It all started with my mother. Every year we'd throw a Christmas party for friends and relatives, and every year she'd put out three Crock-Pots: one for hearty stew, one for hot apple cider, and one for mulled wine. Add the puffy-painted sweatshirts Grandma made for us and a house full of people (some reluctantly) singing carols, and it was inevitable I'd forever associate these three items with the holidays. Fast-forward to my college years, when I waitressed at a German fine dining restaurant and the highlight of the cold, rainy Portland, Ore., winter was glühwein (the name of this German mulled wine means "glow wine"), and you've got the early seeds of what is now my full-blown fetish.
So what, exactly, is mulled wine? Depends on where you're drinking it, but the general idea is heated red wine with sugar, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and often some kind of citrus fruit all cooked together. It can be sweet or spicy, incredibly strong or boiled to a near nonalcoholic state, and any shade of gorgeous crimson. And although the original version was probably invented to mask cheap or bad wine, most modern recipes use quality wines that could stand on their own.
Point being? Yum, yum, yum. Whether you call it glühwein or Swedish glogg, French vin chaud or Chilean navegado, here are some places to look for that special warm-drink alternative when you're sick of pumpkin lattes and you just can't handle one more hot buttered rum.
LEHR'S GERMAN SPECIALTIES
You can't get glühwein here, but you can buy the spice mix so you can make it yourself plus all of the traditional Christmas (or, as they say in Germany, Weihnachten) chocolates and candies you never knew you needed.
1581 Church, SF. (415) 282-6803
GOURMET HAUS STAUDT GIFTS AND CAFE
From schnitzels to spaetzle, this is the place for all of your German favorites including glühwein. Buy a bottle or two year-round, or visit during the holidays for a warm glass with your lunch.
2615 Broadway, Redwood City. (650) 364-9232, www.gourmethausstaudt.com
Go for the glühwein, stay for the polka. But get there this month like most places in the home country, San Francisco's oldest German restaurant only serves this specialty during the holidays.
240 Front, SF. (415) 421-4778, www.schroederssf.com
KAN ZAMAN CAFÉ
It's as un-German as you can get, but this charming Middle Eastern restaurant has all the comfort and warmth you'd expect to find in a schnitzel house even if it comes from low lighting and cushions, not wood paneling and leather lederhosen. Plus, Kan Zaman serves carafes of warm mulled wine all year long.
1793 Haight, SF. (415) 751-9656
Kan Zaman's cousin in the Sunset also features a heated version of vino, along with a more distinctly Mediterranean menu. But the snuggleworthy interior is just as inviting.
1224 Ninth Ave., SF. (415) 753-3919, www.bistro9sf.com
We all know it's perfect for an outdoor brunch, but Café Flore also has mulled wine to warm our bellies when the weather outside is frightful.
2298 Market, SF. (415) 621-8579, cafeflore.com
Is this a comprehensive list? Oh, no. We haven't even mentioned all of the city's German and German-leaning restaurants, many of which are sure to serve the good, sweet, warm, red stuff this winter. Nor the myriad wine bars that may pour Polish grzane wino as a novelty item or the specialty grocery stores that stock their shelves with Hungarian forralt bor. But this list should get you started on a fetish of your own.