photo by Erin Cooper

The definition of “mull” as a verb was first documented in the 17th century and means to warm a beverage, especially wine, beer or cider, and add spices and sweetening to it. It is believed that the first societies to drink mulled wine were the Ancient Greeks and Romans in an effort to keep their bodies warm during the winter months. It is also believed that during this time mulled wine was typically made from leftover wine, often of lesser quality, and that spices were added to enhance the flavor and make the wine more palatable. 

Mulled wine experienced an increase in popularity in the Middle Ages, and during this time Europeans added spices not only to make less appealing wines taste better but also because they believed the spices would help promote health and avoid sickness. Herbs and flowers were also used as natural sweeteners and flavor enhancers. For them, even bad wines were often safer than drinking water, especially in polluted urban areas. 

In the late 1800s, European mulled wine became closely associated with Christmas, and it has been a popular holiday tradition in many parts of the world ever since. Most countries have created their own unique blends with a wide variety of additives such as port, rum, brandy, orange, lemon, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise to name a few.

A German friend of ours passed along the following simple recipe for mulled wine, or in this case Glühwein, which was inspired by the mulled wine stands found at German Christmas markets.   

Simple Glühwein Recipe

1 750 ml bottle of dry red table wine (i.e., merlot, cabernet) 

1-2 oz rum (or brandy)

2 oranges, sliced

2 oranges, the juice squeezed out

7 cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

1 star anise

1/4 cup sugar (more can be added to taste)

Heat the red wine, spices, orange slices and freshly squeezed orange juice in a saucepan on low for 15 minutes. Do NOT boil! Add the rum and sugar, and stir until combined. Strain the spices and slices of orange and serve.

It can be that simple, so stop mulling over what to drink this holiday season, and warm your insides with some delicious homemade mulled wine.