The Spicy History of Mulled Wine
It’s finally November. The weather is getting chillier and I’m swapping out my favorite fresh blackberry margarita recipe for something a little more comforting: mulled wine.
Not only does the drink smell just like a crisp, fall evening, it’s also loaded with booze and a fascinating history that stretches back thousands of years.
The History of Mulled Wine
Most people know of mulled wine as a winter tradition, but it actually dates back to the 2nd century. In an effort to avoid dumping old, leftover, or spoiled wine, mulled wine was created by using heat, sugar, and spices to mask the bad taste. This is why most recipes you’ll see today recommend using a cheap red wine. The nuances of pricey bottles will be lost in the sugar and spice.
Ancient Romans had a version they called “Conditum Paradoxum” that consisted of wine and honey boiled with pepper, bay leaves, and saffron. Many of the spices the Romans used in mulled wine were the types traded on the Silk Road.
Mulled wine continued to grow in popularity through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. According to British Food History, a British cookbook from 1596 titled The Good Housewife’s Jewel contained a recipe for mulled wine that used white wine, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, mace (coating of nutmeg seed), galingale, and cloves.
The drink became more widespread in the colder regions of Europe — Germany, Austria, Scandinavia — because of how its unfailing ability to warm you up in frigid times. Mulled wine became the drink we know today in Victorian England. It is often associated with Christmas because Charles Dickens referenced a drink called the Smoking Bishop, a type of mulled wine, in A Christmas Carol.
How It’s Made
Mulled wine is shockingly simple to make. Basically, you mix a bottle of red wine, brown sugar, brandy (optional), and a whole bunch of mulling spices — like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg — over the stove and let them simmer for a bit.
If you do use the NYT recipe, I recommend using 1/3 cup of brown sugar instead of 1/2 cup. I found the flavor to be a little too sweet. I also added in anise as a spice and found that added a subtle licorice flavor.
Also note that while you can use a cheap red wine as a base, you want to pick one that is not dry, but fruity (think: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Red Zinfandel).
Happy drinking! Stay warm, stay cozy, stay home.