Shopping at the Finnish Monopoly

Happy Easter everyone and greetings from Helsinki! We have been celebrating the holidays by having a visit by the flu. Luckily this one is not very persistant, as I am starting to feel better already, but still it meant that a lot of our wine-plans had to be cancelled. We did have, however, some time on Thursday to browse around at the local delicatesse, the Finnish alcohol monopoly, Alko.

As with Systembolaget in Sweden, Alko is the only company that is allowed to sell drinks above 5% alcohol content (in Swden it is avtually even lower than that). That means that many beers, wine and licqueur are all sold through this chain of shops. I am in general opposed to monopolizing this kind of business, as I don’t believe in the constraining effect of a single channel, however if that’s how things are, at least the shop should be good. That is one of the great things about Systembolaget in Sweden, at least they made it a hell of a good shop. Alko in Finland is a bit behind in selection, but perhaps it is also because we Finns are just discovering the European culture of enjoying wine as a part of a culinary experience as opposed to chucking it down at house parties directly from the bottle (or perhaps its just me).

Before we were struck by the flu, we had time to visit the flagship store of Alko, in Kamppi, Helsinki. If you shop somewhere for alcohlic beverages in Finland, it should be here. The store has two floors, one floor for beer and licqueur and one for wine. We headed of course to the bottom floor wher they keep the bubblies. On the bottom floor they also have some well trained staff to help you with selection of your drinks.

I must say that the Champagne selection has improved a lot over the past 3-5 years (after I moved away from Finland). There is a large corner just dedicated for the fine bubbly drink with both pocket friendly (25-35€) champagnes as well as top end (100-200€). Well not top end, but those 500€ babies are seldom on the shelf of a shop anyway. There is not that much small producer stuff, but neither is there in Sweden, so they are perhaps forgiven. The selection on other sparkling wine is actually very good with Cavas, Proseccos and new world sparklings taking up twice as much shelfspace as the champagne. This is something that is different from Sweden (there the focus is clearly on Chanpagne).

This time we did not browse too much around the other wine-sections as it was Thursday evening and the shop was quite crowded. But I did see from the corner of my eye a nice selection of craft beer and other seasonal drinks. There was also quite a lot of gift wrapping materials, so if in need of a quick present, this is the place to swing by.

Unfortunately only a few branches of Alko live up to the standards of the flagship store. Many branches dont carry such a wide selection of bubblies and they focus solely on the big brands. There is also a similar movement in Finland to start up private import as what our business is all about, and that is what many of the wine-geeks go for. Llagrima d’Or is also available as private import, so if you are interested, send me a message.

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