Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mulling Over the Holiday Tradition of Mulled Wine

Winter makes us want to hibernate; to sit by a roaring fire filled with comfort food, and sip something warm, maybe even spirited. That’s why mulled wines are a natural go-to for the holidays, and those cold winter days ahead.

Mulling Spices
“Mulled” means to heat and spice. A mulled wine is usually created using a red wine, Syrah or Zinfandel are good choices, as is a Port or claret. Then select spices, like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, anise, cardamom, citrus, even vanilla, along with sugar or honey for additional sweetening. Fruits such as raisins, apples, and figs, even cranberries can be added along with vodka, rum, sherry or brandy for an added kick. Top it off with a cinnamon stick for stirring, and you have a mulled wine.

Early Rome
So where did we get this inclination to heat up a wine? It goes back to the First Century in Rome. It was the early Romans who spiced wines and heated them up. It was thought to be a way to save wine that was spoiling.

The Greeks claim that Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, invented mulled wine and called it Ypocras. It was to be used as a medicinal tonic. Either way, word spread of the wonderfully warming concoction and soon other countries were creating their own versions.

In Germany and Austria it is known as Glühwein, which loosely translates into “glow wine.” The wine was named because of the hot irons pulled from the fire and placed in the wine to mull it. The recipe has been basically the same since the 1400’s; the wine is made by taking a red wine, adding cinnamon, sugar, cloves, star aniseed, citrus and sometimes, vanilla, then heated, or “mulled” together. Glühwein has become an essential beverage of the German Christmas season.

The Nordic countries call it gløgg and usually serve it with ginger snaps, rice pudding, or lussekattre (a sweet saffron bun.) There are alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions available for purchase at stores and holiday markets.

Making Glogg
But most still prefer to make their own gløgg, using red wine, sugar, and a variety of spices including ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and bitter orange. Other spirits may also be added such as vodka or brandy.

The British embraced mulled wine after Charles Dickens touted it as the traditional holiday drink in A Christmas Carol. In Victorian England Negus was a take on mulled wine using Port, spices, sugar, and water. Negus was extremely popular, and was even served to children at special celebrations.

Mulled Crockpot Wine
In the U.S. mulled wine is also a holiday favorite. We tend to mix the ingredients together, place everything in a crockpot turned on low, and let it simmer. That way a mulled glass of wine is always ready, whether you’ve been shoveling snow, decorating the Christmas tree, or addressing holiday cards – cause you never know when that urge to hibernate and stare into a fire will overtake you at this time of year - and you should always be prepared.

Cheers! And Happy Holidays!

~ Joy