Mulled wine, a traditional beverage with origins dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia around 5000 BC, usually served hot, alcoholic, and filled with spices, is a staple of German Christmas markets, British holiday parties, Scandinavian dinner gatherings, and more. So why, hasn’t this delectable, complex, and refreshing beverage taken its place in contemporary American drinking culture, especially in the Northeast and other colder regions?
Perhaps it’s because of our Puritan roots. Perhaps it’s because our forefathers preferred beer, whiskey, and rye. Perhaps it’s because wine has only become widely consumed as a non-luxury item in America since Napa Valley’s rise in the 1980s. Or perhaps it’s because American mixologists prefer to focus on creating cocktails with hard liquor bases.
We’ve left mulled wine in the dust, while even our French-Canadian neighbors to the north appreciate the beauty of spiking an already-fermented beverage: In Quebec, a drink called Caribou (it’s vegetarian, we promise!), consists of red wine mixed with whiskey and sugar or maple syrup.
During the 1850s, it appears that mulled wine developed somewhat of a following in Massachusetts, as it was mentioned in cookbooks, but apparently it never earned its permanent place in the national culture. According to Andrew F. Smith, editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, “By the late 1800s these warmed spiced wines had become an integral part of the American Christmas menu, largely because of the strong influence of the middle nineteenth-century novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Hot spiced wine was frequently served alongside or in lieu of eggnog enjoyed at middle-class tables, sometimes with appropriate temperance substitutions of fruit juice.”
Given the lackluster PR efforts of mulled wine fans (for no good reason), let’s make the 2012 holiday season the one that signals the rebirth of mulled wine in America. It’s fun, it’s classy, it’s social, and it is a rare gastronomic pleasure. Bam! The mulled wine trend starts right here.
And if you’re here in New York City, you can find mulled wine at these wonderful restaurants.