Mulled or spiced wines are understandably popular when the weather turns cooler, and almost every country has its own version of mulled wine, wassail, or glogg. I confess I was never a fan until I spent my first winter in Germany — or rather, my first Christmas season. Glühwein (GLOO – vine), roughly translated as “glow wine,” is the official beverage of the German Christkindlmärkte (KRIST-kin-del-merk-tuh) or Weihnachtsmärkte (VY-nahkts-merk-tuh), the world-renown Christmas markets!
Glühwein is both light-bodied and lightly spiced, which makes it eminently drinkable by the mugful as one wanders outdoors through the colorful stalls and festive displays of the markets. And when you’re at a Christmas market, you will want to drink Glühwein by the mugful, not only because it’s delicious, but also because it’s winter in Germany and it’s darn cold wandering through those markets!
It is the lightness in both body and spice that distinguishes Glühwein from other mulled wines I’ve tried, and it’s this same quality that made me such a fan. Unlike many other mulled wine recipes which are 100% wine, sweetened and spiced, Glühwein can be one-third to one-half water. This is what makes Glühwein both quaffable in large sips to keep warm, and quaffable without getting too tipsy throughout the long winter day and night as one revels in the festive spirit of the Christmas market. The amounts of each spice used in Glühwein are also generally less than in other mulled wines, so the finished drink is as easy on the palate as it is on the liver.
There is something that seems just plain wrong about drinking Glühwein indoors. I can’t remember ever seeing anyone drinking Glühwein inside a restaurant in Germany, although it might be on the menu. Having said all that, once it turned really cold here, we longed for a friendly mug of Glühwein to chase away the chill, even if we were drinking it at home. At least it was still cool in the house, unlike last winter when we made a batch of Glühwein in Hawaii! (Now that was just wrong, and we couldn’t really enjoy our drink when it was still 70F outside!)
When making Glühwein, choose a cheap dry jug wine, such as a California Burgundy. No need for a pricey bottle here — not only are you going to add fruit and spices, but you’re going to cut it with water, too. If you want to make this for a party, prepare the Base in triple or quadruple quantities, and divide the Base accordingly (into 3 or 4 batches). Then make each batch of
Glühwein as needed by adding a bottle of wine to the Base, and heating gently. If you make a big batch at once and leave it simmering too long, the alcohol can cook out and the spices become bitter.
You can fortify and personalize your Glühwein by adding shots of your favorite liquor or liqueur to your mug. My favorite addition is amaretto, a combination that is sold as “Heisse Liebe” (Hot Love) at the Heidelberg Christmas market (seen here) where I first tried it. Even if we only have our memories of Germany’s Christkindlmärkte now, at least we can still make a hot mug of Glühwein to keep us warm.
Now if only I could figure out where my Zimtwaffeleisen is …
500 ml/ 2 cups water
one orange, washed well, and sliced crosswise
Peel from one lemon
1 stick of cinnamon
3 whole cloves
3 tablespoons of raw sugar (only 2 TBL of regular sugar)
3-4 whole green cardamom pods
8-10 whole coriander seeds
1 vanilla bean
Note: If you can only find decorticated ground cardamom (inner seeds removed from the pod and ground) at the supermarket, put about 1/4 tsp. together with the cloves and coriander seeds, in a tea ball or tie them up in a coffee filter, and boil with the other spices and fruits. Remove bag after wine has been added and warmed through.
1 bottle (750ml) dry red wine
Rum, brandy, amaretto, or other liqueur, if desired
Bring water to boil. Add orange slices, lemon peel, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, cardamom, coriander and vanilla bean. Return to boil, then turn heat down to medium high and cook for 25 minutes.
The base can be prepared in advance, or in large quantities and kept refrigerated until needed. Re-heat Glühwein Base to boiling before adding wine.
Add bottle of wine and turn heat down to simmer – DO NOT BOIL. Keep at simmer for 15 minutes.
Pour into mugs, being careful not to pour in any of the whole spices. Add shots of rum, brandy, vodka, amaretto, hazelnut liqueur or sambuco as desired. Enjoy with spice cookies, such as Spekulaatis, Pfeffernusse,Molasses Crinkles, or Zimtwaffeln. Zum Wohl!