People have been spicing wine since the ancient Egyptians thought it was an elixir of the afterlife.
They weren’t far off the truth, I would say.
If you’ve heard of spiced wine, mulled wine, or Hippocras, they are all basically the same thing with minor variations. The general idea of this drink is to take a wine that might not be so tasty all by itself and add winter spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom, ginger, oranges, sugar, etc.) and a stronger drink like brandy. Heat it all up and serve it at a party and you have the traditional Christmas and New Year’s drink of the British Isles.
My first taste of mulled wine was at a carol-singing party last Christmas. I was living and working in rural Lancashire and was invited with the rest of the volunteer staff to go caroling in a local village. I jumped at the chance, of course, and looked forward to it with all the eager anticipation of a girl who has made a tradition of watching “Scrooge” and “The Tailor of Gloucester” every Christmas (both of which involve little English urchins singing Christmas carols).
To make the event even more spectacularly British, it proceeded to rain buckets. This meant that caroling from house to house was out of the question, but a lovely couple invited us into their home to sing to each other. We sat on the floor around a tiny room, introduced ourselves, and proceeded to sing carols I was very familiar with, as well as a few where I was forced to hum along noncommittally.
After our beautiful display of singing prowess, we moved into the dining room to find a table covered in all manner of Christmas goodies. It was a glorious sight to behold, and I took full advantage, you can be assured.
One treat was mulled wine, served in stemmed glasses. It was everything I could have wished it to be: warming, tasty, different, very Christmasy. I would love to make it on future Christmases back in the States.
But what was even better than the wine was the feeling of camaraderie, of merriment, of everyone sensing that this season is something special and deserves to be celebrated. Of all my British Christmas experiences, this carol-singing event is one that will definitely stick in my mind: the generosity of strangers, the closeness of friends, the spirit of Christ’s love, and the warmth of that mulled wine.
Mulled Wine Recipe
makes just under 2 litres
- 3 tbsp loose-leaf tea (or six teabags)
- 1 litre of boiling water
- 1 whole orange
- 2-3 cloves
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 1 bottle of red wine
- sugar to taste
- lemon slices to serve
The most important thing to remember about mulled wine is that it must not boil! The second most important thing is not to use an aluminium pan. Go for stainless steel or something non-stick.
- Cut the orange in thick slices and place in the pan. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves and tea.
- Add the water and bring to the boil. You want the spiced tea to be very strong.
- When it’s at that stage, turn the heat down and add the wine.
- Stir and add sugar to taste. Just heat it enough for the sugar to dissolve.
- Serve with sliced lemon and mince pies.