On a cold winter’s day nothing quite hits the spot like a steaming hot mug of spiced mulled wine. The very name conjures up images of snow-capped mountains, roaring fires and snuggling down into a warm, furry throw with the smell of citrus, cinnamon, cloves and allspice wafting over you.
When we opened our wine bar here in Mallorca, it was the beginning of November 2014. I recall it being a particularly chilly November too so we decided to take advantage of this cold spell and entice clients into our new bar with a hot cup of mulled wine. Mulled wine (or ‘vino caliente’) isn’t something the Spanish have particularly embraced as it tends to be much more popular in the cooler climes of Scandinavia or Germany. Nevertheless, quite a few people were willing to give it a try.
Prior to Mallorca, we lived in the Alps of Switzerland, so as you can imagine ‘vin chaud’ was a much more popular feature on the menus of mountain bars and restaurants. European Christmas Markets will often feature stands with huge cauldrons of white mulled wine, red mulled wine and even hot cider too.
Depending on the country you’re in, mulled wine comes under many different guises, each country giving it a different name and a variation of the recipe. If you’re a frequent visitor to Ikea you will no doubt already be aware of the bottles of ‘glögg’ that are sold in their Swedish shop. Theirs is a non-alcoholic version of the traditional drink and all you have to do is heat it up and serve it with a few almonds, raisins and a couple of thins of fresh ginger.
In Germany the ‘glühwein’ recipe is simple, you just need red wine, brown sugar and the usual blend of winter spices. The Italian ‘vin brulé’ incorporates lemon zest, vanilla, peppercorns and bay leaves for a slightly different flavour. ‘Grzaniec galicyjski’ (try saying that after a few mulled wines) is the Polish version, simply using red wine, sugar, cloves, cinnamon and a bay leaf. Another favourite of mine is ‘bischopswijn’. This is the Dutch version and they really go to town with the cloves, cinnamon and citrus flavours.
‘Bischopswijn’ also reminds me of an extract from ‘A Christmas Carol’, by Charles Dickens.
“A Merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”
‘Smoking Bishop’ was the name for mulled wine in Victorian times. The recipe consisted of port, red wine, lemons or Seville oranges, sugar and winter spices. Other variations were ‘Smoking Archbishop’ (made with claret), ‘Smoking Beadle’ (made with ginger wine and raisins), ‘Smoking Cardinal’ (made with champagne or Rhine wine) and ‘Smoking Pope’ (made with burgundy).
But what are the origins of mulled wine?
Well, the Ancient Greeks didn’t like to waste wine, so if there was any ‘old’ or left over wine they would add some spices to it, heat it up and give it a new lease of life!
The Romans also embraced the idea of warming up wine during the freezing cold winter months. Eventually, the idea of mulled wine spread throughout Europe and during the Middle Ages, other ingredients were added to the hot wine as it was believed the spices helped to ward off disease. Herbs were also added to bring a touch more sweetness to the wine.
In the 1890s, mulled wine became more associated with Christmas as bottles of Swedish ‘glögg’ were shipped to Europe in bottles that featured Father Christmas. Mulled wine then became a global phenomenon, with many countries creating their own variation of the drink.
And that is how mulled wine became the drink we know and love today.
So, where will you be enjoying your steaming mug of mulled wine this winter?