“ ‘He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,’ said Fred, ‘and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say, “Uncle Scrooge!”…a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old man, whatever he is!’ ” -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843.
The idea of adding spices to wine goes back thousands of years, to early civilizations such as Mesopotamia and ancient Rome. Herbs and spices could be added to wine for medicinal purposes, or to help mask the flavor of bad wine. In colder places such as Northern Europe, the spiced wine was often heated. Different spices were used depending on what was available. By the late 17th century, Europeans began to use cinnamon and nutmeg in spiced wine, much like in this 1845 recipe from Eliza Acton. By the 19th century, as Charles Dickens was writing, hot mulled wine had became a traditional part of Christmas and New Years celebrations.
To mull wine:
- 3 oz water
- 3 oz sugar
- 24 cloves
- half a stick of cinnamon
- 1-inch piece of ginger, sliced
- 1 pint of port (use ruby port)
- 1 or 2 thin strips of orange rind
- Place the water, sugar, spices, and orange rind in a saucepan. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup starts to thicken.
- Pour in the port wine, and heat until just about to boil.
- Remove from heat, strain, and serve.
Although I have made mulled wine many times in my life, I had never made it with port before, and I definitely think it is an improvement. The richness and fruitiness of the port worked really well in this. I thought the amounts of sugar, water, and orange peel given by Eliza Acton were perfect; the spices, however, were just a little too subtle. While I still liked it, if you prefer stronger spices feel free to use more. That’s the beauty of mulled wine; it’s very easy to adjust to individual tastes. Overall, this is an excellent base recipe, and makes a wonderful warming drink perfect for drinking to your Uncle Scrooge’s health on cold winter nights.
Acton, E. (1845). Modern cookery, in all its branches. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. https://archive.org/details/moderncookeryin00actogoog/page/n570/mode/2up
Hopkins, T. (2004). Hot spiced wine. In Andrew Smith (Ed.), The Oxford encyclopedia of food and drink in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.