If wine were seasons, spring would be rosé, summer, white, fall, red, and winter, mulled wine. Mulled wine is the perfect winter beverage. It warms you up, and it creates a festive aroma around the home, conveying the spirit of the holidays. If you like sangria in the summer, the odds are, you will also love the winter version. Clarence in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” tries to order it, “That's a good man. I was just thinking of a flaming rum punch. No, it's not cold enough for that. Not nearly cold enough... Wait a minute...wait a minute...Mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively!”
If an angel wants it, you know it has to be good!
The History of Mulled Wine
Mulled wine has become a staple of our winter traditions, and rightfully so, it's been around for centuries; mulled wine actually dates back to ancient Greece where it was rumored to be good for you and have aphrodisiac qualities! Hippocrates, often referred to as the “Father of Western Medicine” prescribed the beverage as a healthful tonic. “Hippocras”, as the drink was later called, was a blend of wine, honey and spices. It seems that throughout history, wine has always had a place in the medicine cabinet, usually due to the incredible properties of its antioxidants. See our article on the hearth health benefits of red wine's polyphenols.
As Rome conquered Greece, in the Macedonian Wars, and then spread throughout Europe, the popular beverage went with them. Pliny the Elder, noted Roman naval and army commander, was said to be a big fan of the beverage, and like Hippocrates, he believed in its medicinal qualities. It is said that he believed the liver of a wolf in mulled wine would cure a cold. (I think I’ll skip trying that one).
On it went, engulfing Europe in it's traditions, later to become the drink of Kings! Mulled wine was a favorite of King Henry VIII of England, who served it yearly at his Christmas celebrations. Louis XIV, of France also enjoyed the beverage and greatly believed in its aphrodisiac properties, (since he had over 20 children, there may be something to the rumor!) It is reported that mulled wine was the last beverage he drank. Around the world, other drinks like Champagne in France, Cava in Spain, Prosecco in Italy andSparkling Wine everywhere else are served during the holidays, however, mulled wine has yet to resign as the king of holiday sips, as it remains a staple across the globe.
Mulled Wine's Cameo in Literature
One of our greatest authors, Charles Dickens, wrote about “Smoking Bishop” in "A Christmas Carol", a mulled wine punch.
George R. R. Martin writes about mulled wine in A Clash of Kings: “The Old Bear was particular about his hot spiced wine. So much cinnamon and so much nutmeg and so much honey, not a drop more. Raisins and nuts and dried berries, but no lemon, that was the rankest sort of southron heresy…
Mulled Wine Around the World
Versions of mulled wine are available all over the world. In France, they call it Vin Chaud, and it usually contains a bit of Cognac along with the wine and spices. In Italy, they call it Vin Brúlé, and they make it with big, full-bodied reds. In Germany, Glühwein is found at all the Christmas markets full of citrus and cinnamon. Similarly, Glögg found in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries has citrus and is often mixed with port. China has their own version called Fa Diu, made from rice wine with plums, and Turkey has a version called sicak sarap with figs and apricots!
There are also Spanish, Portuguese, Canadian, and South American versions. Wherever you go, mulled wine is the perfect winter treat. You can make mulled wine with either white wine or red wine, though red wine is most common.
How to Make Mulled Wine
Common mulled wine ingredients include: cinnamon, ginger, clove, anise star, sugar or honey, vanilla, and citrus peel (most often orange, though sometimes lemon or lime are used). On occasion, other spices such as cardamom, coriander seed, mace, bay leaf, allspice and peppercorns are also used. Sometimes, additional fruit, such as dates, cranberries, apricots, plums, and apple are included.
Frequently, mulled wine is kicked up a notch by the addition of port, sherry, cognac, brandy, or other liquor. You can play with your favorite fruits and spices and make your own special mulled wine blend with this recipe. Try my take on mulled wine:
- 2 Bottles Spanish Rioja
- 1 cup tawny port
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 clementine with peel, sliced
- 2 star anise
- 3 cardamom pod
- 1 vanilla pod, halved
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 whole cloves
- ¼ cup raisins
- 2 dried figs
- 1 thin slice of fresh ginger (peeled)
You can combine all the ingredients in a pot and simmer or use a crock-pot. Be sure to make it a couple hours ahead of when you plan to serve it to give the flavors a chance to combine. It’s sure to be a hit at your next winter gathering. The aroma will greet your guests like a comforting hug, and the taste will make them jolly for the party.