While the mulled wine was quietly simmering on my stove the other day—and the distinct, sweet smell of cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, and orange started to perfume my whole L.A. apartment—it lifted me right back to my high school winter days in Prague and the fun memories of getting blithely buzzed on it with my classmates.
We would idly stroll through the snow-covered streets of Old Town after school, talking, smoking cigarettes, and freezing our asses off, eventually stopping at an outdoor Christmas market, where vendors would sell the steaming wine in white plastic cups. We would stand around and drink one, maybe two, clutching it with both hands to get warm, and then keep walking again. There would be a few more rounds later in a café, this time served in proper glass mugs, and occasionally spiked with rum. It was addictive and affordable, and also pretty strong, but I don’t remember ever being carded—either we looked older than 18 (legal drinking age in the Czech Republic), or they considered it a first-aid remedy for the cold outside.
Mulled wine is a simple yet festive drink, and throughout Central and Northern Europe, it announces the arrival of the holidays. In Czech it is called svařák, a slang abbreviation of svařené vino, meaning “mulled wine”; in German it is called glühwein, which translates as “glow wine”; the Swedes drink glögg, but it has an even ratio of wine/hard liquor, and they add dried fruit and nuts to it.
The recipe is so easy, it’s embarrassing to call it a recipe. All you’re really doing is throwing aromatics—feel free to add whole cardamom, allspice or nutmeg, too—into a saucepan with wine and heating the whole thing up slowly to “mull” it. When I say “heating up,” I mean it. Do not let the wine come to a full boil; otherwise, the alcohol will evaporate.
- Serves 4–6
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 medium orange, preferably organic
- 1 750-ml bottle red wine
- 10 whole cloves
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 3 whole star anise
- 1 apple for garnish (optional)
- Add the sugar and water to a small pot, and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Wash the whole orange and cut it into thin slices.
- Combine the sugar water, orange, red wine, cloves, cinnamon, and star anise in a medium pot. Heat, stirring occasionally, over very low heat for 30 minutes. Do not let it come to a boil, because the alcohol in the wine would evaporate.
- Strain the mixture through a sieve to discard spices and the orange, and ladle into glasses.
- I styled the photos for this post with apple slices, with a star design in the middle, as a garnish that floats on the surface. To do that, cut the apple into thin slices—choose an apple size according to your serving glass size—and, using a small star cookie cutter, make cutouts in the center of each slice.