Spiced wine for warm summer evenings and cold winter nights

Bee hiveMulled wine is most often red wine with spices, served warm at Christmas. In the Netherlands we drink Bisschopswijn ('bishop's wine'), also a warm, spiced red wine, on Saint Nicholas Eve (5 December), and in Spain you can drink Sangria, cold red wine with spices and fruit. Actually Martini is also a spiced wine!

In the past mulled wine was a popular drink, and there were many recipes to prepare spiced wine at home. Below is a Dutch recipe for red or white wine with spices and sweetened with honey.

The Notabel boecxken van cokeryen

These recipes are taken from what is known as 'the oldest printed cookbook in Dutch', Een notabel boecxken van cokeryen ('A remarkable booklet on cookery'). It was published in 1514 by printer Thomas vander Noot in Brussels, the author is unknown. There are 175 recipes, for meat, fish, pasties, sauces, pottages, pies and drinks. Recipes for vegetables or fruit are absent. Many of the recipes from this book originate from older cookery books, and the Notabel boecxken itself has been a source for the Nyeuwen coock boeck of Gheeraert Vorselman from 1556. The recipes for clareit on this page from the Notabel boecxken are also to be found there (Nyeuwen Coock boeck XVI 15 en 16, editie p.226).

Don't you mean Claret?

There are three recipes for clareit, and four for hypocras in the Notabel boecxken. Clareit is NOT to be confused with the English 'claret', which is a red Bordeaux wine. The Dutch clareit means "a kind of [...] clarified spiced wine" (according to the large Dutch lexicon WNT which considered the noun already obsolete in 1916, WNT III [2-3] kol.2051).

Mind you, despite the fact that the wine is sweetened with honey, this is not mead. Mead is made from fermented honey, not wine from grapes to which honey is added, even though such wines are sometimes sold as 'mead'.
Here you'll find two recipes for red and yellow clareit. In the Notabel boecxken these recipes are preceded by a recipe for white clareit, which is paradoxically made with brown sugar instead of honey, and the spices cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, long pepper, galanga, sweet flag (calamus) and coriander seeds. I very much doubt whether this 'white' clareit will be white.

Wine from all over Europe
The anonymous sixteenth-century author describes the best wines to be used for making 'clareit'. These wines are from France (Poitou), Germany (Rhine wine), Spain (tenture) and either Greece or Spain (romenie was originally produced in Greece, but later also in Spain). Then there was Bastaard wine, comparable to Italian Vino Santo. These wines were mostly sweet, but what they really tasted like is hard to say. Even if you use wines from the same regions, different kinds of vines may have been cultivated, and vinification is modernized. Just choose a wine you like to make your clareit, because if you use dishwater wine, you'll get dishwater clareit.

More recipes for spiced wine on Coquinaria

Elsewhere on this site you can find a French recipe for Hypocras (red spiced wine) from the fourteenth century, and another recipe from the Notabel boecxken, for Stuffed Eggs. There is also a recipe for Smoking Bishop from the nineteenth century and an excellent Divine Wine from seventeenth-century France.

The original recipe
The recipes are from the edition of Een notabel boecxken van cokeryen (1514 printed by Thomas vander Noot in Brussels) from 1994 (see Bibliography below).

Om te maken finen rooden clareyt (f. 27v)
Neempt vlemsschen zeem een pinte ende een half pinte waters. Dit siedet over een ende schuymet wel. Alst wel gheschuymt es soe doeghet van den viere. Dan neempt eenen stoop rooden wijn dyen minghelt metten voerseyden ghescuymden zeeme. Dan neempt onderhalf once tornisol dat syedet in een luttel wijns met water te gader. Dit minghelt daer in. Hebdi gheenen rooden wijn ghi sult nemen petau oft rinsschen wijn ende sieden daer so veel te meer tornysols inne maer wijn bastaert waer alder best. Oock suldi weten const men ghevinden eenighe tenture dat beter ware dan eenighen wijn diemen vinden mach. Dit es dat poedere: Neempt een onche caneels/ een once witten gimbere/ groffels naghelen/ greyne/ elcx twee dragina, notenmuscaten/ galigaen/ elcx een dragina, lanck peper een dragina. Hieraf maket pulver ende latet dan al lopen doer den sack acht oft neghen werven tot dat claer es. Maer dect den sac boven datter geen locht uut en gha.
To make fine red claret.
Take a pint Flemish honey and a half pint water. Boil together and skim well. When it has been skimmed, take it off the fire. Then take a stoop (about 4 pints) red wine. Temper with the forementioned skimmed honey. Then take one and a half ounce turnsole and boil this in a little wine with water. Add this [to the red wine]. If you do not have red wine, take Poitou wine or Rhine wine and use more turnsole. But Bastard wine (sweet white wine) is the best. Also you should know that if one can find some Tenture (Spanish red wine), this would be better than any other wine. This is the spice mixture: take an ounce cinnamon, an ounce ginger, cloves, grains of paradise, two drachma of each, nutmeg, galingale, one drachma each, long pepper, one drachma. Make a powder of these [spices] and then run the wine through a sack eight or nine times until it is clear. But cover the sack to prevent air coming out.
Om te maken finen gheluwen clareyt (f. 27v/28r)
Neempt een half pinte vleemsschen zeem ende een vierendeel waters. Dit salmen sieden over een. Oock so salment wel schuymen. Alst wel ghesoden es so doeghet van den viere. Dan neemt caneel, wytten ghimbere elc een halve once. Groffels naghelen/ greyne elckx twee dragina. Noten muscaten/ ghaligaen/ sofferaen elckx een dragina. Lanck pepere een schorpele. Maeckt hier af poedere ende doeghet in een quaerte witwijns ende mynghelt dyt all te samen in den wijn ende in dat zeem voerseyt. Dit ghedaen sijnde so gietet duer den sack acht oft negen werven tot dat claer genoech es. Maer den sack moet boven wel ghedect sijn dat die locht nyet uute en sla. Ghi sult oock weten dat wijn bastairt oft romenie es beter daertoe dan anderen wijn Item men sal weten dat rooden wijn van spaengnien die men seyt tentuere es goet boven alle anderen winen. Item men sal weten dat alle clareyten sijn beter van eenen dage out dan ionghere.
To make fine yellow claret
Take a half pint flemish honey and a fourth part water. This must be boiled together. Also one must skim it well. Take it from the fire when it has boiled well. Then take cinnamon and white ginger, a half ounce of each. Cinnamon and grains of paradise each two drachmae, nutmeg, galingale and saffron, each one drachma. Long pepper one scrupel. Make this into a powder and add to a quart white wine and mix with the wine and the forementioned honey. When this is done, pour the wine eight or nine times through a sack until it is clear enough. But the sack must be covered to prevent the air coming out. You must also know that Bastard wine or Romenie is better for this than any other wine. Also one should know that red wine from Spain that is called Tenture is better than all other wines. One should also know that all clarets are better one day old than younger.

