The Art of Sabrage

I love a good show. That is why I love the concept of sabering a bottle of champagne (or any bubbly for that matter) instead of just popping open a cork. It is not a convenient practice, but it is an entertaining one. This is why I used M’s birthday as a clever excuse to buy one (for him of course).

All wrapped up
All wrapped up

The art of sabering a champagne bottle has it’s roots in Napoleons France. It is a practice developed by the French army to celebrate their many wins and to console the many losses. Napoleon is known to have said ‘Champagne! in victory one deserves it and in defeat one needs it’. I agree with those words, even if I don’t in general agree with Napoleon.

The sabering of the bottle happens by sliding the dull side of the sword along the neck and the seam of the bottle. With adequate pressure applied to the crossing of the seam and the lip of the bottle (the top of the neck), the neck pops off together with the cork. In a clean break, there is little loss of champagne, but one should always check the first glass poured for glass residue. This is a messy practice, and you can expect a few failures along the way (due to poor technique or poor quality of glass). At least you can expect to be mopping the floor even after a perfect swing. But when you get the hang of the technique, it is relatively easy to put on a good show.

Simple and elegant design
Simple and elegant design
So shiny one can sneak a selfie
So shiny one can sneak a selfie

I have only tried sabrage a few times. It has been a success from the start, but just to make sure, I only sabered some cheap bottles. And even so, just the loss of champagne would make me hesitate using a saber on something really nice. I think it might have been dumb luck, so I will not get too smug about it. However, I can tell you it is fun. Maybe it is the exhilaration of the risk of breaking the bottle or the loud pop from when the cork flies off, but it is a wonderful feeling when you can claim victory.

I selected this saber from Georg Jensen as I loved the simple, yet elegant design. The saber is light in the hand, but sturdy. It promises a good grip and that is what you need when you set out to give a firm blow on the lip of the bottle. It was not too pricey either, around 1200 SEK (130 EUR) which was less than other sabers on the market. I ordered this from the Georg Jensen webshop, who arranged the beautiful wrapping and home delivery. Unfortunately the experience was not all good as UPS screwed up the delivery with a week making me miss M’s birthday. Well, a present is a present, even if it comes late. M (or maybe me) is very excited about it and cant wait to start the exercises. Lets see how many laps we have left after the first week.

Wine Review: Rimarts Reserva Especial Chardonnay

Being a wine merchant, you seldom drink your own wines. You take a sip in tastings to make sure the wine you are serving is ok, but you do not open a bottle that often to relax. It’s a bit silly, as the wines in our selection are some of the best I know. Perhaps it is just the continuous thirst for new things that seduces me to open something different every time. Last Friday we stayed firm and cooled down several options from our own lot and the one that called out to me most was the fresh and pearly, Rimarts Chardonnay.

The Rimarts label design is crisp and simple
The Rimarts label design is crisp and simple
The black cava-label is a guarantee of  a long ageing.
The black cava-label is a guarantee of a long ageing.
Light straw color with lively bubbles.
Light straw color with lively bubbles.

I have written to you about Rimarts before (story here). The cava house is owned by two brothers and they do everything by hand. Rimart’s produces true artisanal cavas. They source their grapes from trusted growers and handle the rest of the process by themselves (with a little bit of help from their mother). Bottles are aged to their peak and disgorged (re-corked) upon order. The Rimart’s cavas are perfect to drink now and require no additional maturation. The Reserva Especial Chardonnay has been aged for minimum 40 months and is a Brut Nature with less than 2g/k residual sugar.

Chardonnay is not an indigenous grape to Penedes. It has however become more popular recently with the growth of specialty cava as a premium drink. Chardonnay is a grape often used in the production of champagne, so it’s reputation has made it an attractive option for adding as an ingredient also in cava. Chardonnay, when aged properly, gives sparkling wine some of those brioche and nutty flavors that is one of my favorite characteristics in a good bubbly.

The Rimarts Chardonnay has a fresh nose with some citrus, green apple and baked bread. The taste is bone dry with light acidity and mineral freshness. After some time and air the wine gains some body and the yeast and brioche flavors take over. It is almost worth the price of some bubbles waiting for the wine to breathe. This is a wonderful cava and it resembles more champagne in the taste than other sparkling wines. I would recommend pairing it with some lightly salted snacks, charcuterie or hard cheeses (parmesan, comte or gryuere).

All in all, I give the Reserva Especial Chardonnay a 4 in pure quality and a 4.5 in value for money (242 SEK per bottle/ 1450 SEK per box), from our webshop of course. Our customers seem to agree with me as we actually sold out of this wine immediately when we received a shipment in May. It is a real star in our collection and a given favorite for years to come. Thank you Ricard and Ernest for making such a wonderful wine!

Coffee Bar Review: Cafe Dan, Shanghai

It is Monday again and time for a coffee related post here on the winecurious. I am however also introducing some news: having realized that we have so much coffee related things to post on we are also launching a seperate blog for that so head to the The Coffee Curious to see what is going there. The coffee Monday posts will appear on both blogs but in addition there will be a lot of other coffee stuff on the Coffee Curious.

