I’m supposed to be wrapping presents this evening . . . but I’m making Glühwein instead.
If you haven’t had the pleasure, Glühwein is a hot, spiced wine traditionally enjoyed during the Christmas holiday season. Why Christmas? Well, there’s an excellent academic answer (keep reading), but I suspect it’s because no one wants to drink hot wine in July. Spiced wine is enjoyed all over the world, and it has all sorts of geographic aliases. My family is Scandinavian (Norwedish if you ask my daughter) and German, so I’ve always called it Glögg or Glühwein, depending on my mood. And tonight I’m in a German mood . . .
So whose bright idea was it to spice wine?
Hot spiced wine goes back all the way to ancient Greek and Roman times — back when fermentation was a happy accident and wine was stored in porous vessels that allowed it to spoil, and spoil quickly. How quickly? After harvest in the fall, you had about 3 months to enjoy your wine before it started to taste like Neptune’s salad dressing . . . which would be right about Christmas time. And then what do you do with your wine? You don’t throw it out — you toss in a handful of spices and heat it up!
During the Middle Ages in Europe, people didn’t drink much water (on account of the cholera living in it), so they drank a lot of beer and wine. A spiced wine called Hippocras (or Ypocras), named after Hippocrates, was very popular as a healthy alternative to water — it was said to ward off everything from scurvy to the plague. The wine was filtered through a device Hippocrates invented to filter water, called the Hippocrates Sleeve (which is what’s going on in the pic to the right).
How do you make Glühwein?
I make Glühwein using one of those, not-really-a-recipe recipes. It’s a little different every time depending on what I’ve got in my pantry. Here’s what I’m using today:
- 1 bottle of red wine (not the good stuff . . . there’s a purpose for Two Buck Chuck, and this is it)
- 3/4 to 1 cup sugar (more or less to taste, not pictured)
- 2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
- 10 (give or take) whole cloves
- Star anise
- An orange
Cut the orange in half, and juice it into a medium saucepan. Shove the cloves into the orange, and put the orange, cinnamon sticks, and star anise into the saucepan.
Tip: You might want to strain your Glühwein before you drink it (there will be orange pulp and spice bits swimming around in it). I don’t have a Hippocrates Sleeve in my kitchen, but a plain old strainer works just fine.
Ta-Da . . . Glühwein!
There are hundreds of recipes and variations for spiced wine floating around the Internet. They’re all very similar, but vary little bit here and there by country and tradition. It’s the little twists I find interesting, so . . .
England – Mulled Wine
The word mulled comes from the Old English, meaning mixed or muddled. I was really hoping it meant “thinking wine”, but that must be New English.
Trivia: Mulled wine has a great little cameo in the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. While visiting a bar, Charles the Angel orders “mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves.” Cheers!
Germany & Austria – Glühwein
It’s pronounced Gloo-vine, and translates to glow-wine. The Germans have some fantastic words, do they not? If you’ve ever been to Germany at Christmas time, you know it’s COLD in Germany at Christmas. And the Germans embrace the cold – it doesn’t seem to phase them at all. But I know their secret: Glühwein.
Bonus: My mom always tells me that Glühwein will fix a cold. You’re supposed to drink as much Glühwein “as you dare” (that’s my favorite part), take a HOT shower, and get into bed. There. You’re cured. Prost!
Scandinavia – Glögg
When Scandinavians first tasted spiced wine, they thought, “Hey, this is really good. You know what would make it better? Vodka.” And then Glögg happened. Scandinavians also add Aquavit (another vodka-esque spirit) to their Glögg. And a handful of cardamom pods. Skål!
France – Vin Chaud
The French add Cognac to their spiced wine. Well of course they do. And peppercorns. A votre santé!
Italy – Vin Brulé
Vin Brulé means “burnt wine”. The Italians like to ignite their spiced wine on the stovetop and let the flames burn themselves out before serving. Outstanding. Salute!
Russia – Глинтвейн
The Russians call their spiced wine, Глинтвейн, which is pronounced, Глинтвейн. The Russians like to add vodka to their spiced wine . . . not really much of a shocker. На здоровье!
I feel a glow coming on . . . I think I will pour myself another mug of Glühwein and tackle those presents. And maybe I’ll watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” . . .