Modern adaptation of the recipe Print the recipe
The Notabel boecxken gives two separate recipes for red and yellow claret, but these are so alike that I combined them into one recipe.
For 1 bottle.

The spices
1 tsp each of cinnamon and ginger
1/2 tsp each of ground cloves and grains of paradise
1/4 tsp each of grated nutmeg and galangal
pinch of pepper (long pepper according to the recipe, or use black pepper)
If you make yellow claret
1/4 tsp saffron
The wine
1 standard bottle dry red or dry white wine (3/4 liter or a fifth)
180 gram honey (1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp or 6.4 oz) and 1 deciliter (3.4 fl.oz) water for red wine
150 gram honey (1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp or 5.3 oz) and 3/4 deciliter (2.6 fl.oz) water for white wine

Combine honey and water in a pan and bring to the boil. Skim if necessary. Add spices and let cool. Add wine, cover directly on the surface of the wine with a sheet of plastic foil and leave for at least fifteen minutes. Then strain the spiced wine through a sieve with a fine cloth or paper towel in it. If the filter is clogged, change the paper towel or shift the cloth to a clean spot. Strain until the wine is clear, and pour the clareit back into the original bottle. Because of the added honey and water, the volume has increased, so pour the excess in a glass and cover the wine with plastic foil. There will always remain some dregs at the bottom of the bottle.
Let the wine rest (upright) in the refrigerator for at least one day. Handle the bottle with care, to keep the wine as clear as possible. Even placing the bottle with a thump on the table will cause the dregs to disperse again in the wine.

To serve
The yellow and red claret are both served cold.  Serve as an aperitive (like vermouth), or to accompany a dessert, like these medieval wafers.

All descriptions of ingredients

Galangal - Both Alpinia galanga (greater galanga) and Alpinia officinarum (lesser galanga) are from South China. The rhizome of lesser galanga has a stronger taste. In Indonesia this spice is called laos, and that is the name by which it is known in the netherlands. In the Middle Ages this was a popular spice. It resembles ginger in taste. Not surprisingly, galanga belongs to the same family.
Grains of Paradise - This spice was used in the European kitchen from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, and was at the top of its popularity in fourteenth century France. The plant (Aframomum melegueta) is related to ginger, but it is the seeds that are used as spice. It is still in use as spice in the region of West Africa, where it is indigenous. Since it is not easy to come by, you can also use an alternative. Cardamom is often mentioned, but you get the best effect if you add a little black pepper to the cardamom.
Piper longumLong pepper - Also known as Javanese pepper (Piper longum). The very small grains grow in flower spikes, and that is how you can buy them. If you can't find it, simply use (more) black pepper.
Long pepper was already known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and was not always differentiated from black pepper (Piper nigrum). Towards the end of the Middle Ages long pepper gradually dissappeared from the kitchen, but it was still used occasionally in the sixteenth century. Long pepper is hotter than black pepper, but not as hot as chilli peppers.
Chrozophora tintctoria.Turnsole - In the recipe for red claret from the sixteenth century the wine is coloured even more red with turnsole. This is a vegetable dye from Chrozophora tinctoria that can give a red or blue colour, depending on the acidity of the dish, like litmus.
One method of applying turnsole was to steep a piece of cloth in the dye, then transfer it to red wine which could be heated. The colour of red wine was not as deep as it is now, red wine looked more like rosé. Because modern red wine already has a deep red colour, it would be superfluous to use turnsole.

Ancient units in the original recipe
Dragina - Drachma, about 3,9 gram (a little less than 1 teaspoon, apothecary system)
Pint - About 6 deciliter (about the same as the modern pint)
Quaert - Two pints
Stoop - Four pints

The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)

  • Gheeraert Vorselman, Eenen nyeuwen coock boeck. Edition E. Cockx-Indestege, Eenen nyeuwen coock boeck. Kookboek samengesteld door Gheeraert Vorselman en gedrukt te Antwerpen in 1560. Wiesbaden, 1971
  • R. Jansen-Sieben and M. van der Molen Willebrands, Een notabel boecxken van cokeryen. Het eerste gedrukte Nederlandstalige kookboek circa 1514 uitgegeven te Brussel door Thomas Vander Noot. Bezorgd en van commentaar voorzien door [...]. Amsterdam, 1994. (Internet edition)
  • J.M. Verhoeff, De oude Nederlandse maten en gewichten. Amsterdam, 1983. An older publication from 1902 by W.C.H. Staring ([...] Maten, gewichten en munten [...]) is published online.