Posted in Kafevend Blog

Something to mull over

With December upon us, the Kafevend blog is liable to take on a distinctly seasonal hue as the month continues. We thought we would start proceedings with something a little different to our regular fare of tea and coffee and consider mulled wine. This is a popular drink come Christmas, so join us as we discover its history and how it's made!

Spiced wine surprise

Mulled wine has a rather long history, dating back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans who straddled the C.E./ B.C.E. crossover for several centuries either way. Both appear to have hit upon it as a way of using up leftover wine, or wine that was going off- by adding spices, it hid the bad taste. A common tale is that the Ancient Greeks called this drink Hippocras after the famous Greek Hippocrates, though this may well be an apocryphal titbit invented many centuries later. The Romans named theirs conditum paradoxum, meaning surprise spiced wine. Thanks to records surviving from these times, we even know of one of the recipes used for making some of the earliest mulled wine- it used white wine, along with honey, black pepper, bay leaves, saffron, mastic and dates.

At this time, mulled wine doesn't appear to have been associated with any particular festivities- at best, it was seen as something of a tonic or winter warmer. The recipe spread about Europe with the Romans as they set about conquering most of it. Throughout the intervening years, there are various surviving records of recipes for mulled wine from the Medieval, Tudor and Victorian periods for example. Quite when it became associated with Christmas we don't know, but it certainly was by the 19th century- Charles Dickens' 1843 novel 'A Christmas Carol' mentions a mulled wine known as Smoking Bishop enjoyed during the winter festivites!

Hale and hearty

Although there are some common items to be found in mulled wine, it is one of those drinks where everyone has their own interpretation. The tradition of using less than perfect wine generally continues with the use of a cheap bottle of red, although this is typically bolstered with a little brandy or port. When it comes to the spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, cloves, cardamom and ginger are all popular, as is the addition of fruits like orange and lemon. A dose of sugar is often added too, which no doubt helps to take the edge off a sharp wine.

Another popular mulled drink in Britain is Wassail. The name Wassail comes from the old Norse language, ves heil- meaning be hale (healthy). Traditionally it was made as part of an old Medieval ritual. Cider is used these days, though earlier versions used mead. Cider does seem more appropriate given the subject of the ritual however! Come winter time, farmers began a tradition of drinking to the trees of their orchard, wishing for a bumper crop the next year!


Medieval histories

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