Some like it hot: sipper’s guide to mulled wine, a Christmas favourite

It seems every nation has its own version of the spiced drink. Hong Kong master sommelier Nellie Ming Lee offers her recipe

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 7:00pm

Sipping mulled wine is a tradition that is enjoyed in many countries during cooler weather.

It is made by infusing spices and fruits with red wine and can be served hot or cold.

One thinks of mulled wine as thequintessential British drink to be enjoyed in front of a roaring fireplace, but there is record of it from Rome in the 2nd century. Wherever the Roman legions roamed, they brought their wines and no doubt warmed them to drink on cold nights.

In England, the 1869 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management had one of the earliest published recipes for mulled wine, listing cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace as the spices and carrying strict instructions on how the “vessel that the wine is boiled in must be delicately cleaned …as if the latter are not scrupulously clean, they spoil the wine, by imparting to it a very disagreeable flavour…”

The Germans call their version Gluhwein, which roughly translates to glow-wine. This got its name from the hot irons that were used for mulling – they were heated till glowing hot then immersed into a metal tankard containing the infused wine. The Teutonic version uses cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, citrus, sugar and vanilla pods. Mit schuss means that a shot of rum or other spirit is added. Wines made from other fruits such as cherries, blueberries and plums can also be used.

In Scandinavia, it is called Glogg, and includes cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and bitter orange; spirits – aquavit, vodka or brandy – are welcome additions to the mix.

From Portugal, it is made with port and is called Vinho Quente in Oporto. On the island of Madeira, it is made with a mix of Madeira and port.

Canada’s version from the province of Quebec is called Caribou and uses maple syrup instead of sugar.

For non-tipplers or the designated driver, a non-alcoholic version of mulled wine can be made with apple cider or apple juice.

This is my version, refined over the years from the many mulled wine recipes that I’ve used and enjoyed.


Two bottles of inexpensive red wine, preferably unoaked (oak can make mulled wine taste bitter)

Two oranges, sliced (wash well to remove the wax coating)

one green apple, cored and sliced (again, wash it well to remove any wax)

100 g of caster sugar (brown sugar or honey can be used), add more if you like your mulled wine sweeter

Three to five cloves

Two or three cardamom pods, lightly crushed

One cinnamon stick

One or two slices fresh ginger

Grated nutmeg

50 ml brandy or rum

I nstructions

Pour 500ml of wine into a pan and add the sugar and spices. Bring to the boil and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until it’s reduced to a slightly syrupy consistency. Add the remaining wine and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Ladle into mugs or glasses and enjoy!