The first time I had tasted glintvein was one of the most memorable nights of my life. It was New Year’s Eve, 2002, and my father had been busy prepping Russian mulled wine for most of the evening. Not bothering to check the proper measurements, he was attempting to set sugar on fire with the aid of high-proof alcohol. The result, albeit glamorous-looking, had been entirely too strong for anyone to actually consume – except my fifteen-year-old best friend Karina, who my dad was using as a guinea pig. Four rounds of glintvein later, we finally had a winning recipe, and one very drunk teenager.
Fuelled by my dad’s version of glintvein, Karina, myself and my high-school sweetheart spent the rest of that night wandering around the city (it should be noted that neither he nor I actually drank much of the wine, and remained quite sober). We visited friends, toasted to the New Year, and generally spread cheer all around. But everywhere we went, we told the story of my father’s Russian mulled wine.
In the years since, my family has perfected their signature Russian mulled wine recipe. They make it for Friday night gatherings with their friends, for lazy Saturdays with the family, and of course, for New Year’s Eve. It’s the drink of choice in my house during the winter, when the hours of natural light are scarce and even the normally sunny streets of Israel get gloomy and drizzly. My parents love their glintvein so much, they even purchased special, crystal cups with handles for the creation, and they love pulling them out for guests to admire.
When the holidays come around, I usually find myself missing my family. The warm scent of Russian mulled wine is enough to bring back memories of that fateful New Year’s Eve in 2002, or the many other nights since spent in my parents’ home, drinking glintvein by the warmth of the (electric) fire. So in attempt to bring them a bit closer, I open a bottle of cheap red wine, and make a pot of my mother’s Russian mulled wine.
My parents’ Russian mulled wine is a bit of a far cry from glintvein, which in itself is a bastardization of the sweet, strong wine that Germans serve around Christmas. There are no sugar cubes soaked in brandy, and nothing is set on fire. But there is a good deal of cinnamon, orange, cloves, and red wine (my mother insists on only the cheapest bottles, but nothing too dry!), and a generous pour of brandy.
And though I wouldn’t advise to serve this to any 15-year-olds (my parents were always fairly liberal), a few glasses of Russian mulled wine may be enough to send you roaming through the city on your own merry New Year’s Eve adventure.
So whatever your plans for New Year’s Even are, I hope you will include a pot of my Russian mulled wine. S novim godom, s novim schast’em!
Russian mulled wine (Glintvein)
- 1 bottle of cheap red wine sweet or semi-sweet, but not dry
- 1 orange cut into two halves (leave the skin on)
- 1 lemon
- 12 cloves whole
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- pinch of nutmeg
- sugar to taste
- 50 mls of cognac or brandy
Pour one bottle of semi-sweet, cheap red wine into a large pot, and set it on low-medium heat. Cut an orange into two halves, leaving the skin on. Insert 6 whole cloves into the flesh of each orange half (using 12 cloves in total), and add the orange to the pot of wine. Add lemon to pot.
While the wine comes to a heat that is near the boiling point (70-80 degrees celsius), add 3 cinnamon sticks, a pinch of nutmeg, and sugar to taste, stirring occasionally. The mulled wine should be pleasantly sweet and warm. Continue cooking on low heat for about 20 minutes, but note that the wine should not be allowed to come to a boil. As soon as the first bubbles appear, immediately turn off the heat and add 50 mls of cognac or brandy (for strength) and immediately cover the pot with a lid.
Let stand for a few minutes, and then pour the mulled wine into special cups (no thin goblets here, please!)
My mother would also insist I include her two basic rules for glintvein: "1 - the wine must be the cheapest kind, and semi-sweet or even sweet - the whole aroma and taste of the mulled wine depends on this. 2- avoid boiling the wine - it will kill the mulled wine completely. Nor should the glintvein be cold - it should only be as hot as you can handle! And also - the glasses should be beautiful, transparent, that you can see the beauty of the drink!! Or so I was taught."