I'm all set for chilly weather. Granted, given that I live in Phoenix, I probably shouldn't keep my hopes up. But the mild climate doesn't keep me from enjoying one of my favorite winter beverages, mulled wine.
There's something about a steaming pot of mulled wine that's just a little bit more festive than most other holiday drinks. The communal nature of the drink makes gathering around a roaring fire an especially convivial event.
If I have one issue with regular mulled wine, it's that it's a little boring. I mean, it's decent, but even though there's spices and a hint of sweetness, somehow the mixture seems a little flat to my taste buds.
Thankfully, the Scandinavians have me covered. Up in the Land of the Midnight Sun, Swedes and Finns have made their own version of mulled wine for centuries. It's called glögg. Back in the 1600s, a similar drink was known as glodgad vin. The name roughly translates to "glowing wine", a reference to the warm feeling and glowing complexion you get after drinking it. Somewhere in the 1800s, the name was shortened to just glögg.
The main way that glögg is different from your garden variety mulled wine is that it's made stronger through a couple of ways. First, oftentimes port is used in place of some of the regular red wine. Second, a healthy dose of liquor is added. In Sweden, the spirit of choice is aquavit, a brandy flavored with caraway or dill. In Finland, they go for vodka. Cognac is also an especially nice choice.
Whatever spirits you select, don't go too crazy on price. After adding spices (and vodka!) to the wine, it will be hard to tell the difference between Three Buck Chuck and a grand cru Bordeaux. As long as you find the wine remotely palatable on its own, it will work fine in your batch of glögg.
I know some people out there turn up their nose at the idea of raisins in anything, but they really help the drink here, adding a rich sweetness that plain sugar can't quite provide. Note that if you aren't a raisin fan, you can always take them out after they've given their essence to the drink. Or you can cut back on the raisins and add some plain sugar instead. However, if you haven't had a raisin soaked in red wine and port, you're missing out.
Note that a few servings of glögg can sneak up on you in quite a hurry. Serve it in relatively small vessels, and please remain seated while the ride is in motion.
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Glögg serves 12 to 16 2 4-inch cinnamon sticks 10 whole cloves 10 cardamom pods, cracked (or 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds) 1 750-ml bottle claret or other full-bodied red wine (such as Merlot, Malbec, or Cabernet Sauvignon) 1 750-ml bottle tawny port 1-1/2 cups aquavit, cognac, or vodka Zest of one orange 1/2 cup raisins heaping 1/2 cup blanched almonds Sugar to taste
Put cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom in a tea strainer or fine mesh bag. Pour wine, port, and liquor into a medium saucepan. Add spices, orange zest, raisins, and almonds. Bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep 1 hour. Remove and discard spices and zest. Add sugar to taste. To serve, gently warm in a saucepan until steaming; do not let boil. Glögg can be kept warm in a covered slow cooker on the Keep Warm setting. Ladle into mugs, adding some of the raisins and almonds to each mug as a garnish. If desired, garnish each serving with an extra strip of orange zest.
To make ahead, tightly cover and let stand at room temperature after discarding spices but before adding sugar. Mixture should keep well (and likely improve) for several days.