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People credit mulled wine with both curative and aphrodisiac properties. This may or may not be true – to some extent, it depends on how much mulled wine is consumed – but it’s still an extremely popular drink, especially during the holiday season.
Steaming cups of mulled wine warm both the hands and the body, and the alcohol in mulled wine is a vasodilator that allows warm blood to circulate more freely throughout the body. Spices such as cinnamon and clove add to the warming effects.
The first recorded references to mulled wine appeared in second-century Rome. Romans then took it with them as they traveled across Europe, and it’s been a part of history ever since.
Mulled wine is known by different names in all the regions where it’s been adopted:
- Glögg or gløgg in the Nordic countries, where it’s made with red wine, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and other spices and sometimes spiked with aquavit or brandy
- Grzane piwo in Poland, where it’s made with Belgian beer, cinnamon, and spices
- Karstvīns in Latvia, where it may be made with grape or currant juice
- Vino navega’o in Chile, where it’s made with red wine, sugar, cinnamon, spices, and orange peel
- греяно вино (greyano vino, or heated wine) in Bulgaria, where it’s made with red wine, honey, peppercorns, and sometimes citrus fruits
- Izvar in Moldova and Romania, where it’s made with red wine, honey, and black pepper
- Vin Chaud in Switzerland, where it’s served during L’Escalade
- Forralt bor (boiled wine) in Hungary, where it’s made with Egri Bikavér wine, sugar, cloves, and cinnamon
- Vinho quente in Portugal, where it’s made with Madeira or port wine
- Svařené víno (boiled wine) in Czechia
- Vinho quente or quentão in Brazil, where it’s made with red wine, cinnamon, and cloves and served at the Festa Juninia
- варено вино (vareno vino, or boiled wine) in Macedonia, where it’s made with red wine, honey or sugar, and cinnamon
- Vin brulé (burnt wine) in northern Italy
- Glühwein (smoldering wine) in Germany and Alsace, where it’s made with red wine, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and other spices
- Varené víno in Slovakia, where it’s served during Christmas
- Vin chaud in France, where it’s made with honey, cinnamon, and orange
- Глинтвейн (Glintvein) in Russia and the Ukraine, where it’s made with red wine, sugar, cinnamon, and other spices
The Components of Mulled Wine
As you have no doubt noticed, almost all mulled wines around the world are made with red wine. Red wine contains several natural preservatives.
Sugars: Wine is made from grapes, and grapes are high in sugar, so wine is also high in sugar even after fermentation has finished. Mulled wines are often made from relatively sweet red wines, so you can expect a fair bit of sugar.
Wines with more residual sugars have longer shelf life, so they go off less easily.
In addition, most mulled wine recipes call for additional sugar. The high sugar content in the mulled wine makes bacteria lose water through osmosis, which means that they can’t divide or grow.
Tannins/Tannic Acid: Tannins are naturally present in wood and in the seeds and skins of many fruits, including grapes. Tannins have antioxidant properties that slow down the process of aging in wines (and in people too!).
Sulfites: Sulfites may be naturally present in grapes or may be added later for flavor and stability. Sulfites are also antioxidants, and the removal of oxygen slows down the growth of microbes and preserves flavor.
Alcohol: Wines contain alcohol, of course, and alcohol is a natural preservative. It helps to prevent the growth of pathogens and microbes that can make the wine go off.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon is the primary mulling spice in most mulled wine recipes, and cinnamon has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of pathogens and will therefore slow down the process of your red wine going off.
How to Prepare Mulled Wine
As we have seen above, there are a few differences but many similarities in mulled wine recipes around the world. Of course, you don’t have to follow any particular recipe or tradition; you can take what you want from different recipes and create your very own.
Start by heating the wine gently in a large pot. Once it has reached a simmer, you can add sugar and stir until dissolved.
Then add the cinnamon – sticks work much better than powdered here – and other spices; again, whole nutmegs, cloves, and other spices are preferred over ground spices. You can also add orange peels or other fresh or dried fruits for flavor.
Simmer gently for several hours to let all the flavors thoroughly infuse. You can also prepare mulled wine in a crockpot or other electric slow cooker.
Strain the mulled wine through a colander lined with cheesecloth. For an even more robust flavor, you can chill the mulled wine with all the spices and/or fruits in a covered jar, and then strain and reheat it.
Or, especially if you are new to mulled wine and don’t really know what you like, you could try one of these highly recommended bottled mulled wines:
- Brotherhood Holiday Spice: This is a sweet mulled wine with a flavor profile that includes cherry, berry, cinnamon, and clove.
- Lyme Bay Mulled Wine: It’s made with damson and elderberry wines with a potent mix of spices.
- Kings Ridge Red Haute Pinot Noir: This is a nontraditional mulled wine that includes cranberry and jalapeno.
- St. Wencenslaus Holiday Spiced Wine: This is a deep red, semi-sweet mulled wine with a hint of apple.
- Ableforth’s Christmas Mulled Cup: This lets you cheat at mulled wine and still pick your own base wine. It’s a blend of cognac, port, fruits, and spices that you add to your own warmed wine.
- Woodbridge Harvest Spiced: This is definitely an entry-level mulled wine without a lot of sophistication, but it tastes good and it’s a nice introduction to the tradition.
Can Mulled Wine Go Off?
Store mulled wine in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you purchased bottled mulled wine and you need to store the leftovers, you can return the wine to the bottle and reseal it.
The mulled wine should be just fine for three to five days in the refrigerator. Reheat it gently to serve it.
It is possible for mulled wine to go off, but (unless you leave fruit or fruit peels in the bottle) it is not going to get moldy. Rather, it will sour and turn to vinegar.
What this means is that it will be unpleasant to drink, but it won’t become toxic or harmful. If it smells and tastes good, it’s good to drink; if it’s sour, it won’t taste good but it won’t hurt you.
One word of warning, though, for mulled wine that’s been stored in an airtight container for way more than the recommended three to five days, it may start fermenting again and the carbon dioxide will build up in the bottle because of the added sugar.
If you have a well-aged bottle of mulled wine that you want to investigate, it’s probably a good idea to put a towel over the top of the bottle and open it pointed away from your face.