Monday, 22 December 2014

Conditum Paradoxum - Spiced Wine

The scene above is probably frighteningly familiar to anybody who has had their Christmas work-do recently, and would probably be frighteningly familiar to many ancient Romans at this time of year.  We're currently in the midst of the Roman festival of Saturnalia, a time of gift-giving and continual partying and drinking which ran from 17th - 23rd December in honour of Saturn, the god of time.

Whilst the above fresco does not depict Saturnalia, I've included it here for two reasons - in it we see Bacchus, the god of wine, and we also see a satyr drinking his fill from a bowl.  The Romans clearly loved the stuff, so I think it is high time we had a go at Roman wine for ourselves.  And what better recipe to start with than conditum paradoxum, an ancient spiced wine not dissimilar to mulled wine.

Unlike most Roman recipes, we have exact quantities for this drink, but because this will produce an industrial sized batch, I have reduced the amounts.  As I was just testing the recipe, my quantities are enough to produce a single glass - scale the amounts if you want a bottle's worth.  A point to note is that this wine is incredibly sweet, much like a dessert wine or mead.  We know that in ancient Rome it was uncommon to drink wine straight - it tended to be diluted with water.  If you find that you need to do this, then do so!  Finally, whilst it is unlikely that this was drunk whilst warm, I think that, much like mulled wine, it is well worth doing.

Conditum Paradoxum
(makes one glass)

"Put six sextarii of honey into a bronze jar containing two sextarii of wine, so that the wine will be boiled off as you cook the honey.  Heat this over a slow fire of dry wood, stirring with a wooden rod as it boils.  If it boils over, add some cold wine. Take off the heat and allow to cool.  When it does cool, light another fire underneath it.  Do this a second and a third time and only then remove it from the brazier and skim it.  Next, add 4 ounces of pepper, 3 scruples of mastic, a dragma of bay leaf and saffron, 5 date stones and then the dates themselves.  Finally, add 18 sextarii of light wine.  Charcoal will correct any bitter taste." - Apicius, 1.1


  • 187ml White Wine
  • 150g Honey
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds (instead of mastic)
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper
  • Several Strands of Saffron
  • 1 Small Handful of Raisins or Dates


  • Add 75ml of wine and all of the honey to a saucepan - bring this to the boil so that the honey dissolves completely.  After several minutes, remove the pan from the heat.
  • Whilst the wine is still hot, add all of the other ingredients - this will help the flavours to infuse.  Place a lid on top of the pan to keep the heat in to prolong the process.
  • When this is cool, add the rest of the wine.  To serve, pour through a fine sieve - it will probably still be quite cloudy.  Taste for sweetness - if it is too sweet dilute with water or with more wine.  If you wish to have it hot, simply reheat in a pan!


Conditum paradoxum is an incredibly sweet wine which tastes largely of pepper and saffron.  The pepper means that the mixture is warming even when served cold.  The addition of fennel seeds results in aniseed undertones, but not so much as to be overpowering.  I think that without some form of dilution, whether in wine or water, conditum becomes sickly quite quickly. Overall, this is a luxurious drink which, when served warm, is perfectly suited to the cold winter months.