Mulled wine dates back to Roman antiquity, but it wasn’t until the 14th century that the mix of wine, fruit and spices gained its name, from an Old English word meaning “muddled.” While the word “muddle” is most commonly used today to denote a generally confused state, in its original meaning, that confused state was brought about with alcohol. It is thought that the process of mulling wine was first employed as a way to save wine that was about to spoil.
Charles Dickens gets the credit for elevating mulled wine into a traditional holiday drink. While mulled wine appeared in several of the beloved novelist’s books, it was its appearance in his popular short story, A Christmas Carol, that sealed its place in Christmas culinary history.
Mulled wine was also featured in the Christmas movie classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. When Clarence the Angel visits a modern bar, he considers ordering a “flaming rum punch,” decides “no, it’s not cold enough for that,” then orders: “Mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively!”
All mulled wine recipes begin with dry red wine. Zinfandel or Syrah is a good choice. Many mulled wine recipes fortify the wine with brandy, port or cordial. Citrus fruits are added to the wine, along with spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. Some recipes for mulled wine use sugar or honey for a sweeter taste.
Mulled Wine Recipe
1 bottle dry red wine
6 ounces brandy
1 orange, sliced into rounds
2 lemons, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup honey
3 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and heat slowly until it begins to steam. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Serve in mugs.
The Charles Dickens Pub in Worthing, England, serves their mulled wine by the glass. Six ounces of a rich, fruity Spanish red wine and one ounce of berry cordial are poured over an orange slice, cinnamon stick and two cloves placed in a heat-proof glass. The pubs heats the wine in a microwave.
Many wineries serve mulled wine during the holidays, including the Running Brook Vineyard in Massachusetts, Burnley Vineyards in Virginia and the Stone Hill Wineries in Missouri. The Chaddsford Winery in Pennsylvania serves Gluhwine, the German version of mulled wine.
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