DUBAI built the world's tallest building, put a ski slope inside and gave its cops a Lamborghini for a police car. Where else would you sell a US$150 bottle of "halal" non-alcoholic sparkling white wine with flecks of 24-carat edible gold leaf gleaming at the bottom?
It makes sense in Dubai, a Gulf Arab emirate that attracts tourists with the promise of an opulent lifestyle. Or so Tony Colley, head manager of Lootah Premium Foods, which distributes the wine, told Reuters. "It has gold in it for no good reason apart from it's fun, it's fantastic, it's frivolous, it's totally Dubai," Mr Colley said recently at the Bystro restaurant, where the sleek bottles are on display.
Bystro owner Josh Benson said the gold-leaf bottles were offered a few weeks ago. The restaurant had begun offering non-alcoholic wines in general a few months ago, and they went over well. "For people that cannot drink . . . it's a nicer thing to have with a steak than a Pepsi."
The wine is produced by Dismark Products, a Spanish company whose Lussor brand includes a variety of red and white non-alcoholic wines. The grapes come from vineyards in Spain and a German vacuum technique removes the alcohol.
The idea of non-alcoholic wines is not new, but Mr Colley says this brand is different because it does not include glycerine, sugar, or additives, unlike other non-alcoholic wines.
Dan Zvinca, an Australian customer at Bystro, said he had sampled non-alcoholic wine - though not the gold-specked one - and "was surprised at how good" it was. "I think it's a good replacement. It tastes like the real thing," he told Reuters.
Islam, the dominant religion in the Arab Middle East, forbids the consumption of alcohol. But the rule is not universally enforced in different Muslim countries, and there are variations in its application among the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
In liberal Dubai, alcohol is served in licenced places such as hotel bars. The more conservative Sharjah emirate bans alcohol consumption entirely. Halal is applied to foodstuffs and beverages permissible under Islamic law.
So far, Mr Colley has been ordering monthly shipments of 26,000 bottles, which include a red and a white along with the gold-leaf wine. Gulf-region nationals make up the majority of the wine's consumers, he said. "I think we may have to find more grapes," Mr Colley joked.