food / travel

Introducing The World’s First Halal Sparkling Wine

Muslim guests at celebrations will no longer have to stand around with a Coke in their hands. For Munich's Four Seasons Hotel, a local company has produced the first-ever non-alcoholic sparkling wine made in accordance with Islamic law.

Tasting Dinar
Tasting Dinar
Franz Kotteder

MUNICH â€" There are many reasons to indulge in a glass of sparkling wine or champagne. Some drink it to keep their blood pressure even, some simply find it just wonderfully refreshing. Most of the time, we pop a cork to mark an occasion or celebration, and to let our hair down with a little alcohol.

But there's actually an enormous market for people who don't drink alcohol, as the Munich-based company Vigorous Trading has discovered. The company imports oriental foods for clients, among them the Four Seasons Hotel in Munich, whose summer clientele consists of many Muslim guests. Because their religion forbids them to drink alcohol, the hotel's chief purchaser Sinan-Renan Yaman asked Vigorous Trading's general manager Alexander Ludwig Berg if the company could find some non-alcoholic sparkling wine. He must have felt badly for the monied guests standing around at receptions clutching nothing more festive than a glass of water or Coke.

Berg shared Yaman's sentiment and went in search of producers, finding one in Rüdesheim who makes a Riesling-quality sparkling wine that is entirely non-alcoholic. In fact, the alcohol extraction method is so thorough that the final product actually contains fewer traces of alcohol than orange juice. And that's why it's the only sparkling wine in the world to be halal-certified, meaning that it is prepared in accordance with Islamic law.

The drink is called Dinar, so named for the Arab currency and for the very first Umayyad coin minted in the eighth century. The bottles actually feature a stylized coin on their dark exteriors.

To mimic the taste of alcohol, a flavor alternative needed to be found â€" and Berg discovered that the juice from dates and pomegranates did the trick. The sparkling date wine is slightly tangy and therefore a good match to the alcoholic original, whereas the pomegranate version is slightly sweet, which "women seem to be partial to," Berg says.

The new drink has been available since September and will premiere at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy during mid-December for its national bank holiday celebrations. "Unfortunately, September was too late in the season" for most of their Arab guests to try the new drink, says Sinan-Renan Yaman, as they "usually visit between April and late August."

But next season will be here before they know it, and when the hotel's gourmet restaurant is closed during the summer season, it may be converted into an Arab pub where plenty of corks will pop from Dinar bottles.

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COVID Chaos In Bulgaria: One Reporter Is Tired Of Asking “Why”

With much attention now focused on rising COVID-19 cases in the UK and Moscow's new lockdown, a hidden story is in Bulgaria, which claims both Europe's highest death rate and lowest vaccination rate. By now, this reporter knows the drill…

Walking in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Oct. 9

Carl-Johan Karlsson

SOFIA — I suspected, while Google translating the Bulgarian news Wednesday morning, that I might be the last person in Sofia with an internet connection to have found out about the new COVID rules.Following reports of 4,979 new COVID-19 cases and 214 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, the Bulgarian government had announced that proof of vaccine or negative PCR tests will be required for access to restaurants, theaters, cinemas, gyms, clubs and shopping malls. Starting tomorrow.

I'd heard some chatter at the co-working place the night before, but after 18 months of coronavirus reporting, and pandemic living, both in my native Sweden and my former home in Paris, I wasn't up for another round on the topic.

The world's highest mortality rate

Perhaps, that same plague fatigue was what caused me — when deciding to set up shop in Bulgaria a month ago — to miss the detail that this is both Europe's least vaccinated country and the one with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate.

I had chosen Sofia (Europe's oldest city!) on the latest stop of my now 12-year hunt for a place to sort of settle down for its cheap rent, cobblestoned city center … and its excellent nationwide WiFi. What more could you ask?

Well, vaccinations, it turned out. So here I was facing the COVID story again, after months exploring France's extra strict lockdown measures, Sweden's famous flirt with herd immunity, the mask morality police and anti-vaxx ideologues everywhere.

Photo of people wearing COVID protective masks in Sofia, Bulgaria

Inside a tram in Sofia, Bulgaria

Artur Widak/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Pandemic fatigue

The world's pandemic press this week is focused on the UK, where again cases are skyrocketing, and Moscow's new lockdown. But here in a country of barely 7 million, where I didn't speak the language or know the history, what might I find? After just six weeks, I considered the social dispositions I had discerned, what political leanings I'd nosed out that might explain why 80% of the population still isn't vaccinated.

Where does a hungry reporter go?

I had, for example, observed with great interest that Sofians never jaywalk. Maybe that was the angle? The striking incongruence between social conformity and vaccine refusal? Or maybe the upcoming parliamentary elections held a clue to the bad COVID management.

To answer these questions, I went where any hungry reporter would go: the burger joint on the corner.

- "So new restrictions huh? You think they might lockdown?"

- "Dunno. The usual? No chili?"

- "Right, no chili … So you think more people will get vaccinated now?"

- "We'll see. That'll be four leva."

Having spent the past 18 months among the army of finger-wagging, number-crunching armchair social scientists (both in and out of print) I had suddenly lost my hunger to "explain" why Bulgarians were the world's bad boy of the moment on the COVID front. Consider this just one roving reporter's version of pandemic fatigue.

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