Wine Review: Laherte Frères “Les 7” Extra Brut

Again, she is reviewing Champagne! Yes, I am a sucker for it, and not least due to Champagne taking a turn back to what it was hundreds of years ago. I am a great fan of natural flavors that come from good care of the vines and terroir (and low dosage). You truly taste it in the wine, the land and the soil, and that is why the mass market will never be my thing. I am  not so interested in the wine tasting the same from year to year, I am curious about what each year has to offer.

Laherte Frères is one of my favorite growers. Their philosophy is to offer a taste of the terroir emphasizing the human touch in their winemaking. They are not certified as bio-dynamic, but use as many natural techniques as possible. The priority is the quality, not the quantity.

“Les 7” is a ticket for a ride back in time. It is comprised of a blend of all seven permitted grape varieties in Champagne: Fromenteau, Arbanne, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Petit Meslier and exhibits a taste from 250 years ago. The dosage is low (4g/l) to make sure no characteristics of the wine are hidden. The grapes are grown on a single plot in Chavot. They undergo a natural alcoholic fermentation in old Burgundy barrels and the wine is a Solera, a blending of several years (this specific bottle 2005-2011).

The amazing Les 7 ancient variety champagne from Laherte Freres
The amazing Les 7 ancient variety champagne from Laherte Freres

The nose is has light toastiness, lemon peel and some flowery notes. Acacia perhaps. The bubbles are persistent but not aggressive. When opened, the taste is quite overpowering with grapefruit acidity. however, after a while it gathers more notes of bread dough and the mouth feel softens. The wine has a long and classy finish and is absolutely lovely with the matured Comte cheese we have chosen as an appetizer. The characteristics of the wine remind me of another favorite bubbly, the Five Sens from Olivier Horiot. I could imagine this a white wine, just with lovely bubbles and acidity.

This is a bottle we picked up in London over new year. We were browsing around in the Sampler (review here), and I just happened to ask if they know the wine (as they often sell other Laherte Freres wines). The shopkeeper was pleased, as he had one more bottle for sale, under the counter. We paid around 70£ for it, but I did feel that it was a fair price. It is quite unique and looking at the production, I can understand that having a dedicated plot and blending several soleras requires some more investment from the winemaker than an average cuvee. From quality perspective the wine is a 4 (I think its fabulous), however value for money a 3. I would definitely recommend to give it a try, but perhaps have a bottle before you buy the case.

My Favorite Wine Bars in Helsinki

I come from Helsinki. This is the city where I was born and raised, and the city where most of my family and friends still reside. It is wonderful to live out here in Stockholm, but my heart will always be (partly) in Helsinki. Next week, I will be heading “home” for summer vacation. As an entrepreneur, I seldom have actual vacation, the type where one can just lounge around worriless for weeks. However, as my current clients office is closed during the summer months, I have a chance to concentrate on something else, and it doesn’t matter where I sit with my laptop. I might as well then sit with a good cup of coffee, or even better, a good glass of wine.

Spending a week and a half in Helsinki means that I will be separated from my wonderful cellar of wines. So, I have listed some great places in Helsinki to go for a glass. These are places that have good knowledge on wine and a reputable selection by the glass.

1. One of my absolute favorite hangouts in Helsinki is Latva Bar. It is located in Kaartinkaupunki, just a few streets south of the center. It is a cozy cellar space with a few tables and chairs outside. Nothing fancy. The drinks-list however will satisfy even the more demanding wine-geek, with several different champagnes, and up to ten whites and reds by the glass, as well as a comprehensive selection of micro-brewery beers. Latva is owned by the same restaurant group as Juuri, a Finnish-restaurant is located just a few doors down. So one can order some of the sapas (Suomi-tapas = Finnish tapas) and desserts to enjoy at the bar.

2. I very recently wrote about Sinne Helsinki, a new restaurant and bar in the center of Helsinki. The selection of wines is amazing by the bottle and also worth the visit if one wants only to indulge by the glass. When visiting the last time, they had daily rotating wines, so it is always interesting to check out what is on the list of bubblies. I love places where you can just pop in and ask what they have open.

