I love a good party, and I especially love a good party punch. In summer, I typically stir up a sparkly bowl of sangria and in winter, I’m all about cozying up to a hot cocktail (like this festive cranberry-apple cider). Mulled wine often makes an appearance at my holiday parties and I never serve it the same way twice.
That’s the beauty of mulled wine — you can’t really go wrong as long as it’s sweetened, spiced, and heated. It’s a forgiving drink and open to experimentation, depending on what kind of spices you have in your kitchen. Sometimes I’ll make mulled wine like a hot sangria, with added chunks of apples or pears thrown in.
But perhaps one of my favorite versions is a European mulled wine called glühwein. A sip of this rich, fruity spiced wine brings me back to the first time I ever tried it a few years ago. I was standing on top of Mount Titlis in the Uri Alps in Engelberg, Switzerland, having ridden its famous revolving cable car up 7,000-plus feet.
As the highest peak of the range north of Susten Pass, Titlis towers above the snow line with freezing temperatures and permanent snow cover, even in summer when I went. I was chilled after checking out the views from the summit, and my nose led me inside one of the resort’s restaurants where a curious concoction called glühwein was being served. That hot steaming mug set me right!
(And by the way, that’s not really my body with the snowboard… but I couldn’t resist a cheesy tourist photo opp with the cutouts!)
Glühwein is found all over Germany, Austria, and Switzerland at ski resorts and in stalls throughout the region’s lively Christmas markets (where it sits in seething cauldrons with oranges floating on top). I’ve since sampled a few different versions and now make my own at home, as close as I can get to the original.
In traditional glühwein, cinnamon and cloves are the usual spices but you don’t have to stay true to this recipe. I’ve also used bay leaves, cardamom pods, vanilla beans, and even added lemons to delicious success. The brandy is optional, but adds a nice kick; you can also try rum or whiskey.
It’s a drink that goes down easy, so I definitely recommend it as an apéritif to get your party started!
Makes 6 servings
2 (750 ml) bottles dry red wine
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup brandy
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the wine, sugar, brandy, cinnamon, and star anise. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Using a knife or vegetable peeler, peel thin long strips from the oranges and reserve the peels. Slice each orange in half crosswise and squeeze the juice into the saucepan. Push the cloves into the remaining orange rinds and add the rinds and peels to the saucepan.
Adjust the heat so that the wine stays at a bare simmer. It should be hot and steaming, but never boiling. Continue warming the wine, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes to let the flavors mingle.
Remove the orange rinds, cinnamon, and star anise before serving. Serve warm.