Probably no traditional Christmas celebration today is complete without mulled wine. However, like many food histories, the origin of the wine and its association with Christmas is still largely a matter of research.
Also known as spiced wine, it is essentially made with red wine diluted with water, sweetened with sugar, flavoured with spices such as cloves and cinnamon, and served hot. However, home wine makers and chefs across the world have often added their own twist to it, adding or replacing some of the ingredients. Post 16th century, winemakers began adding fruits such as oranges, apples, lemons, etc.
According to food historians, mulled wine was probably invented by the Romans in the second century BC when they found warming the wine helped them overcome the bitter cold days while adding spices made it aromatic, therapeutic, and long lasting. The mulled wine (though this name came much later) is said to have spread with the expansion of the Roman Empire.
According to J John, whose book Christmas Compendium is considered a bible of all things Christmassy, and others, mulled wine was called 'ypocras' or 'hipocris', named after the Greek physician Hippocrates. Some believe the term came from ‘Hippocrates' sleeve’ referring to the bag or strainer through which the preparation was passed. Apparently, the first recipe of ypocras was mentioned in a 1390 cookbook called Forme of Cury.
Although it has not been established how mulled wine came to be associated with Christmas, according to some researchers, it was around the 1890s that glögg (meaning ‘glowing ember’), as mulled wine was known as in Sweden and other Nordic countries, began to be sold in bottles by wine merchants during Christmas (often with a picture of Santa Claus on the label), probably as gifts. Most likely, this was how the wine came to be associated with Christmas.
The drink came to India along with the British and stayed on again as part of the Christmas celebrations.
With the pandemic situation, the popularity of the mulled wine appears to have resurfaced as many people believe the addition of spices infuses it with healthy properties. Today, probably there are as many recipes for mulled wine as there are chefs and home winemakers.