Mulled wine is a traditional drink which spices up Christmas all over Europe. But in Croatia, we enjoy it for much longer. Especially on the continent, where the winters are colder.
We also use both red and white wine for mulling. And in this post, I will give you both recipes.
Zagreb Advent is all about sipping on the hot mulled wine while strolling in the crispy cold. Your feet may be cold. Your fingers and nose may be freezing. But that drink of the gods will keep you warm and cozy inside.
Wine itself is a divine drink. But there is an added magic to it when we mull it with warming spices. To understand this alchemy, we need to think of the origin of the word to mull.
To mull means to ponder or deeply think about something. It also means to heat, sweeten and spice. While a dictionary will say these are different meanings, I believe spicing a wine equals deeply pondering it.
So, while mulled wine translated as spiced, in Croatia we use a different adjective. We say kuhano vino, which means cooked wine.
Other countries have their own take on mulled wine. Both in terms of the words as well as the spices.
The Germans have Glühwein, which translates as smouldering wine. The French and the Spanish drink hot wine (vin chaud and vino caliente), the Italians love their vin brulé (burnt wine). Across Scandinavia, they keep warm with Glögg, mulled wine spiced with spirits.
See? The variations are vast. But one thing is certain. Hot mulled wine is one of the best Christmas drinks. It warms up our body and invigorates our soul. It’s a perfect holiday nectar.
Best wine for mulled wine
There is one huge misconception when it comes to mulling wine. And that is using low quality wine.
You may have tasted your first glass of spiced wine at a Christmas market somewhere in Europe. How was it? Did it give you a headache?
Mulled wine sold in large quantities may be of low quality. This is because sugar and spices mask the real taste of wine. But it is wrong to think that all mulled wine comes from lower quality wine. And, no, you should never use up bad wine for mulling just to get rid of it.
Here is the rule on how to choose the best wine for mulling. Pick the wine you love to drink anyway!
That said, let’s get into details.
Red mulled wine
My favourite choice of Croatian red wines for kuhano vino are Portugizac and Teran. Portugizac (also known as Blauer Portugieser) is a popular grape from the Plešivica region. Teran is a well-known Istrian red.
Of course, you can mull Plavac Mali (Zinfandel) too! It all depends what you pair it with. If you’re sipping it on its own, I prefer lighter red wines.
If you don’t have access to Croatian wines try Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. I actually love the latter, especially when it comes from Baranja wine region in Croatia.
White mulled wine
And now for the mulled white wine... My choice is a semi-sweet variety. In Croatia we have a wonderful semi-sweet Muscat, especially in Međimurje. And in Istria, you can go with their famous Malvazija.
Outside Croatia, pick any Riesling wine. And believe me, mulled white wine is so nice too. I bet the only reason why red mulled wine is more common is its colour. It fits better with the festive season.
The difference between red and white mulled wine is in the spices we add. So let’s review those.
Mulling spices and other tips
Mulled wine spices have one thing in common: they add warmth and sweetness to wine. You can play around with combinations but keep in mind the following.
Always use whole spices, not ground. Have them as fresh as possible. And don’t steep them for eternity: longer is not always better, as we’ll see in the recipe.
Here are the most common mulling spices:
cinnamon, cardamom, clove, star anise, peppercorn, orange (and other citruses), ginger, vanilla, bay leaf, sugar, honey, maple syrup.
Of course, you can make mulled wine with no sugar. Honey is the best alternative but you need to add it at a later stage to avoid overheating it (see recipe).
The most important step in making mulled wine is the syrup. We steep the spices with sugar, a bit of water and a bit of wine until we get all the flavours out. We then combine the syrup with the rest of the wine.
Why do we do that? Because wine should never heat up to the boiling point. This way it loses its flavours and its alcohol content.
That said, you might be wondering how to heat mulled wine? Mulling wine doesn’t take much time but sometimes it’s convenient to make it ahead. Here’s what you can do.
Make the syrup ahead and keep it in the fridge. Then heat up the syrup, add it to the wine and bring to a sipping temperature.
How long does mulled wine last?
Mulled wine will last up to 3 days. Just keep it in the fridge, tightly sealed. When it’s time to serve your sweet wine, gently simmer it on a medium low heat until it becomes warm enough for sipping.
And on to the mulled wine recipe, Croatian style!
Kuhano vino - Croatian mulled wine
Red Mulled Wine
- 1 bottle red wine
- 200 ml water
- 80 g sugar (⅓ cup)
- 2 oranges (small, organic)
- 2 sticks cinnamon (about 5 g)
- 8 pods cardamom (about 5 g)
- ½ tsp cloves
- 1 tsp peppercorns (add white and red variety)
White Mulled Wine
- 1 bottle white wine
- 200 ml water
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- ½ tsp cloves
- 8 pods cardamom
- 1 piece ginger (size of half a thumb)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp honey
- Combine sugar, 100 ml wine and all the spices in a small saucepan. Include slices of oranges for the red wine. Bring to a boil and wait until sugar dissolves. Simmer for 2-3 more minutes. This is your syrup.
- Pour the rest of the wine in a larger saucepan. Mix in the syrup and set it to a medium low heat. Do not bring this to a boil. Just slowly heat it up until it becomes nicely warm but cooler than tea.
- For the white wine, this is the moment when you should stir in honey.
- If you don’t like the spices floating around, strain the wine now and serve it. You can add only a cinnamon stick for a decoration.
Now that you have your holiday spices wine sorted, it's time to pair to a dessert. If you're looking to match mulled wine with Croatian sweets, my cookbook is just for you!
Bestselling cookbook of traditional Croatian Desserts
This glossy, full color edition boasts: 50 step-by-step recipes, 224 pages, 500 images & expert baking tips