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Worldwide Gastronomy Habits & Trends

At the crossroads of tradition and the Orient | Mulled wine as a Christmas beverage

ByDominika Margolt

Dec 26, 2022

Mulled wine, also known as spiced wine or hot wine, is an alcoholic drink usually made from red wine, along with various mulling spices. Sometimes raisins are added in order to sweeten the drink. The spiced wine is served hot or warm. It is a traditional drink during the winter season, especially around Christmas. It is frequently served at Christmas markets in Europe, especially in Germany. You can also encounter non-alcoholic versions of the drink. Vodka-spiked mulled wine can be found at Polish Christmas markets (yes, the Polish will always find a way to add vodka to anything), where mulled wine is commonly used as a mixer.

Ambiguous origin

A steaming hot mug of spiced red wine is associated with winter festivities. Just like decorating Christmas trees and hanging Advent wreaths, drinking mulled wine is a deeply rooted German tradition that is now enjoyed around the world.

The first record of wine being spiced and heated can be already found in the play Curculio by Plautus, written during the 2nd century BC. As the Romans travelled across Europe, they conquered much of it and traded with the rest. The legions brought wine and viticulture with them up to regions of the Rhine and Danube rivers, reaching as far as the Scottish border. Their recipes travelled along with them.

The medieval English cookery book The Forme of Cury from 1390, mentioned mulled wine, and the ingredients, such as cinnamon, ginger, galangal, cloves, long pepper, nutmeg, marjoram, cardamom, and grains of paradise. This is mixed with red wine and sugar, however, the form and quantity are unstated.

Spiced wine in Britain

Spiced wine is very popular in the United Kingdom and considered as a traditional drink at Christmas, and also throughout the rest of winter. Mulled cider is also served, with a mulled apple juice as a non-alcoholic alternative. There is also mulled ale, which is a traditional beverage yet no longer common.

Grzaniec in Poland

Grzaniec or grzane wino is made though heating red wine and infusing it with a variety of aromatics, such as citrus fruit and spices. These drinks are frequently enjoyed at traditional Christmas markets in Poland. It’s highly possible that you will find a makeshift two-story bar that resembles a charming wooden Santa Claus cabin. Surprisingly, you might even get the chance to drink grzaniec out of a porcelain Santa Claus boot. Grzaniec galicyjski is the name for the specific type of spiced wine found at Polish Christmas markets.

Aside from Christmas markets, you can also find these drinks served in bars, restaurants or homemade in the kitchen. They are the perfect way to warm up after a chilly and fun day spent outdoors hiking, sledding, ice skating or on a winter kulig (sleigh ride!).

Polish-style grzane wino is a very close cousin to the German Glühwein, which proves their shared origins. Both drinks are derived from Hippocras, an alcoholic drink tracing back to ancient times and the Middle Ages.

What differentiates the Polish version of mulled wine from others is the honey, used in place of regular sugar or other sweeteners. It’s worth remembering that grzaniec is quite a generic term and can refer to both ‘mulled wine’ and ‘mulled beer‘. It simply means a mulled alcoholic drink, but more often than not, people use it when they actually refer to the wine. Yes, Polish can be confusing at times. Mulled beer is very similar to mulled wine as it is heated with citrus and spices and also served hot.

The idea of heating wine was already a popular concept in old-Polish cuisine. Rich, hot soups based on wine, called winne polewki, were frequently enjoyed at the courts of Polish royals and aristocrats.

Glühwein in Germany

Glühwein is usually prepared with cloves, cinnamon sticks, star aniseed, orange, sugar and at times vanilla pods. It is sometimes drunk mit Schuss (English: with a shot). This means that rum or some other liquor has been added to the drink. Other fruit wines, such as blueberry wine and cherry wine, are sometimes served instead of grape wine in some parts of Germany. A variation of Glühwein is made with white wine, but it is significantly less popular than its red counterpart.

Recipe for the Polish grzane wino

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of red dry wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 chopped apple
  • half a sliced orange
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • a pinch of grated ginger root
  • a pinch of nutmeg powder

Preparation (don’t get discouraged by the complicated recipe instructions):

Place all the ingredients listed above in the pot and mix. Cook until the mulled wine becomes hot. Don’t bring it to a boil. Serve the wine right away.