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Mulled wine: an overview

As the nights get long and the days get cold, it’s time to formulate your mulled wine game plan. Mulling wine is guaranteed to please your guests: It makes the whole house smell festive, it warms everyone up, and even people who don’t normally like wine enjoy it. 

So, how are you going to make it happen? Cinnamon and nutmeg are common ingredients. But what about star anise, lemon or vanilla? Then there’s the wine itself: Red, white or (gasp) rosé? And how about a little kick? Some people add brandy or rum; others don’t.

Mulled wine recipes differ from person to person and place to place. Many countries and cultures have their own, distinct approaches. 

In England, it’s commonly spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; the wine is usually port or claret (red wine). The Victorians seem to be the ones who really made mulled wine popular, but it’s mentioned in earlier texts. It used to be named after Hippocrates, the Greek “Father of Medicine,” because of its supposed health-giving properties.

Here’s a recipe from 1596, in Thomas Dawson’s The Good Housewife’s Jewel: 

To make Hypocrace

Take a gallon of white wine, sugar two pounds, of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace not bruised galingall [sic]…and cloves not bruised. You must bruise every kind of spice a little and put them in an earthen pot all day. And then cast them through your bags two times or more as you see cause. And so drink it.

At the same time, mulled wine was becoming popular in other parts of Europe, and remains so today. In Germany and Austria, it’s called Glühwein (“glow-wine” - it used to be made with hot irons) and served during the holidays. It’s similar to British mulled wine, except for the addition of star anise, citrus and occasionally vanilla pods. On especially cold nights, it’s enjoyed mit Schluss - that is, with a shot of hard liquor.

The Nordic countries prefer a form called variously Glögg, gløgg, or something similar. It’s sold pre-made, but also mulled at home. Its ingredients include ginger, cardamom and bitter lemon, and occasionally additional alcohol in the form of vodka, akvavit or brandy. It’s usually served with raisins, ginger snaps and almonds, but in Norway they like it with rice pudding.

In Turkey, mulled wine is made with honey, oranges and lemons. In Quebec, they add maple syrup and hard liquor, and call it Caribou. It’s popular during Winter Carnival.

Other recipes abound, from Macedonia to Moldova, Romania to Russia. A good rule of thumb? Go any place where it snows during winter, and you’ll find people making mulled wine.

In Victorian England, parents would give their children mulled wine - or a variant, at least. It was called Negus, and commonly made with port or another fruity wine, diluted with water. Negus was usually reserved for special occasions, such as birthday parties. As one household manual from the time recommends, "Allow 1 pint of wine, with the other ingredients in proportion, for a party of 9 or 10 children." 

In the 21st century, Negus might not be an appropriate birthday party beverage for the elementary school set. But in Victorian times, you can bet that it would have had a much more calming effect than Coca-Cola or Mountain Dew have today.

Mulled wine starts with good wine. Always. The selections below have the flavour, intensity, character and quality, perfect for making mulled wine. Choose one that you would love without any added ingredients, and you can be sure that, when dressed up for the holidays, you'll love it even more.

What’s your favourite mulled wine recipe? Know of any traditions we missed here? Drop us a line at [email protected]!

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