediately upon the first sip, unfolding into plum, dried cherry, raspberry and blackberry as the wine reaches your palate.
“Try using port wine instead of orange liqueur in your mulled wine,” says Sanchez. “This will make a deeper and richer tasting mulled wine. If you have the time, reduce the port wine by 1/2 and add to your mulled wine recipe in place of the orange liqueur. It is a little decadent, but it is the holidays.”
Price at the time of publish: $15.99
Region: Paso Robles, California | Varietal: Merlot | Tasting Notes: Milk chocolate, violet, cherry
Best Pinot Noir
Timothy Malone Wines Pinot Noir
Matthew Stiles of Portland’s much-loved restaurant 3 Doors Down prefers this wine when making mulled wine. He pours it into a glass vessel and adds whole spices—cinnamon stick, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, clove, and half a vanilla bean. From there, let the spices steep in the wine for two or three days.
The small Oregon winery focuses on aromatic white wines and elegant, old world-style pinot noirs out of the Dundee Hills appellation. The wine sees 33% new oak for 18 months, giving the pinot structure and boldness, in addition to a slight note of toasted oak that pairs beautifully with the vanilla bean and cinnamon in Stiles’ mulled wine recipe.
Sommelier Jillian Fontana notes that her mulled wine tastes better on the second day. “If you want to make it ahead of time, you can transfer it back to the refrigerator once cooled, then gently heat up before serving. That extra day will really develop and bind the flavors.”
Price at the time of publish: $24.99
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon | Varietal: Pinot noir | Tasting Notes: Cherry, raspberry, baking spice
Sovi Reserve Red Non-Alcoholic Wine
So you’re craving mulled wine but don’t feel like imbibing. Sovi crafts wine-like beverages that contain all the body and flavor of wine, but without the alcoholic content. The brand was started by a husband-and-wife sommelier duo who quit drinking but still wanted to experience the flavors of sipping a glass. That in mind, expect a (booze-free) wine more similar to a rich red—elegant, savory, and packed with notes of plum, cassis, and baking spice.
The red blend is made by blending all-American cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah from the Clarksburg AVA. The grapes are harvested, turned into wine, then the wine undergoes a vacuum distillation process to boil off the alcohol.
Price at the time of publish: $38
Region: California | Varietal: Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon | Tasting Notes: Boysenberry, plum, cassis
Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon
Looking for another budget option? Try this organic, buy-it-anywhere bottle of California cabernet sauvignon. The notes of raspberry, ripe cherry, chocolate, cinnamon and toasted oak make this wine an already-great winter wine, but the texture and bold palate can stand up through the addition of heat and spice.
When making mulled wine, “keep tasting while you're steeping the herbs and the moment you notice any added astringency take all the modifiers out of the wine,” says Kidd.
Price at the time of publish: $14.99
Region: California | Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon | Tasting Notes: Toasted oak, cherry, currant
Cune Rioja Crianza
If you like your mulled wine with a big punch of flavor, look to Rioja. The region is known for bold, concentrated wines with elegant fruit. Tempranillo is the king grape here, reigning with structure, tannins, and dominant cherry flavors.
This is a juicy tempranillo blend that offers up bright acidity and lovely, lush notes of tobacco, leather, and vanilla balanced out by ripe strawberries and raspberries. It’s full in body but the dried fruit characteristics are amplified when mulled and amped up with spice.
Price at the time of publish: $11.49
Region: Rioja, Spain | Varietal: Tempranillo blend | Tasting Notes: Cherry, vanilla, tobacco
Ready to get cooking? Campo Viejo’s Garnacha is our favorite wine for mulled beverages, with credit to its big juicy flavors and low cost. Beyond that bottle, there are plenty of pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons that work well with mulled wine’s spice, but do consider if you’d be happy pouring yourself a splash on the side while making the mulled wine—you want your base to be a wine you like, mulled or not!
What to Look For
Wines that are overly tannic will only taste amplified when warmed. To avoid bracingly bitter mulled wine, look for wines with less tannins and less oak content.
While there are many beautiful bottles of wine that would taste great mulled, since it is ending up in a cocktail, you likely don’t want to get spendy on your bottles. Look for wines that hit the sweet spot between cheap and delicious—those bottles will make the best mulled wine.
Remember that you’re going to be expanding on the notes of your wine with the addition of whole spices. With that in mind, look for flavors that will pair well with the spices you’re intending to add. The typical mulled wine spices are cinnamon, star anise, and winter citrus, so look for similar flavors.
Is there a variety of red wine that works best in mulled wine?
The experts we interviewed for this piece cited that you should avoid overly tannic or overly oaked wine. “Consider the two aspects of red wine: tannin and body (or weight) of the wine,” says Fontana. “You do not want a wine with tannin, and avoid a wine that is too light, like a delicate pinot noir — it will become overpowered by the spice. Aim for something middle-of-the-road.”
Can you use sweet wine in mulled wine?
Stick to bone-dry, high-alcohol wine over sweet wine. That way, you can control the amount of sugar that ends up in your final recipe and ensure you have the best mulled wine possible. Add small amounts of sugar as you make your mulled wine to control the sweetness.
Does heating the wine remove the alcohol/affect the flavor at all?
If made properly, it will not remove the alcohol. Be careful not to boil the wine—“You will lose all the alcohol,” says Fontana. “Keep the wine less than a simmer to keep the wine intact. Evaporating the alcohol will do more than kill the buzz, it will also negatively affect the mouthfeel of the mulled wine.”
Why Trust The Spruce Eats
Kate Dingwall is a wine and spirits writer and a WSET-trained sommelier at a Michelin-recognized restaurant. She has spent eight years writing about the field and over a decade as a bartender / sommelier. For this piece, Dingwall interviewed several different noted sommeliers and bartenders to find out the best way to hack your mulled wine.