A Complete History of Spiced Wine

Spicy Vines is a brazen hybrid of old and new worlds, and wouldn’t exist today without centuries of spiced wine warming the hands, hearts, bodies, and minds of countless populaces. Somehow the ancient cultural tradition born of Egyptian pharaohs, Roman philosophers, and European fairy tales have forged with the newfangled liberal ideas of modern California wine-making and resulted in Spicy Vines.

What is Spiced Wine?

Spiced wine has an exotic history which has touched many major civilizations 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 different functions, including enhancing medicinal value, demonstrating rank, enhancing the taste, and ensuring the wine safe to drink after being boiled. In other times drinking water was often scarce and dangerous to drink, and drinking beer or mulled wine was a healthy and safe alternate way to stay hydrated. (Better schnockered than defunct, no?)

Spiced wine typically begins with red wine, and over the years has been spiced with a variety of things, including cinnamon, cloves, allspice, lavender, mint, sage, cardamom, ginger, oranges, apples, raisins, nuts, honey, sugar, and more. Also, the wine is fortified with a stronger spirit, usually a brandy, and is served tepid during cold seasons.

People refer to typical British Mulled Wine often when talking of spiced wine, and indeed most mulled wines follow a familiar pattern of characteristics; such as: using a nondescript wine as a base, adding winter spices, and fortifying the wine to excess. However, In its literal definition mulled simply means to heat up and add spices. Therefore all “mulled wine” is spiced wine, but since wine does not have to be heated to be spiced, not all spiced wine is mulled wine.

As the years have passed, the purpose and dynamics of spicing wine has evolved greatly. For example, where once spices served primarily to mask the flavor of bad wine, now they are commonly used as a way to incorporate unique flavors into already drinkable wine. When done skillfully, as is done in Spicy Vines, the wine is enhanced, and many doors are opened to create artisanal blends of spiced wines to suit any occasion or palate.

History of Spiced Wine

The first known roots of spiced wine stem back as far as ancient Egypt (circa 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.

Reports of wine being imbued with herbs and spices during the Roman Empire have been documented in early writings of authors like Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) and Marcus Gaius 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.

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 flavors would pass through the ground and into the grape before harvest.

In the 1400’s, spiced wine is referred to as Hippocras (or Hypocras in French) in recipes, named for the famous Greek doctor, Hippocrates, and a conical cloth filter bag called a Hippocratic sleeve which he is credited to have invented. The bag was originally designed to filter water, but worked wonderfully for straining wine!

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 (nothing like a little extra heat to warm you through and through).

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 flavorings. 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. An English text specifies 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 which was regarded as an extremely refined breakfast. Victorian English Negus was 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 customized 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 Wassail, and the classic Mulled Wine. Don’t forget the Nordic Gløgg, which often contains raisins and almonds, and last, but, certainly not least and an unanimous favorite, the German Glühwein.

Spiced wine has became customary in select parts of the US and Canada as well, but has never quite reach the level of acclaim it has in Europe. In 2011 a small family company in Northern California decided to try and change that, holding on to the traditional feeling that spiced wine evokes, but putting their own California spin on it, a softer and more sophisticated version of classic spiced wine. Wish them luck!

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