Nothing else quite warms up a cold winter’s night like Glühwein does. A hot spiced wine, this winter cocktail warms you through – from your fingers as you cozy them around your mug all the way to the tips of your toes. Ahhh. Now it’s the holidays.
Glühwein is really easy to make, and, speaking from experience, it’s perfect for socially-distanced outdoor visits around a fire in these 2020 winter months. (Now there’s a sentence that one-year-ago me never would have expected to be typing.)
What is Glühwein?
Glühwein is mulled – or spiced – wine, traditionally served up at Christmas markets in Germany.
To make Glühwein, red wine is simmered with warm winter spices like cinnamon and cloves, sweetened with sugar, and balanced with a bit of citrus.
There are many names and variations served at Christmas markets all across Europe. Glogg, wassail, mulled wine, hot wine … or, of course, Glühwein – which literally translates to “glow wine.” Makes sense to me! (Where I learned that and more about the history of Glühwein can be found here.)
In our house back here in the U.S., we call it Glühwein because the first time we tried mulled wine, it was a Glühwein. And … it was in a German theme town in our state, right here in the U.S. (Hangs head in shame.)
I know, I know. I wish we had an incredible story about a decades-ago wintertime stroll at an actual European Christmas Market. And that’s definitely a post-pandemic life goal.
Instead, our mulled-wine story took place several years ago on a frosty evening as we strolled the shops of Leavenworth, Washington. We ducked into a wine tasting shop and came out with our mittens wrapped around a warm mug of steaming, intoxicating goodness that warmed us from our noses to our toes.
And we’ve been recreating and refining our own Glühwein recipe back at home ever since. We love it, our guests love it, and I hope you don’t mind me sharing our recipe with you even though our experience – and recipe – might not be the most authentic you’ll find.
How to Make Glühwein
For the best and easiest Glühwein, I take a cue from my Hot Spiced Cider recipe by 1) keeping it simple and 2) starting with a clove-studded orange. Not only is the clove-studded orange pretty, but poking the cloves into the peel of a whole orange helps release the oils in the skin of the orange, adding flavor without bitterness. Plus, it helps contain the cloves so you don’t have to worry about picking a loose one out when you serve your Gluhwein.
I add the orange to a medium saucepan over low heat. Then, I add some whole cinnamon sticks and a bottle of light-ish red wine. A low-to-mid-level pinot noir is always a winner for us. Next, stir in some sugar – plain old granulated is a good bet, though some might try honey or brown sugar. I like to keep the sweetener simple in Glühwein so the wine, citrus, and spice flavors really shine through. Oh, and throw in some lemon peels for good measure for a bit more citrus zest. Pun intended.
Then I bring my spiced wine to just below a simmer and let it mingle with the citrus and spices for about 20 minutes. Then add brandy for some more warming magic. Brandy is such a perfect companion for mulled cocktails that I add it to almost every single one I make.
Taste, and, if you feel like it needs it, add some more sugar until it’s just right.
Serve in cozy mugs and garnish, if you like, with orange slices and cinnamon sticks.
Glühwein (Hot Spiced Red Wine)
- 1 each medium organic orange
- 20 each whole cloves (give or take a few cloves – no need to be exact)
- 750 ml light red wine (1 bottle, on the drier/lighter side is better. We love Pinot Noir, Lemburger or Merlot can also work)
- 3 each (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
- 5 each strips lemon peel (about 2 inches long each, just use a carrot peeler and try to avoid including too much pith)
- 1/4 cup sugar (start with 1/4 cup and add to taste up to 2/3 cup)
- 1/3 cup brandy
- Cinnamon sticks
- Orange slices
- Using a toothpick, poke 20 holes all over your orange, then poke the cloves into the holes.
- Add orange to a medium saucepan. Pour the wine into the pan. Add the cinnamon sticks, lemon peel, and 1/3 cup sugar. Stir gently to help dissolve the sugar.
- Turn the heat on medium-low and heat until just below a simmer. Do not boil! Reduce heat to low – just enough to keep warm but again, not simmering or boiling. Cover and let warm over the heat for about 20 minutes, until hot wine is flavored by the spices.
- Stir in the brandy. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Depending on your wine and tastes, you may only need the intial 1/4 cup of sugar, or you may need the entire 2/3 cup.
- Ladle into three large or four smaller mugs, garnish if desired, pass 'em out and and inhale your Glühwein goodness.