Mr. Munich Wine Rambler likes to tell a bleary-eyed story of how he was taken aside by a drunk Irishman in a pub and warned, for no specific reason, never to touch an alcoholic beverage that is brightly coloured, advice he has taken deeply to heart, followed ever since, and extended to include even wine that has been spiced, mixed with other drinks or otherwise tampered with.
It's time for Christkindlmarkt in Munich, and no Christkindlmarkt without Glühwein. Glühwein (this literally translates as "glow wine") is mulled wine, a concoction that is very popular in central Europe, that's no secret. What you get - at the Christkindlmarkt or in bottles at every supermarket - is mostly very sweet mulled wine, tasting of cheap and artificial aromas, nothing original and unique. And guess what, Mr. Munich Wine Rambler abhors it.
But Mrs. Munich Wine Rambler has no such general aversion, and so I take over to tell you how you can enjoy Glühwein for what it is: a simple hot drink for winter evenings. I recommend preparing Glühwein at home, and accept the fact that it's not about the wine: it's all about spices.
This is what you need: unoaked red wine, a fruity basic wine works well (I follow Captain Cork's advice and go for Austrian Zweigelt). You need sugar (some use honey), and of course spices of your preference. Typical mulled wine spices are star anise, clove, cinnamon, black peppercorns, allspice and cardamom plus (natural) citrus aroma. Be sure to use only best quality. A nice and convenient alternative for those who don't hoard all those spices (like me) are high quality spice blends like those from Herbaria (a variation, but still classic selection) or Schuhbeck (with vanilla, barley malt and some even more exotic things - but Schuhbeck knows what he does).
For quick use you can get your Glühwein spices in tea bags. Purists are cynical about those tea bags, as there is some rubbish on the market. Just look for a quality product like that very fruity organic one from Sonnentor. I highly recommend all the products I mentioned, but they are presumably hard to get outside of Germany. I'm sure there is some equivalent, though. Apart from the occasional Glühwein you could use them for some great cooking such as Christmas dinner game sauce or Glühweinparfait. And the Wine Rambler's youngest son who still knows little of the world but has extravagant taste suggests to just throw it all in the bath tub. I'm glad he couldn't open either spice box or tap.
So let's do it. Caramelize (brown) sugar (about 50-70g per 750ml wine), then add wine and spices (start with a spoonful, you could add more later). I prefer the Glühwein tasting fruity (a bit like punch), and so I like to add slices of orange or lemon. Be careful not to heat the wine much above 70°C (you wouldn't want tea). Simmer the Glühwein for about 10 minutes to ensure the flavours come out.
Use a tea strainer, and serve in cups. I tell you, this smell never fails to attract Mr. Munich Wine Rambler, and to be sure, he enjoys this Glühwein in spite of himself, all the better if there is still some Lebkuchen (gingerbread) mum managed to hide from the kids (and hadn't been eating up by herself in despair when discovering things like the spice box in the bath tub and worse).