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Four things you need to know about Vin chaud in France

The Local France
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Four things you need to know about Vin chaud in France
A stall tenant serves mulled wine at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, in 2019. (Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP)

Sipping mulled wine - or Vin chaud - is one of France's most popular cold-weather traditions. Here is what you need to know about the warm, winter drink.

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Where it came from

Mulled wine has been a European tradition for centuries - with first evidence of the beverage dating all the way back to the Roman Empire, when it was called "Conditum Paradoxum."

The Romans had their own special recipe for Vin chaud - they combined wine with honey and then added spices, like pepper, bay leaf, saffron and dates.

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As you can imagine this version of mulled wine would have tasted very different from what French people love to drink during the holiday season, but the French have been sipping some version of it since at least the 12th century. 

The popularity of Vin chaud, which was known at the time as "spicy wine," spread through France and Spain. During the Middle Ages, it was often prescribed as a healing treatment. 

In the 13th century, the mulled wine made its way to England, becoming popular with the English king of the time, Henry III, who supposedly enjoyed the drink.

By the 1400s, Vin chaud was being drunk in Germany and the Nordic countries too, where it remains popular and was incorporated into local customs. 

As for France, mulled wine remained prevalent over the centuries, and during the 19th century it was particularly known for being served in inns. 

When and where to enjoy it

France has its own specific Vin chaud traditions that set it apart from other European countries who enjoy the warm beverage, and it is particularly popular in the French Alps and in Alsace. 

In France, Vin chaud is drunk all winter-long, often starting as early as November. It is particularly known for being part of the après ski tradition. After having spent the day skiing or enjoying winter sports, the French typically end the day by joining their friends and stretching out by the fire, enjoying raclette. This is also the perfect time to drink a warm glass of Vin chaud.

READ MORE: Rules of Raclette: How to make France’s cheesy winter classic

There is another moment when Vin chaud is particularly popular in France, and that is when one is walking along a Christmas Market, or marché de Noël.

It is almost guaranteed that every French Christmas market will include at least one stand selling Vin chaud, so market-goers can enjoy the beverage as they walk through the market, admiring the other stalls.

As the weather gets sufficiently cold, it is also common to find Vin chaud at local bars across the northern half of the country. 

What other countries have their own mulled wine traditions?

In terms of other mulled wine traditions, Sweden and the Scandinavian countries are known for their mulled wine which is called Glögg. The Swedish version of mulled wine tends to use different spices from the French version, and almonds and raisons are often placed at the bottom of the glass.

As for German-speaking countries, Vin chaud is referred to as Glühwein, which is also commonly found in Christmas markets. 

While the ingredients vary from country to country - with some places like Sweden using white wine, and others like Canada adding in maple syrup - the French version of the beverage is known for sweet (but not too sweet) and for including honey, cinnamon and orange. 

How you can make it

French mulled wine is typically made with red wine, but it can also be made with white wine, as is done in Alsace.

As the wine will be warmed and mixed with spices, it is not necessary to pick a very fancy or expensive bottle. The French cooking website, Cuisine AZ, recommends seeking out a wine that already has more of a fruity flavour, so you might consider a Merlot or a Gamay from Savoie.

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Most French cooking sites recommend the same few ingredients: red wine, orange (usually two), honey, a few stars anise or Badiane, sugar, cinnamon sticks (one to two), and cloves (clous de girofle).

Some people might also recommend adding in a dash of cardamom or a small piece of ginger. You can also drop in a dash of liqueur: either Pear Williams, or another eau-de-vie, or Cognac, brandy or port, as recommended by chef David Lebovitz.

To prepare the beverage, first cut the oranges into slices, and then add them to the saucepan. Next, add wine, sugar, and spices. 

Heat on low and dissolve the sugar, and then keep warm for fifteen to twenty minutes before serving. Be careful to only bring the Vin chaud to a simmer, not a boil.

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