Amazingly, historical records indicate that mulled wine was first drunk in Rome as far back as the 2nd century, where heating and spicing wine became fairly commonplace. Since the Romans went on to conquer and trade with much of Europe, these wine traditions travelled with them. Grape growing, wine production and most importantly, wine drinking, all become central to cultural customs that sprang up across Europe all those centuries ago.
Another fascinating slice of history has uncovered the first mulled wine recipe to be written down. The Forme of Cury (‘The Method of Cooking’) is a collection of 14th-century recipes, originally written down on a scroll. For the entry on mulled wine, the scroll explains how cinnamon, ginger, galangal, cloves, pepper, nutmeg, marjoram and cardamom must be ground together to form the basis of the mulled wine spices. The recipe also states the addition of another mystical ingredient called ‘grains of paradise’. Scholars believe this is most likely to be the herb, rosemary. We’d personally prefer to continue calling it ‘grains of paradise’!
Across Europe and the world, modern-day traditions and twists on mulled wine recipes have appeared.
Glühwein is the popular German version, habitually served at Christmas markets, spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise. A naughtier ‘mit schauss’ version is sometimes found, complete with a shot of rum or another spirit. It’s traditional to serve glühwein with gingerbread men, added yet more sweetness and spice.
Glögg is served in Nordic countries at Christmas-time, spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and bitter orange. As in Germany, it’s also traditional to serve glögg with ginger biscuits, although in Norway it’s often served with rice pudding.
Most other countries across the world have their own names and traditions for mulled wine, from candola in southern Chile and foralt bor (‘boiled wine’) in Hungary, to bisschopswijn (‘bishop’s wine’) in the Netherlands and caribou in Canada’s Quebec province, where it’s mixed with maple syrup and spirits.
In Britain, mulled wine has become a traditional drink, in particular during the run-up to Christmas. There are many variations in terms of recipes, most of which include cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cloves, cardamom, ginger and some citrus elements, usually in the form of satsumas, clementines or lemons. For those who prefer a little extra kick, the preferred solution of the Brits is to add a splash of brandy or whiskey.
For those who need a good excuse to drink mulled wine this Christmas season, research shows that it can actually help boost your memory too. Red wine is a natural source of resveratrol, which helps protect the brain from harmful proteins that can be detrimental to brain tissue.
That’s more than enough encouragement for us to say ‘cheers’ over a glass of mulled wine. Bottom’s up!