Late night bubbly at Vinvin
Late night bubbly at Vinvin

3. Vin vin is The place to go for wine later in the evening. It is smack in the center just off the main street Mannerheimintie. The bar is owned by a Finnish importer of wines, Viinitie, and serve out their own selection. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and many of the wines served are from small estates produced bio-dynamically. Prices eher are extremely reasonable with 7€ for the house bubbly and 11€ for the house Champagne (which was a vintage Pierre Gimonet by the way last I visited). Recently the same owner opened another bar caller BierBier in Kaartinkaupunki. Guess what they focus on there.

4. The old apothecary Carelia is located close to the Opera. They have a great selection of Rieslings, Pinot Noir and champagne for a very reasonable price. As always, the most interesting stuff is by the bottle, so if you are up for it this is the place to come for great  champagne. The food is also excellent. Traditional dishes made exceptionally well. I recommend the beef tartar and Entrecote with Bernaise. The sommelier is an absolute pearl and my childhood best friend. We very recently laughed about how on earth we both ended up so interested in wine.

Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
Carelia restaurant and bar

Helsinki Wine-City, here I come! I am looking forward to indulging in the beautiful July weather, seeing all my friends and having some great glasses of wine. I will also be sitting in cafes, working on a secret project. Yes, I have a new project, which I will reveal when it is ready in August. I am venturing into some new areas, so I might need a glass of wine or two to calm down the nerves. But there is nothing like pushing yourself to do something new, and I am looking forward to seeing the results.

Original Coffee, Copenhagen – good alternative to other chains  

Time flies and it is Monday again so once again coffee focus on the Winecurious. If you feel a need for more coffee things do also check out the Coffee Curious here on wordpress and on twitter.

This week the focus is on Copenhagen, the coffee scene in Copenhagen is still dominated by Coffee Collective and they have to some  extent been so good that the competition has been stifled. They remain good but now there are several new good places as well. Original coffee is a small chain and this review is of their Bredgade location. The space is not huge but there are plenty of seats and it is very light and airy space so a perfect place to sit and relax. Free wifi and electricity available makes it ideal to sit for longer periods of time. Service is friendly and knowledgeable, no problem chatting a bit about the coffee. The nice attitude is also conveyed on their website where they happily recommend other good coffee places both in Copenhagen and in other cities.

The coffee is provided by local roasters Kontra Coffee and there are usually a few (when I visited three, normally between two and four) filter coffees to choose from as well as two espresso blends. The ‘normal’ is a blend of Brazilian, Kenyan and Ethiopian while the ‘modern’ one is only Ethiopian. It is nice to be able to do some sampling between the two – I found the Ethiopian more fun and interesting but I would expect the blend to be the big seller. The filter coffee can be ordered as batch brew or hand brew. The hand brew was very well executed and I also sampled some espresso based beverages that were nicely prepared. The coffee is good but perhaps not the most exciting. I was also visiting during a fairly slow time so would be interesting to see how the quality is when they are more busy.

There is a good selection of simpler breakfast and brunch dishes as well as sandwiches and some pastries. So while it is not a full restaurant one can definitely get some food here and it is also very good.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 3.5
Vs local competition: 4.5

Wineweek 32: Winding Down for Summer

Summer has finally arrived to Stockholm. The sun is shining, temperature is above 20 C and the wind is no longer sharp and cold. Hopefully it is smooth sailing from now to the end of August (one can always hope).

This week has been all about winding down. I am the type of person to get excited and work hard, and then continue working hard even if there is not that much to do. I really need to concentrate on slowing down the pace. So we have been dining out, having some good wines (see pictures) and just slacked off with a good cup of coffee. I have skipped writing posts in the evenings (if I don’t have time for it during the day, then I don’ have the time) and substituted all productive tasks with TV.  I feel so much more energized than I did a week ago.

