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Mulled Wine's Rich Global History

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This article will take a look at the rich global history of mulled wine.

This article will take a look at the rich global history of mulled wine.

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 A.D. As the Roman Empire expanded so too did the areas of grape cultivation and heated wines consumption.

Mulled wine is the perfect winter treat.

Mulled wine is the perfect winter treat.

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 centuries but it was known as 'pimen' or 'piment.' Pimen and piment meant 'aromatic' or 'spicy.'

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) cemented the link between mulled wine (Smoking Bishop) and yuletide.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) cemented the link between mulled wine (Smoking Bishop) and yuletide.

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.

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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.

Stay warm with red wine, cinnamon and fruits.

Stay warm with red wine, cinnamon and fruits.

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:

  • Allspice
  • Ginger
  • Star anise
  • Black pepper or peppercorns
  • Cardamom
  • Vanilla
  • Cloves
  • Nutmeg
  • Berries
  • Orange and lemon, including the zest
  • Apple
  • Raisins
  • 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.
For people who don't want to make their mulled wine there's a readymade solution.

For people who don't want to make their mulled wine there's a readymade solution.

Mulled Wine Around the World (The Highlights)

CountryThe Mulled Wine's Local NameEnglish Translation

Austria and Germany

Gluhwein

Glow wine

Brazil

Quentao/Vinho quente

Hot wine

Canada (Quebec and Winnipeg).

Caribou

Caribou. These are similar to reindeers.

Chile

Vino navega’o

Wine sailor or navigator

Denmark and Norway

Gløgg

Hot wine punch

Italy

Vin brulé

Burnt wine

Netherlands

Bisschopswijn

Bishop's wine

Portugal

Vinho quente/Porto quente

Hot wine

Serbia and Slovenia

Kuhano vino/Kuvano vino

Cooked wine

Turkey

Sicak sarap

Hot wine

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.

Happy mulling!

Sources

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

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