Mulled wine is such an old and entrenched holiday tradition that we sing Christmas carols about it. This ancient beverage was traditionally made from scratch, and you can do the same. Here is how:
1 quart of mild, fruity, red table wine (it does not have to be expensive). If you have access to elderberry, blackberry, or other fruit-based wine, by all means use it.
1/3 cup white or brown sugar or honey
Half of a vanilla bean
Zest of one medium orange
Half a cinnamon stick, broken or chopped in pieces
10 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
In a stainless steel or other non-reactive saucepan, mix the wine with the spices and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat (do not heat it too quickly). After the mixture boils, remove it from the heat and cover. Allow it to steep for 20 minutes. Then strain it into a container from which guests can help themselves, such as a crockpot set on warm. If you are not serving it immediately or are giving it for a gift, strain the mulled wine into an attractive jar or bottle.
Experiment with other spices and flavors. Try lemon or lime instead of orange; add raisins, bay leaves, or an herbal tea that you like.
Variation: For mulled cider, replace 2 cups of the wine with apple cider.