Mulled Wine: Ancient Rome and Charles Dickens
Thoughts of mulled wine inspire images of snowy scenes, a crackling fire, ice skating, Christmas celebrations and hints of the beckoning aroma of cinnamon and mixed fruits.
It’s easy to assume that like decorated trees and greetings cards, consuming mulled wine was another Victorian invention. Whilst its popularity rose in the 1800s, largely thanks to Charles Dickens who solidified the drink's relationship with Christmas via A Christmas Carol in 1843, spiced heated wines have been popular since the first century. As the Roman Empire expanded, so too did the areas of grape cultivation and heated wines consumption.
Hippocras Comes to Europe
The ancient Greeks had warmed spiced wines too. Hippocras was a sugared spiced wine that often contained pepper, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. It was usually heated before drinking but not always.
Hippocras was named after Hippocrates centuries after his death because he had invented a water filter in 5 B.C. which in later days helped to remove spice pieces from the brew.
Hippocras was brought over to Europe after the Crusades in the Holy Land during the 11th and 12th century, but it was known as 'pimen' or 'piment.' Pimen and piment meant 'aromatic' or 'spicy.'
Mulled Wine: For Pleasure and Medicinal Purposes
It was not until the 14th century that mulled wine was given the name of mulled wine. It was derived from the word muddle. At that time, muddle meant the effect of alcohol on the person who drank it.
During medieval times alcohol was usually held only by men of medicine. It was widely believed that mulled wine had medicinal qualities, an opinion that passed through the generations. It was recommended as an aid to digestion and alleviated cold symptoms.
Mulled wine was acclaimed as an aphrodisiac which can’t have harmed its appeal. Notorious French baron Gilles de Rais (c. 1405–1440) drank several bottles a day and considered it to be a stimulant. He forced his victims to drink hippocras before he attacked and murdered them. Charming!
"It was not until the 14th century that mulled wine was given the name of mulled wine. It was derived from the word muddle. At that time, muddle meant the effect of alcohol on the person who drank it."
Negus and Smoking Bishops, Popes, Cardinals and Beadles
Negus contained hot water, red port wine, spices and sugar. It was attributed to Colonel Francis Negus, an eighteenth-century British courtier. In the 1700s, the British tried adding milk and brandy to their warmed wines, and the French added almonds and fruits.
The Spanish were inspired to create sangria as a progression from Hippocras. It was a sweeter mixture although the cinnamon, pepper and ginger remained. Hippocras was largely abandoned in the 1800s.
The Victorian’s invented Smoking Bishop and this encouraged further variations. Smoking Bishop consisted of red wine, port, oranges and/or lemons, sugar and mixed spices. The fruit was caramelised.
- Smoking Pope was made with Burgundy wine.
- Smoking Archbishop used claret.
- Smoking Beadle used ginger wine and raisins.
- Smoking Cardinal was prepared with champagne or German wine.
- As an alternative to wine cider or ale was used and spiced. A non-alcoholic version was made with apple juice.
There is no definitive explanation for the intriguing names but suggestions have been made that the serving bowl’s shape reminded people of a bishop’s mitre and the theme continued with the other drinks.
Sugar and Spice, All Things Nice
The 1390 publication Forme Of Cury offered the first recipes for Hippocras written in English. A 1780 book incorporated Forme de Cury and stated that Hippocras prepared with honey was meant for the masses and that aristocrats and royalty were to have it sugared instead. Sugar was then a luxury item that was rumoured to aid health and it was unaffordable for most people.
Warming the wine was a clever housekeeping trick. Red wine on the brink of being spoiled could be saved rather than wasted with a little heat. The vast majority of recipes used and continue to feature cinnamon and some or all of these:
- Star anise
- Black pepper or peppercorns
- Orange and lemon, including the zest
- Dried fruits
The Nordic versions today use red wine with mixed spices, orange, usually bitter orange, plus a healthy shot of brandy, vodka, whisky or akvavit. Depending on the country the traditional accompanying snack varies:
- Finland: Ginger biscuits, almonds and raisins.
- Sweden: A sweet bun made with raisins and saffron.
- Denmark: Aebleskiver, puffed round pancakes with a sprinkling of sugar and strawberry marmalade.
- Norway: Rice pudding and a cold cordial.
Mulled Wine Around the World (The Highlights)
|Country||The Mulled Wine's Local Name||English Translation|
Austria and Germany
Canada (Quebec and Winnipeg).
Caribou. These are similar to reindeers.
Wine sailor or navigator
Denmark and Norway
Hot wine punch
Vinho quente/Porto quente
Serbia and Slovenia
Kuhano vino/Kuvano vino
If you're not inspired to make delicious mulled wine yourself and prefer the drinking to the brewing, most countries have ready made products available during winter and Christmastime.
- The History of Mulled Wine
- From Hippocrates to Dickens – The Mulled Wine Journey – Thatsmags
- Charles Dickens and Two Kinds of Punch
- Flavoured wines | Britannica
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Joanne Hayle