Nothing says holiday cheer like a pot of mulled wine | Holiday Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Nothing says holiday cheer like a pot of mulled wine

There’s not too much that can go wrong by boiling wine.

If you ever have an employer who says, “We will pay you to make mulled wine,” definitely take that opportunity. I’ve never made or even tasted mulled wine, so naturally I’m the perfect candidate for this assignment. 

The warm, alcoholic drink was invented by Romans in the second century to help keep warm in the winter. It became associated with Christmas, because it was sold at European holiday markets, and perhaps because a variation called “The Smoking Bishop” was mentioned in the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol.

I don’t celebrate Christmas, and I’m wary of some of its food and drink traditions. Eggnog, for example, is insane. No part of my brain or body craves sweet creamy eggs mixed with alcohol. However, there’s not too much that can go wrong by boiling wine.

To guide me through this very easy recipe, which actually requires almost no guidance, I turned to fellow Jewess Ina Garten. (If I had to build a wood cabin from scratch, my first step would probably be to check if Ina had instructions on how to do it.)

Recipes for the drink usually specify using a cheap wine, because it’s going to be altered by other ingredients and flavors. My young and frugal brain is trained to automatically find the cheapest alcohol in the store, so this is perfect. 

Different countries have different variations on mulled wine. In Spain, vino caliente uses lemon peel and brandy. Nordic glogg adds almonds, raisins and bourbon. In Ina’s recipe, the only alcohol is wine, which is significantly diluted by the large quantity of cider, so you’ll be full from the sugar before you can drink enough to feel tipsy. If family tensions are particularly high at your holiday party, you might opt for a recipe with more of a kick. 

An important step — which I forgot to do — is to pour the drink over a strainer when serving. There’s a lot of flotsam in the pot, both big and small. It’d be a tragedy for your party to be interrupted because Uncle Gary choked on star anise. 

The best part of any holiday food is sharing it with the ones you love. When making mulled wine, it’s best to invite at least a half-dozen friends, family or even strangers over. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a weird Tupperware container of now-cold wine to reheat later. 

How to make Ina Garten’s Mulled Wine


  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • ¼ cup of honey
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • 1 orange, peeled for garnish
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 star anise


Combine the cider, wine, honey, cinnamon sticks, zest, juice, cloves and star anise in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Pour into mugs, add an orange peel to each, and serve. (Recipe courtesy of