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Culi-Temp Corner: The History of Glühwein

"Dubbed "Gløgg" in Nordic nations, "Muddled" in Old English, and "Glühwein" in Germany, mulled wines have been warming people for centuries."

Glühwein, or mulled wine, is a traditional beverage usually made with red wine along with various mulling spices, and fruit. It is served hot or warm and may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. It is a traditional drink during winter months, particularly around Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere. Dubbed "Gløgg" in Nordic nations, "Muddled" in Old English, and "Glühwein" in Germany, mulled wines have been warming people for centuries.

These traditional beverages are so popular that they can also be the source of contention. The exact origins of mulled wine is not exactly known. Spiced wine has an exotic history, which has historical records in many major civilisations stretched across various continents. Seemingly, everywhere wine has been ingested; spices have been added to it in one form or another. Spicing wine has historically served a number of purposes, including enhancing taste and medicinal value, demonstrating rank, and ensuring the wine safe to consume after being boiled. In times of famine and pestilence, drinking water was often scarce and dangerous to drink, thus mulled wine was a safe alternate way to stay hydrated.

The first known origins of spiced wine extends as far back as ancient Egypt (crica 3150BC) when spiced wine was used for medicinal purposes and was considered to be a remedial elixir of the afterlife. It is believed that Egyptian medicinal wine was laced with pine resin, figs, and herbs like balm, coriander, mint, and sage. Wine was also recorded as being imbued with herbs and spices during the Roman Empire, which was documented in early writings of authors like Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) and Marcus Gavius Apicius, also known as the lover of luxury and who writes about a honey wine (mead) in his “De re coquinaria". Even Homer mentions honey wine in "Odyssey". The Romans travelled all across Europe, conquering much of it and trading with the rest. The legions brought wine, viticulture and recipes with them up to the Rhine and Danube rivers and to the Scottish border. Pimen (or Piment) was the term used for the prolific Roman spiced wine. Early recipes include an exotic array of herbs and spices such as spikenard, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, ginger, and honey. Aside from simply seasoning wine, they also experimented with various methods of viticulture to enhance their wine’s bouquet. Such methods included, planting herbs in the vineyards in hopes that their flavours would pass through the ground and into the grape before harvest.

In the 1400's, spiced wine was referred to as Hippocras (or Hypocras in French) in recipes, named for the famous Greek philosopher, Hippocrates, and a conical cloth filter bag called a Hippocratic sleeve, which he is credited to have invented.

As the allure of hot spiced wine spread across the lands, people of all ranks began to heat and spice their wine to stay warm, and merely for their own pleasure. Hot, spiced wine became a staple in many parts of Europe and the Middle East, especially through the long and frigid winter months. In addition to being a warm and cheery beverage, it was also regarded as having various medicinal or even aphrodisiac properties.

When the crusades began, they played a major part in helping spiced wine knowledge and various recipes flourish across the continent. Around this time cinnamon, ginger, cloves, paradise, and long pepper were the typical flavourings. Spiced wine sweetened with sugar as opposed to honey became a symbol of rank. In those days, along with being considered a luxury item, sugar was also thought to contain medicinal values similar to the added spices. English texts specify that sugar was uniquely for the lords and honey was for the people.

Many European countries began to form their own interpretations of mulled wine to represent their cultural identities. In medieval Poland, a cream was added to mulled wine, making wine soup that was regarded as an extremely refined breakfast. Victorian Englishwas usually made with a sweet wine, water, lemon peel, lemon juice and nutmeg. In Spain, the original Sangria was just cold, spiced wine, and contained cinnamon, ginger, and pepper. With the rise of imperialism, spiced wine spread to new countries and climates, including Brazil and Chile, where it was customised to suit local needs.

In the past, the French were known for Bordeaux spiced wines called Clairet, but those have evolved into the modern day Vin Chauds and are generally prepared with fruits and fortified with Cognac. England is the proud inventor of many forms of spiced wine, such as such as Wassail, and the classic Mulled Wine. Do not forget the Nordic Gløgg, which often contains raisins and almonds, and last, but, certainly not least the unanimous favourite, the German Glühwein (roughly, "glow-wine," from the hot irons once used for mulling). It is popular in German-speaking countries and in the region of Alsace in France often offered during the Christmas holidays. The oldest documented Glühwein tankard is attributed to Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen, a German nobleman who was the first grower of Riesling grapes. This gold-plated lockable silver tankard is dated to circa 1420. Charles Dickens gets the credit for elevating mulled wine into a traditional holiday drink. While mulled wine appeared in several of the beloved novelist's books, it was its appearance in his popular short story, "A Christmas Carol" that sealed its place in Christmas culinary history in Great Britain.


  • Cloake, Felicity (9 December 2010). "How to make perfect mulled wine". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2012.

  • John, J. A Christmas Compendium. Continuum. p. 80.

  • J. Robinson (ed.)The Oxford Companion to WineThird Edition. Oxford University Press, 2006. p. 589-590.

  • Spicy Vines, A Complete History of Spiced Wine, May 2014, viewed 30 May 2014,

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