Although I don’t much go in for eggnog or punch, one of my favorite wine-related holiday hallmarks is mulled wine. One of the things I personally look forward to at this time of year are parties at particularly festive friends’ homes, where I know I’ll find a huge pot of piping-hot spiced wine to warm me up (and loosen me up) on a cold winter night.
Spiced wine actually dates all the way back to Roman times, when those ancient conquerors would add spices to their vino in order to make it more palatable. These days, you’ll find mulled, spiced wine in many international iterations, including glögg in Scandinavia, greyano vino in Bulgaria, sicak sarap in Turkey, and vin chaud in France. But my favorite version has to be the glühwein you can get at this time of year in the quaint outdoor Christmas markets in Germany. That’s probably because you can get it mit schuss, or with a shot of something extra!
The word glühwein means “glowing wine.” The term supposedly derives from the fact that glowing hot irons were once used to heat the wine as it was mulled. That practice has since ceased, but the name still rings true thanks to the glow glühwein will undoubtedly bring to your cheeks.
Historians think that glühwein originated when folks whose wine was going off (or was simply cheap and bad-tasting to begin with) would heat it and add spices to try to save the flavor. Today, the beverage has become a staple at Christmas markets all over the German-speaking world. In fact, the most crowded (and most cheerful) stall at the market is usually the one serving glühwein in commemorative mugs.
If you’re having a holiday party and want to try making your own glühwein, here’s a simple recipe. If you want to make it mit schuss, you can use either neutral brandy or rum, which gives it just the little extra kick you need to make your party that much more memorable (or harder to remember, depending on how much you indulge).
- 2 bottles of inexpensive, dry red wine like Pinot Noir or Zweigelt
- 1.5 cups water
- 1.5 cups sugar
- 6-10 cinnamon sticks (depending on your preference, plus extras for decoration)
- 4-8 whole cloves (again, depending on how strong you like the flavor)
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- Optional: cardamom pods
- Optional: Star anise (which gives it a pretty visual effect)
- 1 lemon
- 2 oranges, one for the wine and one for decoration
- 1 cup brandy or rum
In a large pot, combine the water, sugar and spices (including about half your cloves) and bring to a boil while stirring, then reduce the heat to a simmer and continue stirring.
Cut your lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the pot.
Continue to simmer until the mixture begins to feel viscous. Let it cool, then strain it back into the soup pot so that any pulp is removed. Add the wine and brandy or rum to the mixture.
Cut your orange in halves or quarters and stick the remaining cloves into the orange peel, then drop them into the mixture.
Turn the heat back on and stir the mixture while heating until the brew is steaming but not boiling. After all, you don’t want to cook off all the alcohol!
Continue simmering on low and stirring for about 10-15 minutes, then turn off the heat.
Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, then ladle into mugs.
Decorate mugs with a twist of orange peel and a stick of cinnamon, and serve.