Taking a sunny walk in Djurgården
Taking a sunny walk in Djurgården
Some cheese from Högtorgshallen
Some cheese from Högtorgshallen
Some yummy snack at Gaston
Some yummy snack at Gaston
A glass of Chenin-blanc at Gaston Winebar
A glass of Chenin-blanc at Gaston Winebar
The amazing Les 7 ancient variety champagne from Laherte & Fils
The amazing Les 7 ancient variety champagne from Laherte & Fils
Primus white from Quite de Pellada
Primus white from Quite de Pellada

Last week I promised to reveal some of our fall plans for the company. We are very happy with the growth we did in the spring, so it is time for another push for sales and another investment to take in new and exciting producers. What does that mean then? Well more paperwork of course. We will be starting work on an import license to be able to sell our wines also to restaurants. We need to find a proper warehouse in Sweden and start contacting potential buyers to arrange tastings. We have some great wines that would perfectly pair with the Scandinavian kitchen, like the Rimarts smoky Rosae and the Antonio Madeira Red. But first things first, the permits must be in place (let’s see if this process goes more smoothly than the license to sell to consumers).

Secondly, we will finally be starting off with our talented Port wine producer, Vieira de Sousa. I love the summer, but when fall comes, I get all excited about cozying up in the cold evenings with a glass of port and some chocolate. Vieira de Sousa is the sole reason we went into Port, and I can’t wait to hear what people say about the wines that I love. During July, we will be preparing the boxes for shipping to our warehouse in Denmark so that in August we are ready to sample them to all of our fellow winecurious. We are already browsing the calendar for good dates to do some tastings. How about you? Are you perhaps port-curious and what is your favorite food pairing?

Next week we will be enjoying the Stockholm summer and then we will head of to meet family and friends in Finland. There are a few great wine-hangouts in Helsinki that I will be writing about the coming week as well as some reviews on this excellent weeks wines. Wishing you all a warm and sunny start for July!

Wine Review: Champagne Francoise Bedel Cuvée Robert Winer -96

Today I am reviewing something very special, one of the older wines that we have in our relatively young cellar. Francoise Bedel has for a long time been one of my favorite producers. I have written several times that her wines are the reason I got all excited about grower champagnes. Since 1982 Marie-Louise Bedel has been curious about bio-dynamic methods for producing Champagne. The evolution of her vineyards began in 1996 and by 1999, all 7 hectares of land were introduced to bio-dynamic viticulture and on their way to be certified by ECOCERT SAS.

After tasting a few of Bedels entry level champagnes, and loving them, we came across and opportunity to buy a case of the Cuvée Robert Winer -96 through a British distributor, Henry George Wines. For a price of around 50€ a bottle (with the 2014 EUR/GBP exchange rate) it felt like a steal, and after tasting one bottle, we were convinced it was worth the investment. We recently opened another bottle to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and made some notes to share with you on the blog.

Subtle bubbles and gold colour
Subtle bubbles and gold colour
Cork binded and sealed with old-school methods
Cork binded and sealed with old-school methods
The labels gives a traditional feel
The labels gives a traditional feel

The Cuvée is a heavy on Pinot Meunieur (88%) with a hint of Pinot Noir (6%) and Chardonnay (6%). The dosage is ~8g/l which is an average for a dry champagne. The wine has a mature, gold and amber color and the bubbles are small but lively. You can see that the wine has age. The nose has strong notes of brioche and dried candied fruit and an underlying mineral freshness. The taste is mature with light notes of burned butter. The wine develops even more toasty and nutty flavors when it has a chance to breathe. It is worth the wait and the price of some bubbles to discover the full potential of this wine. I can imagine this champagne being a good pairing with some meatier seafood, like crab and lobster or some white meats. We had it with some nice french cheeses and truffled cold cuts (omnomnom).

All in all I give it a 4 (out of 5) for quality and a 4.5 for value for money (at least when the price is around 50€). After some googling, I can see that we really made a bargain, as the average price today for the -96 is around 120€.  Must send Henry George wines a thank you note as they arranged this case specifically for us directly from the producer herself. This vintage is peaking now, so don’t skip an opportunity to try this wine before it has passed its prime.

At the Shanghai Night Market

It has been a fussy month. I have not had time to post as much as I would like to. However, that is the way it is sometimes. Family and work (the actual paying one) come first and fun (blogging) later. So this post about our wonderful street food tour comes with a bit of a lag. Looking back at all of the pictures it feels like yesterday.

