Mulled wine’s rich history

What’s your Christmas drink of choice? Some love a smooth eggnog, while some instead opt for a creamy Irish cream liquor. Other fabulous alcoholic options include cocktails like a bucks fizz, classic tipples like port, brandy or sherry, or even just your classic posh bottle of fancy champagne.

For us, while these are all wonderful options, our favourite boozy festive treat has got to be a mulled wine.

It’s that quintessentially festive combination of aromatic, warming spices with rich, full-bodied wine. It’s a proper grown-up treat that is the perfect accompaniment to winter evenings by the fire.
Whether you’re at a Christmas market or you’re making up a homemade batch on the stove, few things compare to a glass of mulled wine. Often, when it comes to Christmas treats, all it takes is some simple spices and quality ingredients.

But we’ve got a lot of mulled wine-related questions that we want answers to. For example, does anyone know how mulled wine made its way onto our Christmas drinks menus? What is its history? And what ingredients are needed to recreate this tantalising drink for ourselves? In this blog post, all will be revealed, as we delve into the wonderful world of mulled wine.

Below, we’ll be taking you through mulled wine’s intriguing backstory, and then sharing our recipe for the perfect homemade mulled mine with you. Christmas is coming, and we want to make sure it’s the best one yet.

In essence, although it holds a wonderful level of mystique and elegance, all mulled wine actually contains is cheap wine, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, lemon and a bit of sugar. That’s it. So why do we adore it so much?

In fact, mulled wine actually came into existence long before the emergence of fine wines. So, centuries ago your options were either cheap wine, or decadently flavoured wine. We know which one we’d pick.

The story of mulled wine actually goes back as far as the ancient Greeks. They actually inadvertently invented spiced wine, as it came from a practice that was actually just designed to cut waste. In order to limit any by-products from the harvest, the Greek winemakers would just add lots of spices to this otherwise-wasted wine, then heated it to allow them to infuse.

Mulled wine then branched out to the ancient Romans, after they copied this resourceful drink from the Greeks. Like their source of inspiration, this practice was taken up in order to minimise wine wastage. However, the Romans did bring their own unique take to the process, and their contribution resulted in a concoction which they named ‘Conditum Paradoxum’. The Roman recipe used equal parts of wine and honey, to which they added pepper, bay leaves, dates and saffron and then heated.

What’s more, you can even buy a version of mulled wine today that’s based on this very same historical recipe.

Skip forward a few centuries, and head over to medieval England, and mulled wine became a big hitter once again. This re-surge in popularity came as a result of a common belief that the spices in this drink had health boosting properties.

Plus, they definitely made the wine taste better - this was actually more important than it sounds, as not only were luxurious wine varieties not a thing back then, but water was very risky to drink at that time, because of the huge concern that was the Black Death.

According to common belief, the first time that the verb ‘mull’ (which refers to the process of heating, sweetening and flavouring with spices) was used in the year 1618.

Mulled wine remained in England for all these years, gradually evolving until we reached the Victorian period, where mulled wine became the variety that most closely resembles that we know and love today. It was during this time that the drink became associated with the Christmas period.

You can even spot a passage about Smoking Bishop (a variety of mulled wine) in the Christmas classic novel ‘A Christmas Carol’. As you can imagine, this has firmly fixed mulled wine’s link with Christmas in all of our minds ever since.

A 21st century glass of mulled wine is a thing of absolute beauty. After all these years of changing and evolving, we think that mulled wine has now reached a point of absolute perfection.

So, if you’re feeling inspired by the wonderful history of this Christmas tipple, the next step is to have a go at making your own. Below, you’ll find our recipe for a classic, traditional glass of mulled wine.


Classic mulled wine recipe

Red wine, 750ml
Cinnamon stick, 1 large or 2 small
Star anise, 2
Cloves, 4
Lemon zest, 2 strips (pared using a vegetable peeler)
Caster sugar, 4 tbsp

  1. Put the red wine, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, lemon zest and sugar in a large pan. Cook the mixture on a low heat for 10 mins.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool. Leave the spices to infuse the wine further for about 30 minutes.
  3. To serve, reheat the mulled wine, making sure that you don’t heat it so much that it starts to boil. To serve, pour your mulled wine into Christmas mugs or heatproof glasses for an elegant touch.

Although the classic version is rather divine, you might be tempted to try out a few extra twists that you can make to your mulled wine.
Using this recipe as a base, there’s lots of different ideas for extra flavour hits that you could add. For example a dash of sloe gin adds an extra layer of fruity boozy-ness. Or, if you want to make an alcohol-free version, you could try swapping the wine for some good-quality cranberry juice.

This quick and easy recipe takes just 15 minutes to make, so it’s the perfect extra last-minute addition to a party. If you’ve got a spontaneous get-together planned, you can quickly whip up a batch of mulled wine while your guests head over to yours - you’re bound to be a popular host! Or, this aromatic drink makes a great way to celebrate the festive period during a movie night at home.

Festive treats are something that we look forward to all year round. I don’t know about you, but Xmas food and drink has very few rivals in my mind. These luxurious goodies are a wonderful way to treat your guests (or yourself, we don’t need any excuse!). If you’d rather keep the food and booze to yourself, however, you can spoil your loved ones with some smart gifts instead.

At Smarter, we’ve got a fantastic collection of gift sets available. You can give your favourite amateur chef the gift of a smart home, courtesy of our innovative range of kitchen technology. It’s the perfect gift for any proud homeowner and, because it’s designed to be completely hassle-free to set up, they can have their devices ready for their Smart Xmas in no time at all. Have a look on our website to learn more about our festive gift sets.


Written by Josephine Walbank