This is a perennial favorite in our household and a sure sign that the holidays have arrived. Glühwein also tastes great after a long day on the slopes or even following a cold, rainy hike (though we don’t have any of those on our hiking tours).
Glühwein, pronounced [glooh-vein], is the German word for hot-spiced wine and literally means, “glow wine” in reference to the pleasant warming effect that follows from drinking it. The French call it vin chaud, and many English speakers know it simply as mulled wine. In fact, many European traditions feature hot-spiced wine in one form or another.
Germans and Swiss in particular typically enjoy Glühwein in large quantities around Christmas and New Year’s Day. A favorite place to sip a warming glass is outside at the Weihnachtsmarkt, (the Christmas market). The markets open in mid-December and sell ornaments, handmade toys, gifts and all sorts of Christmas items. Christmas markets across Germany are generally open from late November to just before Christmas Eve. Every city and town has its own Weinachtsmarkt and it’s always a treat to see people shopping for goodies in a medieval-style outdoor market while keeping their spirits bright with roasted chestnuts, gingerbread cookies, grilled sausages and warm glasses of Glühwein.
Preparing Glühwein is an extremely simple affair and open to much improvisation. You really only need five ingredients; wine, sugar, cinnamon, clove and lemon peel. Family recipes vary from house to house and part of the fun is developing your own family tradition. Use my recipe as a starting point and then have fun on your own.
1. 1 bottle (750 ml) inexpensive dry red table wine. Claret works great but just about any red wine will do.
2. 4-5 Tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste.
3. 1 cinnamon stick, broken into 4-5 pieces.
4. 6-15 whole cloves, depending on taste.
5. 2 star anise. (Optional)
6. 6-8 whole peppercorns. (Optional)
7. 4 cardamom pods. (Optional)
8. Washed rind of a lemon and or orange, cut in a continuous spiral strip. Use only half of each if you use both lemon and orange.
9. A splash of rum, brandy or schnapps. (Optional).
Combine all of the ingredients in saucepot over medium-low heat. My guests prefer less sugar so I only add 1-2 Tablespoons initially and then let them add sugar to taste after serving.
Heat anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, covered, and do not allow to boil. I usually heat for around 30 minutes. Longer heating brings out a warmer, more cinnamon flavor. Taste and adjust sugar. Strain through a sieve and serve in preheated glasses. Guests can also add another shot of rum, brandy or schnapps to their glasses upon serving.
If you have Glühwein left over then remove the spices and rinds from the saucepot, reduce heat to low and cover. Leaving the rind will result in a bitter flavor if left to warm too long.
Many German specialty stores offer prepackaged “tea bags” of spices under the brand name Glühfix. I made my own Glühfix at home and it makes Glühwein preparation really fast when I need it for a party or a quick Europe fix. I just throw some wine and lemon rind in a saucepot and add a pre made sachet or two of spices. The sachets also eliminate the need for straining the spices when I’m ready to serve.
To make your own Glühfix, good for one or two cups of spiced wine:
Put half a cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, two whole peppercorns, two cardamom pods and two whole cloves into a circle of cheese cloth about 3 inches in diameter. Use two layers of cheesecloth to hold in the spices. Fold up the edges to form a little bag and tie off with twine. Store in a cool place until you need to make Glühwein. You can also use the sachets to make a wonderful hot cider during the fall or even a warm spiced beer with rum, (more on that later).
Finally, here’s a non-alcoholic version called Kinderglühwein.
Pour 1 liter of red grape-juice into a saucepot. Add honey to taste, (about 150 grams works well), 1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves and peels of half a lemon and half an orange. Heat, but do not boil. Strain into preheated glasses as above.
Ein glückliches neues Jahr! (A very Happy New Year to all of you!)
(Top Glühwein photo from winemonger.com)