When visiting Shanghai in the beginning of this month, we had booked just one tour: a food tour of course, through the night markets of Shanghai. Even though I have visited Shanghai many times, street food has never been on the agenda, so we turned to a company called UnTour for acting as our guide. They have received excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, and I must say I am not surprised at all why. We met up with our guide, Mitch, and 15 other foodies in the early hours of the evening (18:00). We had been told to wear comfortable shoes (as the term “wet market” does not refer to drinking) and casual clothes; and of course to arrive hungry. And hungry we were.

The buzz at Shouning Road
The buzz at Shouning Road
Crayfish staring back at me
Crayfish staring back at me
Delicious coconut dessert
Delicious coconut dessert

We started of at Shouning Lu (road), a street full of food stands mainly focused on Chinese barbecue skewers and local seafood (a lot of lobster). They call it lobster, we in Sweden would call it crayfish. We looked around a bit while our guide went around ordering different foods and then we made our way to an upstairs restaurant for having our meal in peace. A large plastic sheet was placed on the table and we were handed rubber gloves. I presumed this was going to be messy (good that I wore those casual clothes), and messy it was. We snacked on cooked lobster and around eight different meat and vegetable barbecue skewers (kebabs). They all had the same spice mix and were absolutely delicious. We also had some oven cooked eggplant with bread and lot of garlic. That was perhaps my favorite dish of the evening. For dessert we tasted Chinese puddings. Everyone tried about five or six different ones with flavors like mango, coconut, pineapple, tofu and tarragon. Some of them were not to my taste (like the bean curd), but especially the ones with wonderful sweet mango were fabulous.

We continued our journey through the streets of Shanghai towards another food market located next to Yu Garden stopping only briefly to sample some fresh lychee and hand-pulled noodles from North-China. We were also introduced to Jianping, a delicious local pastry with pepper and sesame filling. It was both sweet and salty at the same time and so absolutely mouthwatering that we went back to Shouning Lu the next day and bought three boxes to take home.

Jianping pastry with pepper and sesame filling
Jianping pastry with pepper and sesame filling
Not sure what this is but it looks delicious
Not sure what this is but it looks delicious
Tsingtao Beer with Chinese food is a perfect combination
Tsingtao Beer with Chinese food is a perfect combination

For the final leg, we tried out some more noodle and rice dishes, pizza-like local snacks and barbecued duck-neck. All the dishes were naturally served with Tsingtao beer. With its fresh taste and low alcohol content It is the best partner for Chinese street food.

All in all it was an amazing tour. It was a shame that we did not have any more spare time as UnTour also organizes breakfast and dumpling tours. The guides speak both good English and Chinese (they are mostly westerners who live and study in Shanghai) and it was wonderful chatting with them about how it is to actually live in the city. I used to dream about an expat job in China you know. It is the place where a lot of the action is these days. Shanghai in general is a wonderful food destination. You can sample Chinese food from all the different provinces in China. It is as different as sampling all the different European cuisines. So if in Shanghai, don’t be shy to try out as many as you have time for. An organized tour is a good place to start.

Wine Review: Mont Marcal Brut Reserve Cava

Mont Marcal is a name that has been popping up now and then on my “occasional” shopping sprees for wine. It has never really raised much interest due to the mainstream look and label (yes, I am also a sucker for good marketing) as well as I have not run into many reviews. While M was casually browsing through the Reykjavik airport tax free selection last Thursday, he spotted this Mont Marcal Brut Reserva for around 80 sek (9€) and we decided to give it a go. The bottle remained unopened until Saturday night, when we finally decided to pop it open as a pre-drink before heading for dinner.

Some cava after sightseeing is never a bad idea
Some cava after sightseeing is never a bad idea

Mont Marcal is a family owned company located in the heart of Penedes, Spain. The founder, Manuel Sancho, a former musician, has already retired and today the vineyard is run by his daughter, Blanca Sancho. The family owns 40 hectares on vineyards where they grow traditional cava varietals like Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada as well as more internaional grapes like Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Blancas philosophy is to combine tradition with “the restless spirit” of a new generation and she produces her wines under “Denominaciones de Origen” Penedès.

