You may know it as gluhwein or glogg, but I'm a fan of using the direct translation of what the French call, vin chaud, so around my house we just call mulled wine "hot wine." Granted, calling it hot wine takes away a bit of the romance and mystery that can surround this traditional holiday-time drink, but it makes me laugh, and I'll take a good chuckle any day.
Many pre-mulled, just-heat-it-up versions are available for sale, of course, and some of them even reflect the regional differences between the many areas of Europe where Christmas time tends to involve a noted chill in the air and mulled wine is a tradition.
Yet homemade mulled wine is so easy to make and so easy to customize, I urge you to give it a try:
- First things first, you're going to pour a bottle of dry red wine* into a medium saucepan.
- Add 6 whole cloves, 4 whole star anise, 2 cinnamon sticks, and 1/4 cup brown sugar. You may also want to use 2 juniper berries and/or 2 cardamom pods as well (I'm a particular and ardent fan of cardamom, so for me it's a must-add, but it is far from traditional).
- Bring the mixture just barely to a simmer over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Seriously, you just want bubbles to have started to form along the edges of the pan. Too much bubbling means too much heat, and heat cooks off alcohol, which is far from the point of mulled wine, and can also alter the balance of the wine too much as well as bring out unwanted bitterness in the spices.
- While the wine heats, cut 1 orange crosswise into slices (about 1/4-inch thick is good) and add them to the wine. Adjust the heat to keep the very gentle simmer going and "mull" the wine for about 10 minutes.
- Strain the mixture into mugs and serve hot - feel free to float a wine-infused orange slice in each cup for dramatic effect.
Variations! Mulled wine—even proper gluhwein or traditional glogg—has as many variations as it has makers. Play around with the some of the flavors below (or come up with your own!) to create your perfect version of this comforting cold-weather favorite:
- Make the final drink sweeter by adding more sugar—add just a tablespoon at a time and taste after each addition to avoid over-sweetening
- Use honey or agave syrup in place of the brown sugar for a different flavor
- Add more or less (or leave out) any of the spices based on your taste
- Plop a whole nutmeg in or add a few gratings of nutmeg to each serving
- Add slices of lemon, pear, or apple along with or in place of the orange (I find Meyer lemons to be a particularly delightful twist)
- Kick it up a notch by adding a splash (or more) of brandy or rum to the proceedings
- Follow a British practice and start with port instead of dry red wine (in this case, you don't need to add sugar!)
- Mimic some German versions and use a fruit wine (raspberry wine or blueberry wine are good options) in place of dry red wine
- Add dried fruit such as raisins, currants, or figs - either fish them out before serving or make eating the wine-soaked fruit at the end part of the treat
*The wine gets spices and sugar added to it along with being heated up, but you still drink it. On the one hand, don't break the bank with a fine bottle, but on the other hand, make sure to use a wine that you'd want to drink anyway.