It’s the most brewtiful time of the year thanks to the cosy and warm flavours of mulled wine. But how much do people know about this special Christmas beverage?
Think Christmas and you immediately think of all things cosy, traditional, and above all — delicious.
From decadent Christmas puddings and cakes prepared all the way from Stir-up Sundays to classic Christmas cocktails and beverages like eggnog, ’tis the season to be jolly and well-fed. Post a scrumptious large meal of sweet and savoury confections, there’s nothing like curling up with a glass of mulled wine on a lazy winter day.
Mulled wine can simply be described as the brewing of a not-your-best bottle of red wine along with mulling spices. These traditionally include cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, cloves, berries, and orange zest. It is the inclusion of these spices, in fact, that lend any drink the ‘mulled’ taste, including ciders, ales, and sometimes even juice. Served warm or hot, there are both alcoholics as well as non-alcoholic versions of the drink.
However, the story of mulled wine wasn’t originally rooted in Christmas traditions. Invention was the mother of necessity here as well, with the drink originally being conceptualised as a way to avoid wasting wine. The origin of the recipe is credited to both Ancient Greeks and Romans in the 2nd century.
In the harsh winters, the drink was a great way to protect your body from the cold using spices that were believed to have medicinal value as well. As the Romans went on to conquer several parts of Europe, the popularity of the drink spread proportionally and was adapted by various regions.
Mulled wine really took off in the Medieval Ages, and has seen on and off popularity under different names. In Sweden, Claret (Rhen wine, sugar, honey, and spices) and Lutendrank (various spices, wine, and milk) were just two of the variations that the monarchy made famous over the coming centuries.
With the onset of increasing alternatives, recipe books started using the collective name glögg, first mentioned in 1609. The next big adaptation took place in the 1800s when cognacs-glögg started to become popular, too. However, it was in the 1890s when glögg became associated with Christmas.
The recipe for mulled wine as we commonly know it today comes from Victorian England. The warm Christmas drink became very popular around the 16th century, mostly because the Black Death plague made even bad wine safer to consume than water. Additional spices such as figs and coriander masked the sometimes unflattering taste and helped preserve it for longer.
What sealed the deal for mulled wine as a Christmas staple was Charles Dickens’ mention of a version of it as the Smoking Bishop in his 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol.”
Over the decades, mulled wine has continued to spread globally, with countries all over the world creating their own unique blends. Variations now include everything from red and white wines to sangria blends and vermouth to port – each country’s method slightly different from the next.
There’s Glühwein, popular in German speaking countries and variations of which include white and other fruit wines. In the south and southeast of Brazil, where a large number of people of European descent live, it is called Vinho quente or Quentão. In parts of Russia and Ukraine, you can find mulled wine if you ask for Glintvein.
While there are at least a dozen more variations of the classic mulled wine, there is unanimous agreement on the best way to consume it, i.e, when the temperature starts to drop. With so many customizations available to the traditional Christmas beverage, ywhy not experiment and test it out yourself?
Classic mulled wine recipe
- 2 large oranges
- 4 ¼ cups or 1 ltr red wine
- 1 ¼ cups or 10 ounces brandy
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 whole cloves
- 3 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
- Using a peeler, remove the peel in strips from 1 orange then juice the orange. Slice the other orange into rounds and reserve for garnish.
- In a nonreactive saucepan, combine orange peel, juice and the rest of the ingredients. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Increase the heat to high, bring mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low.
- Simmer gently until flavors meld, about 30 minutes. Strain the mixture, discarding the solids.
- Ladle into cups or mugs. Garnish each with a reserved orange round.