The Mont Marcal Brut Reserve is a blend of Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Chardonnay. It has been aged for minimum 15 months and has a small dosage of sugar (8g per liter). The cava is straw colored with lively, non-aggressive bubbles. The nose is yeasty with hints of apple and some banana (!!). The taste is of green apples, citrus and minerals; it is well balanced (for being a relatively cheap sparkling) however the taste falls a bit short. There is a light sweetness, but it is not disturbing (normally I would find a cava with 8g of sugar sweet for my taste). All in all it is a good basic cava, and due to it’s price, I could imagine serving it as an appetizer at parties or other high-volume events. Mont Marcal is not available in Sweden, but it can be found in the UK (and Iceland of course) for a very reasonable price.

For pure quality (comparing to all the wines I have tried in my life), I would rate this cava at 2.5. For value for money, however, it climbs up to 3.5. I will perhaps not be buying case-loads of this for my cellar, but it is a good, solid option at restaurants or when you just need to pick up a casual bottle to go.

Paloma Café, Shanghai – great newcomer on the specialty coffee scene

Barely visible from the street level I still managed to stumble across Paloma cafe when walking around Shanghai. There is a small sign about coffee outside and for some reason I felt inclined to have a closer look and saw that they had some quality coffee gear so I just had to try it. The friendly staff informed they had been open a bit more than a month so these are the new kids on the block. They are really friendly and super-enthusiastic about coffee and the cafe. The space is really nice and open. There are just a few tables in a large bright room with white brick walls and beautifully restored wooden details around the windows and stairs. Free wifi that worked pretty decently and pleasant atmosphere makes this a place to lounge for a long time.

They have 5 to 6 different beans to choose from, either hot or cold as well as espresso based beverages. All the coffee sampled was good, especially the Ethiopian came out really nicely. The coffee is presented very nicely, a cup of coffee, a small cup with cold coffee (on ice) as well as some of the ground beans. Really nice way of showing the coffee and how it differs if hot or cold and the scent when ground. The coffee is perhaps not yet top notch but I would keep my eyes on this place as they are doing a lot of things right.

wpid-wp-1434967168883.jpeg

As in many cafes the food selection is limited to pastries, so while these are delicious (just saying Earl Grey Cheesecake) eating is better done elsewhere.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambiance and service: 4.5
Food: 2
Vs local competition: 5

Wineweek 31: Greetings From Reykjavik

It is an unusual day in Reykjavik. The sun is shining from a blue sky and the wind is cool but gentle. Iceland is a country that has about 200 storms in a year, so I can honestly say we have been lucky with the weather. It is the time year that the Nordic countries celebrate Midsummer, summer solstice and the midnight sun. The sun does not really set this time of year and it is light all day (and night) round. Usually people head to their summer houses, enjoy some barbecue, sauna and cool beverages. Regardless of the high expectations and optimistic forecasts, the weather is almost always bad, and the police in Finland are busy as the tradition is to put up big bonfires close to midnight. We decided to run away from all of that and have spent the last four days admiring the Icelandic nature, eating good food and getting to know the wine (and coffee) scene of Reykjavik. The expectation was (even) worse weather, but Iceland has blessed us with blue skies and very little rain.

Reykjavik has surprised me in many ways. Firstly it is smaller than I expected. You can walk everyehwere, there is barely any traffic, and only a few houses are built more than three stories high. It resembles in a way some of the cities in northern Finland, but is much cuter and blessed with much better with food and drinks. It is a pleasure to stroll along the streets and observe the quiet life beyond the parties of the main street

Breathtaking waterfalls on the Golden Circle tour
Breathtaking waterfalls on the Golden Circle tour
Just off the main street
Just off the main street

Secondly, the beer scene beats the wine scene. I don’t really know if this is a surprise, but it is an observation we made during our many dinners and snacks at the local restaurants. We found some wonderful and surprising beers, but the wine list was often a disappointment. If the “best” wine bar in town serves Gancia Asti as their house sparkling, it tells you something about the overall quality. However, the food is quite heavy, meaty and flavourful, so a beer is a good combination with the local cuisine. Considering that beer only has been legal since 1989 it is impressive that they have such good local producers.

