Happy hot booze season! Whether your preference is mulled wine, glögg, or wassail, the goal throughout the Christmas season is to take a beverage that already warms us from the inside out and then bastardize it with spices, heat, and sometimes even more booze—the ultimate in holiday cheer.
If hot wine is your thing and you plan to whip up a batch of this cozy drink at home this year, you’ve probably noticed that most recipes vaguely call for “red wine.” Well, which kind? The heat and spices will transform the wine’s existing flavors, so you might be planning on just grabbing the cheapest bottle you see. But there are some rules to follow if you want to impress anyone willing to ladle their cocktail out of the slow cooker.
As mentioned above, there are three major contenders in the holiday hot wine category:
- Mulled wine: Popular at Christmas markets in Europe, mulled wine begins by combining spices—often a mix of orange, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel seed, cloves, cardamom, and ginger—and boiling them in a sugar syrup before red wine is added and heated.
- Glögg: A Nordic wintertime speciality, glögg traditionally begins by boiling water and adding spices to it; the liquid is then strained, and fruit juice, wine, or clear spirits are added. The most common spices are cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. Sometimes citrus peel, raisins, and almonds make their way into the batch.
- Wassail: Made from hot mulled cider, ale, or wine, and spices, the word “wassail” came from the Old Norse salutation ves heill, initially used in the sense of “hail” or “farewell”—precisely what you’d be saying if any group came “a-wassailing” to your sorry door.
As it turns out, not every red wine lends itself to mulling.
“You definitely want to use a fuller, more fruit-forward red,” says Laura Sundh, sommelier and natural wine specialist, beverage director at Robert et Fils in Chicago, and owner of SNOB Wine. Her top picks are Cabernet Sauvignons or Portuguese red blends.
“You should not be spending a lot on what wine you’re using,” Sundh adds. “You’re not going to be tasting anything other than the fruit and spices and booze mixed together.”
Luckily, this type of fruity, inexpensive red isn’t hard to find. ALDI has some great options for under $10.
Natural wines are popularly served with a bit of a chill to them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be warmed in the winter. Sundh recommends sustainable, organic, or biodynamic wines, many of which she says you can still find for a reasonable $16-20.
So if you are mulling (sorry!) it over, you can make a batch of hot, spiced wine using a decent, fruit-forward red that won’t break the bank. But if you’re out shopping anyway, maybe buy a second bottle that you can enjoy sans spices and stovetop.