The Finnish saying “a beloved child has many names” is right on the spot when it comes to one of the tastiest and wide-spread holiday season drinks, mulled wine. Known as spiced wine, glühwein, glögg, glögi, vin brulé, vino caliente, bisschopswijn, vin chaud, candola and vinho quente, depending on which country you are in, this cinnamon-fragranced, soul-soothing nectar is loved by young and old all over the world. It is the perfect drink to sip slowly on a crisp winter evening, in the company of dear friends, to celebrate the holiday season.
A Spicy Background
The origins of mulled wine go all the way back to the 2nd-century Roman empire, where red wine was sometimes spiced and heated up. Great conquerors of their era, the Romans travelled across (current) Europe, spreading wine and viticulture all around the continent and elsewhere in the world. Many centuries later, in Scandinavia, the predecessor of mulled wine was consumed by messengers and postmen who travelled on horseback or skis in the cold winters and drank the spiced wine to warm themselves up.
These days, you can find mulled wine during the holiday season in most European countries, but also in other continents and countries such as Chile and Canada. It is generally sold at European outdoor Christmas markets, where the spiced fragrance of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger is joyously associated with the relaxed holiday atmosphere.
Scandinavia boasts a particularly sophisticated mulled wine culture and during the winter season – from the beginning of November until Epiphany and beyond – you can enjoy gløgg in Denmark and Norway, glögg in Sweden and glögi in Finland at outdoor markets, aperitifs and happy hours as well as casual evening gatherings at a friend’s house. In Finland, mulled wine is typically served in a glass (often adorned with a metal handle) or a ceramic mug, and usually accompanied by sweet pastries such as gingerbread cookies or joulutorttu, a Finnish Christmas pastry, made from puff pastry in the shape of a star or pinwheel, filled with prune jam and often dusted with icing sugar.
Where to drink an authentic glögi
To taste one of the most celeb versions of glögi in Finland, you can visit Hvitträsk, a fairytale-like mansion, situated atop a wooded hill in the small town of Kirkkonummi, half-an-hour West of Helsinki. It is currently a museum and was previously the studio home of the members of the Finnish architecture firm Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen. The mansion’s current owners have created a distinctive Hvitträsk version of mulled wine, based on blueberries. Jars of their glögi spice mixture are at sale at the traditional Christmas market they host along with the annual handicraft bazaar that has been held for decades.
If you prefer staying in the centre of Helsinki, then a stroll along Esplanadi – one of the major shopping boulevards in the centre of the city, with enchanting Christmas lights illuminating the trees – will reveal several bars and cafés that are renowned for their mulled wine, such as Kappeli, Strindberg or Salutorget. Before or after your leisurely glögi break, you can pay a visit to the nearby Christmas market at the harbour area or visit some of the Christmas themed stores in the area: you can never have enough of original Christmas ornaments around the house, can you?
Glögi preparation step-by-step
Several different kinds of Finnish glögi recipes have been developed over the years: there are alcohol-free, mild and strong variants, and a particularly intense version of glögi can have up to 22% of alcohol in it.
Whichever version you wish to make, you must begin by preparing the spiced, sugary syrup. The most common spices used for glögi are cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, anise stars and ginger, as well as orange peel and cardamom. The spices are mixed with brown sugar and either some water, juice or wine, depending on the taste. After simmering the mixture well for at least half an hour (even though some ardent glögi-addicts let the syrup sit for hours or even days), the spices are sieved and the syrup is mixed with blackcurrant juice, wine or spirits. If you use wine or spirits, it is important not to heat the drink up to boiling point, otherwise the alcohol will evaporate. The Finns also add blanched almonds and raisins to the drink while it is being warmed up. They soak up the spices beautifully and it is a true pleasure to crunch on them while enjoying the hot drink.
You can also prepare dark (red) and light (white) variants of glögi, depending on the ingredients you choose. Here are two tasty recipes that you can try out this holiday season.
Traditional, dark glögi with blackcurrant juice and red wine
- 5 cups of black currant juice
- 2 cups of brown sugar
- 3 tea spoons of vanilla
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 anise stars
- 2 teaspoons of cardamom
- 4 cups red wine
Start by preparing the spiced syrup. Mix half of the black current juice with the sugar and the spices in a pan, heat it up and let it simmer well, for at least half an hour. Sieve the spices. Heat the red wine and the rest of the juice in another pan, but do not boil the drink so the alcohol does not evaporate. Mix the spiced syrup with the wine and juice, add some blanched almonds and raisins. Enjoy your glögi nice and hot.
White glögi with apple cider or juice
- 3 cups of sugar
- 2 cups of water
- 5 small pieces of fresh ginger
- 1 vanilla stick
- 10 whole pieces of cardamom
- 8–10 cloves
- 4 cups of white wine
- 3 cups of apple cider or apple juice
Pour the water into a pan and throw in the spices and the sugar. Let it boil and simmer until the water evaporates and you have a thicker syrup. Sieve the spices and mix them with the white wine and apple juice or cider. Enjoy your glögi with some gingerbread cookies or other Christmas pastries of your liking.
The secret to a well-spiced, fragrant and tasty drink is to prepare the spiced syrup slowly and well before adding the juice or wine. The correct ratio between the syrup and the liquids when you prepare the glögi is approximately 1 tablespoon of syrup to 2 cups of liquid (wine, cider or juice). Then just heat the mixture up, add the almonds and raisins and enjoy!