GERMANY (Radebeul) – It could have happened this way: On a bitingly cold day in December, 1834, August Josef Ludwig Earl Wackerbarth, grand-nephew of the builder of Wackerbarth castle, Radebeul, Saxony, is standing on the belvedere of his inherited castle and looking into the vineyards, the sweet lord of which was harvested long ago. It is a good vintage which is ripening in the wine cellar. So, Wackerbarth could be satisfied if it weren’t for this terrible cold. And while he was shivering away, an idea came to his mind. What about adding warming spices to last year’s wines and warming them in order to warm him from inside?
A thought and a blow: The earl went down to the cellar, fetches a “Dresden Pot” (0.93 liters) of wine, adds different spices, sweetens it with honey and sugar, heats the mixture and tastes it – it tastes terribly. But the rake does not give up, tastes some more pots, takes a bit more of one spice, and a bit less of another one, until, on December 11, he is finally pleased with his work and writes it down on a piece of paper: “For one pot, take 4 loths (1 loth equaling 14 grams) of ground cinnamon, 2 loths of ginger, 1 loth of anise grains, 1 loth of galganat (grenadine), 1 loth of ground nutmeg, 1 loth of cardamom, 1 gran (half a gram) of saffron, heat it, mix it, sieve it, and add honey and sugar to taste.” That’s how mulled wine was invented!
One day, the recipe vanished from the records, and until 2013, it also vanished from memory. If that year collaborators of the Saxonian Wackerbarth castle state wine estate had not commissioned the Saxonian state archives to look for certain documents belonging to the earl’s bequest, nobody knew about Wackerbarth’s warmer. Nils Brübach, the archivist, was pretty surprised when he found a piece of paper with the recipe between data about viticultural technology and old files about lawsuits.
The collaborators of the State Wine Estate tested the recipe at once – and just as fast, they rejected it again. “Even though the kind and the amounts of the spices mentioned do not at all match with today’s taste”, Martin Junge, communication director, says, “it is traceably Germany’s oldest known recipe for mulled wine.” Just as earl Wackerbarth did, his “heirs” in the wine estate also experimented for quite a while with the ingredients. In the end, the result was called “Wackerbarths White & Warm”, a drinkable white vintner-made, which today is available in bottles as a finished product – and which has nothing to do with the sweet gnat’s piss usually sold at Christmas markets. “With our mulled wine, you can, if you drink enough of it, get yourself drunk but that’s really all.”
There are no notes about how the warm beverage prepared according to earl Wackerbarth’s recipe agreed with him and his guests. But the mixture probably was anything but easily digestible – above all due to the huge amount of nutmeg contained. The consumption of as few as five grams of nutmeg can lead to considerable symptoms of poisoning and hallucinations. From today’s point of view, we can conclude the earl either to be astonishingly fit, or not to drink the mixture too often. He survived his invention by 16 years and died on May 19, 1850, in his 81st year, a natural death.
Spiced and warmed wines are, however, not an invention of the fun-loving Saxonian, but they were known as early as during antiquity. According to the recipe book of Apicius, who died 42 B. C., honey was mixed with wine, pepper, mastix (resin of the mastix pistachio), laurel leaves, saffron, dates and their roasted kernels, boiled down to a syrup, which was then thinned again with wine. However, this beverage was available for kings and rich aristocrats only because spices were extremely expensive. During the Middle-Ages, a healing effect was attributed to the white spiced wine, which probably was drunk cold then. This may also have come because then, wine – no matter if with or without additives – was much easier digestible than water, which often was contaminated by faeces and other sewage, and the consumption of which did not seldom lead to death, particularly in children. (heidi.diehl)