Christmas Markets: Watch Out for Weak Glühwein

Another thing to watch out for? The dreaded mulled wine hangover. Zoom
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Another thing to watch out for? The dreaded mulled wine hangover.

Mulled wine is a staple of German Christmas markets, but experts warn that consumers should beware of poor quality. Overcooking the beverage was found to have reduced alcohol content and flavor in more than one in ten mugs in Berlin.

One can never quite be sure just how much alcohol is in the beloved Glühwein, or mulled wine, sold at German Christmas markets, and consumers should beware, a quality-control organization recently warned.

Just one mug of the hot beverage can raise the blood alcohol content of a person who weighs 80 kilograms (176 pounds) to 0.03 percent, the product testing group said, urging merrymakers to avoid driving or cycling home after enjoying the warm beverage. "At this concentration there are already potential penalties if a driver is in an accident or awakens suspicion with unsteady driving, for example," traffic psychologist Don DeVol told the Erfurt-based TÜV Thüringen.

Contrary to the popular belief that heating mulled wine diminishes the alcohol content, prompting many to drink it with an added shot of amaretto or rum, this happens only once it reaches a temperature of 78 degrees Celsius (172 degrees Fahrenheit). Vendors usually heat Glühwein to only about 70 degrees Celsius, though, the organization said.

Homemade Version Recommended

But perhaps the belief that Glühwein has less alcohol because it's hot has come about for a different reason. Test samples taken last year by officials at different Berlin Christmas markets showed that some 11.5 percent were of questionable quality, daily Der Tagesspiegel reported on Monday. The biggest problems? Too little alcohol and an overcooked flavor.

"At times I am happy to be able to spit it out like chemicals at the dentist," Peter Scheib, wine regulator for a number of Berlin districts, told the paper. Customers should check the color of their Glühwein to make sure it remains a pleasant dark-red hue, Scheib recommended. If it takes on a brownish tint, the wine has likely oxidized after cooking for too long, he told the paper.

Furthermore, Scheib said, customers should ask vendors whether they are selling ready-made Glühwein or a homemade mixture, and seek out the latter. Forking out for Glühwein -- which has an average price of some €3.50 ($4.80) a mug -- is only justifiable for the homemade version, especially since an entire liter of ready-made mulled wine can be purchased for €1 at the supermarket, he added. Homemade mulled wine may be hard to come by, however, because some 90 percent of what's on sale comes from the wholesale market, he said.

These quality discrepancies may defy European Commission regulations for Glühwein, which it defines as an "aromatized drink obtained exclusively from red or white wine, flavoured mainly with cinnamon and/or cloves," plus other spicing such as cardamom or orange peels. The alcohol content must be between 7 and 14.5 percent. Diluting the beverage with water is strictly forbidden, and failure to maintain these standards comes at risk of fines up to €1,000.

kla -- with wires

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