A festive European tradition: The origins of mulled wine

After a wintry day, or a long day of holiday shopping, there’s nothing better than kicking back on the sofa with a warm drink while the snow falls. A nice cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate will do the trick, but why not try something a little more… um… festive?

Mull this over
Mulled wine is a hot or warm red wine with spices and sometimes raisins. It’s definitely alcoholic but you can also eliminate the booze if you have to be somewhere important.

This delicious elixir, created by the Romans in the second century, evolved into a favourite custom during the winter months because of its warming qualities.

As its popularity continued to grow throughout the middle ages, Europeans mixed heated wine with spices to help avoid sickness. They also used herbs and flowers as natural sweeteners to make unpalatable wines taste a lot nicer. Of course, the addition of warm spices, like cinnamon and clove, add to the warmth and comfort of this drink.

Mulled wine is traditionally sold by European street vendors throughout the winter months and during holiday celebrations and it’s often served with almonds, spiced cookies, or biscuits for dipping.

What the heck is glögg?
Over time, the craze for mulled wine faded across most of Europe except for Sweden, where its popularity only increased (Swedes are so smart!) Claret (Rhen wine, sugar, honey and spices) and Lutendrank (various spices, wine and milk) were just two of the variations that the Swedish monarchy made famous over the coming centuries.

As more alternatives developed over time, recipe books started using the collective name glögg, first mentioned in 1609. The next big adaptation took place in the 1800s when cognacs-glögg started to become popular, too.

Another big turning point came in the 1890s, when glögg became associated with Christmas. Every wine merchant across the country had their own unique recipe to share. Over time, these unique bottles (most depicting Santa Claus) were distributed throughout the rest of Europe, presenting the long forgotten mulled wine in a new festive light.

Over the next several decades, mulled wine became a global phenomenon, with countries all over the world creating their own unique blends. Variations now include everything from red and white wines to sangria blends and vermouth to port, each country’s method slightly different from the next.

To this day, mulled wine and variations of it continues to be a beloved cold weather tradition, and the ingredients for mulled wine vary depending on the region. Common spices include cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, anise, allspice, and vanilla. The addition of fruit or sugar to sweeten the mixture also varies from recipe to recipe. Bitter orange is a common additive, but some recipes also call for apples, figs, ginger, or even raisins.

The type of alcohol included in mulled wine again varies from recipe to recipe. Most recipes begin with red wine and may have one or more other liquors added. Vodka, brandy, rum, cognac, sherry, and aquavit are all popular additives to mulled wine.

Alcohol-free mulled “wines” can be made by replacing the wine with fruit juice or boiling the mixture until the alcohol has evaporated off. Alcohol-free versions are usually simply referred to as mulled cider or wassail.

One, two, three, glögg
Straight from Sweden, glögg is a potent drink and is sort of like mulled wine, but they load it up with aquavit or vodka. To top things off, you can add some dried fruit and nuts to eat with a spoon. The best part is, you pronounce the word just like the sound you make when you chug a bottle of water. So much fun, especially after one or two.

Variations on a theme
In Norway, glögg parties, where glögg and rice pudding are served, are a common occurrence.

Wassail, which can refer to either an alcoholic mulled wine or simply a spiced cider, has ceremonial significance. The act of wassailing consists of singing, drinking, and celebrating the health of the trees from which apples are harvested. Wassail is still used in reference to celebrations and drinking today, although the focus is more on wishing good tidings on one’s neighbours rather than a good harvest.

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