The third observation was the state of patriotic pride of the Icelanders. I had heard about the local winning spirit before, but listening for a full day about Icelandic greatness while on the Golden Circle tour, I really understood what all the talk was about. I can respect a healthy dose of self confidence. If you live on an island with 200 storms a year, you might as well have a positive attitude towards the rest of it. But talking big about yourself just doesen’t sit well with the other Nordic countries, so we found some of the stories a bit silly. All in all it was well intended.

Some great beer at Mikkeller and Friends
Some great beer at Mikkeller and Friends

But more about Iceland next week. Our final orders have now reached their happy owners, and we are ready to take a summer holiday from the business. Ok, an entrepreneur is seldom on holiday and we won’t be either. We will just not be shipping any wine during July. We will be preparing for the fall with some of our new producers and planning tastings and events for August. I am really excited about the Vieira de Sousa ports that we will be adding to our selection. Port wine is something we have very recently discovered (read more about it here) and we are very keen on sharing our experiences with the winecurious. Have an enjoyable week, and I will share more of the fall plans with you in the next Wineweek.

A Playfull Dinner at Punk Royale, Stockholm

There is a new kid in town and his name is Punk Royale!

Stockholm is a city of food trends. There is a constant vibe in the air, a search for the next big thing in culinary delights. Hamburgers are going out and Japansese Izakayas appear to be coming in. Punk Royale represents an immortal genre in the Nordic countries, the Sacndinavian kitchen, but the food (and the whole dinner) is executed in a playfull manner, to be trendy of course.

When we arrived at the small restaurant, we were seated at our table with a pile of legos and an egg. Yes, an egg, a raw one with its top cracked open. After ordering a bubbly aperitif (the options were a boring Laurent Perrier and a somewhat more interesting Cremant de Loire, guess which one I chose) I hit the pile and started building. It has been a while since I have played with Legos, but I remember them being (especially the space ones) my absolutely favorite toys as a child. We had the only option the five course dinner with 10 small dishes and as we were in a festive mood (due to it being Saturday) we also signed up for the drinks flight.

The first course was caviar, served on the top of my hand, followed by a schnaps of Finlandia Vodka. I looked at the vodka suspiciously as I am not the one for hard liqueur straight up (regardless if it is the national drink of Finland, my home country) . However, after the fatty caviar, the vodka tasted fresh and sweet. When the second course arrived, we understood what the egg was for. The cook came with a small steaming hot frying pan and made an omelette at the table.

I really don’t recall all the exact dishes we had that evening, and I will not mention them all, but here are some of my favorites: the smiley face foie grass toasts, blood pudding with bacon and the small cheese puffs that arrived in a mouse trap. During the dinner, the staff did all kinds of weird things. They hung a clothes pin from Ms ear, rubbed another guest with a fox fur, and there were some strange people sitting around for hours on a flight of stair. Weird, I say, but entertaining.

Looking at the drinks we had: a really excellent Punk Royale IPA, Chardonnay, some very buttery Sauvignon Blanc and xxx Red. To finish off, we had a cup of punsch (very Swedish Arrack based alcoholic beverage). The staff were knowledgeable (they apologized for the house champagne being Laurent Perrier), and the ambience cozy. The dinner all in all was excellent. Very sea food heavy, which is not Ms forte, but still flavourful. I, for example, had the best oyster in my life (perhaps due to it being submerged in butter and garlic).

The menu changes slightly every week, a few dishes at a time, so in around two months or so we can go again and sample all new dishes. And we will, if we can get a table. With just 26 seats and one seating, one must be quick to grab a table reservation. I am not surprised about the popularity as the menu is only 600 SEK with the drinks flight making it double. 1200 SEK for such a meal was a steal. For a fun night out in Stockholm, this is the place to be! But beware! The drinks flight is quite generous, so there is a high risk of getting drunk.