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Of Mulled Wines and Christmas

  • ​By Madhulika Dash 

    Nothing spells the spirit of Christmas like a perfectly spiced, warm goblet of mulled wine. It is like a festive palate opera – its aromatic, it full bodied (thus making it for all-palates) and leaves you with that amazing happy high to feel great about just living the day to the fullest. 

    Curiously, the birth of Mulled Wine was not as a Christmas drink. In fact, the tradition of warming the wine and making it more palatable and healthy with addition of aromatic spices dates back to the time of the Greeks when it was served as rejuvenating drink to soldiers and others. Designed by Father of Medicine himself, Hippocrates, Greeks called their spiced wine “hippocras.” 

    Mulled wine was common among the Romans too. Called the Conditum Paradoxum, it was made with one part wine, one part honey that was boiled and reduced. To this, a mix of pepper, bay leaf, saffron and dates was added and served in large goblets. In India, it was somras. Though little is available on this hugely popular drink of the ancient times, it is believed that somras – a mixture of home-made wine and spices – was what inspired the creation of Henry VIII’s favourite drink, Gruit, which is a version of herbal spiced ale. 

    In fact, folktale has it that samaras was first discovered by the travelling Catholics, who loved the warm, spice drink and took it along with them to England, where it was introduced in form of herbed beer and ale that was given more as a health potion. And soon became a Church monopoly. But that was until Henry VIII fell in love with the potion and took it over from the Church and made it popular with the masses as part of celebration. 

    Could that be how Mulled Wine became a part of the Christmas celebration? Or was it only after Charles Dickens mentioned it as Smoking Bishop in Christmas Carol? While there isn’t an exact date as to how Mulled Wine became associated with Christmas, it is more likely that the tradition of having warm wine during winters continued. What changed is the technique of preparing it. 

    While in ancient times, spices were added to make the wine palatable as fermentation was not a controlled process, by medieval times, mulled wine actually came into its modern day avatar when spiced wine after maturing for a few days, were boiled, reduced, strained and then served warm. In Sweden, it came to be known as cognac based glogg, and in Russia, Gluhwein. 

    Also called Glue Wine, says Chef Navin Kumar (Radisson Blu Paschim Vihar), “It was made by adding sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg , cloves, aniseeds and organe zest and was developed by the people of Romania as a winter drink.” It was somewhere between the 1600 and 1800s that all kinds of warm drinks got associated with Christmas, including various versions of Mulled wine. What changed over the years, says Chetan Kumar, head Mixologist, Kismet Karma, “are the personal styles of how mulled wine was made with a little deletion and addition. Sugar and honey were given up for more full bodied vinos like Port, and fresh fruits.” 

    This Christmas, we get Kumar to dole out a few interesting mulled wine recipes that will add a new “zing” to the table. And the best part, says the drink expert, “They are as easy as shaking all together and serving in a glass.”