The scent of cinnamon and cloves has become a hallmark of holiday season, but the recipe for mulled wine has deeper roots than you might expect. This warm, spicy, and utterly seasonal beverage has evolved over thousands of years and has come to represent tradition and local throughout Europe and much the world.
What is Mulled Wine?
Mulled wine is wine that has been simmered with a blend of spices, sweetened to taste, and is traditionally served warm, sometimes with an extra shot of alcohol added. It is usually served during Christmas season and throughout the winter months. At German Christmas markets it still the beverage of choice vying with nearby biergarten offerings.
The History of Mulled Wine
Ancient Romans drank aromatized wine, room temperature and heated. This began most likely as a way of making wine more palatable. Heating wine may have actually originated with the Greeks as a way of preventing waste; by heating stale wine and adding herbs it could still be enjoyed. It was also considered a health tonic, and referred to as hippocras, and was made with white or red wine.
Apicius, generally considered the documentarian of Ancient Roman cookery, noted a recipe for wine that included indigenous herbs like bay leaf, dates, and honey.
As the Romans expanded their empire they brought viticulture with them, planting vineyards and introducing wine consumption to local cultures. and in the coldest parts of Europe, predominately Alpine regions, the habit for heating wine and adding spices stuck.
16th-Century British cookery book, The Good Huswifes Jewell details a recipe for mulled wine, called Hypocrace:
Take a gallon of white wine, sugar two pounds, of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace not bruised galingall [sic]…and cloves not bruised. You must bruise every kind of spice a little and put them in an earthen pot all day. And then cast them through your bags two times or more as you see cause. And so drink it.
The Mulled Wine Spice Blend Worldwide
In Germany mulled wine is called Glühwein, literally ‘glowing wine’ presumably for the fire it took to heat it. The recipe is similar, and includes cinnamon, star anise, and sugar or honey. It rose to popularity at Christmas markets where people spent hours outside mulling round in the cold (certainly no pun intended).
In Sweden, hot spiced wine is called Glögg and traditionally includes ginger, cardamom, citrus, and sugar.
In Italy it is served predominately in the northern parts of the country, especially in the Alpine regions. There, the spiced wine is called Vin Brulé and can be as simple as cup of wine heated with a single cinnamon stick, heated with an espresso steamer and garnished with orange, or stewed for hours with a blend of spices.
Versions of mulled wine exist the world over, and though many of them use a different base wine or alcohol, as local tradition dictates, they share a common blend of herbs and spices like cinnamon, cloves, star anise, citrus, ginger, and black pepper.
How do you make mulled wine?
The simplest way to make mulled wine is to combine red wine and spices in a sauce pan and simmer over a low heat for up to an hour.
Strain the wine and sweeten with sugar or honey to taste. Download our recipe here.
What Wine Do You Use for Mulled Wine?
Inexpensive dry or off-dry red wines are typically used to make mulled wine, but white wine works too.
Do not use an expensive or especially prized bottle as the boiling process and addition of spices will overshadow distinctive aromas and nuances of flavor and texture.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Montepulciano are easy to find here, but like Sangria, mulled wine is a great way to use wine that’s been open for a few days. Since the flavor comes from the herbs and sugar or honey, you can use just about anything.
Give the Gift of Mulled Wine.
A mulled wine spice blend is a great gift idea for wine lovers and non. Purchase the ingredients separately and experiment with your own blend, or buy a pre-made spice pack, package it in jars and create a festive label. Deliver your spices with a bottle of red wine as a thoughtful holiday gift for friends and family who love to cook.