In the Tianzifang market complex that is a huge mess of different touristy shops selling various levels of useless gadgets, art, design stuff and other stuff there are also some restaurants and cafes. Most if not all are severely overpriced but we still decided to try Cafe Dan as they brand themselves as a specialty coffee bar, wine bar, restaurant and coffee roasting institute.

They do indeed have a large coffee selection, I counted more than 15 different beans to select from. All severely overpriced (a cup coming in at least at 70 yuan, approximately €11-12) but since we were there we still decided to go for some. We opted for some of the lighter roasts, the Kenyan and and Malawi Geisha coffee. Both came in very dark and clearly dosed in a way that no serious coffee place would make coffee. There were hints of nice flavors there but the coffee was so much to dark that it was not really that great. It still beats most of the coffee to be had in Shanghai but it has very little to do with specialty coffee. I am not sure how they roast their coffee here but I do think that there is some development potential. That said it was still drinkable and better than most regular places for coffee but at the price charged here it should be amazing to even consider coming back,

The food is however much better, it is more of a restaurant actually. The food is both decent value and good so would perhaps return for that instead of the coffee. Service was friendly, albeit a bit lacking in speed and English. That was perhaps not a big issue as the menu was still easy to understand and use (it was provided on an ipad). Free wifi was available and the place was rather nice to sit around in, spread over three floors and with a small outdoor terrace this place is a place that it would be possible to spend some time in.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 1.5
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 4
Vs local competition: 3

Wineweek 30: Sword and Legos

It is finally Sunday again (or Monday as something went wrong with WordPress on Sunday), they day of the week I try to dedicate to resting (and some creative writing). One can see that vacations are closing in as everybody is extremely busy. I, as many others, like to have things done and out of the way in advance of the well deserved break. Stockholm has also started showing signs of summer: temperatures above 20 C and the migration of the Burger boat. Yes, the burger boat! It arrives when it is summer and it leaves when it feels like it. I have not had any burgers there yet, but I will, when I am on vacation (as it often shows up around lunch time to the marina close to where we live).

This week we made some interesting purchases. M (finally) received his birthday present, only a week late (thanks to crappy UPS, seriously do not understand how they can even survive as their service is horrible outside the US), the beautiful champagne saber from Georg Jensen. I really liked it’s clean design and I felt it was about time that M, married to a Finn, gets his own knife (all the Swedes joke about Finns carrying around knifes, don’t ask me why). I have sabered before, and it is not that hard, but it requires some practice. Let’s see how many lamps we have left in our living room after the first session. One thing is for sure, regardless of whether the sabering is done wrong or right, is that our floors will from now on be mopped with  champagne. We also purchased some nice Bodum Pavina double glass cups. The double glass shields the hands of the holder from extreme hot or cold, so these will be great for coffee, tea as well as beverages with ice.

There was also some extreme dining this week. Not that I am at all jealous, M traveled to Copenhagen (originally to meet our accountant and warehouse manager) to eat at Noma, one of the most known restaurants in the world. It sounded like a wonderful meal and a wonderful experience, however I am not sure what I would have thought about eating ants. Yes, one of the dishes contained ants. Supposedly they tasted like lemon.

We also did some nice dining last night at a new restaurant in Stockholm, Punk Royale. It was a weird and fun experience with some of the best seafood I have had all year. We played with Legos on the table and the staff went around rubbing the guests with a fox fur. The food was fun, quirky and amazingly tasty. There was a scent of burned butter in the air, perhaps due to the fact that almost all dishes had been prepared with a fair amount of it. We took also a drinks flight with the meal and it was very nice: diverse, with beer, snaps (vodka), wines and punsch (a Swedish arrack flavored alcoholic beverage). This was one of the best meals I have had all year and I cannot wait to go back again when the menu has changed.

Being wine merchants one would think that we drink our own wines all the time. Among all the sampling and curiosity for new things, that is seldom the case. So I was very happy on Friday to open a bottle of one of the best cavas we have in our selection, the Rimarts Chardonnay. It is a Gran Reserva from 100% Chardonnay grapes. This is not a variety indigenous to Penedes, but it is more and more used in the production of cava. The chardonnay gives the wine some of the toasty and nutty notes that are more often found in champagne, but you can still taste the limestone from the Sant Sadurni terroir. I love the combination.

So an eventful week with a lot of wine and great food (especially for M). Next week it is time for Midsummer, the celebration of the longest day of the year in the Nordic countries. Midsummer is often celebrated at the cabin (summer house) with great food (barbecue), wine and in Finland a great big bonfire (and in Sweden with dancing around the maypole/midsummer pole).  As we are not cabin-people we will be escaping to Iceland, where there is no Midsummer. There we will be celebrating with some great food and wine as well, just without the mosquitoes and out-of-control fires.

The box of Bubbly Memories

Finally Friday! I am sitting here enjoying a glass of bubbly and enjoying the thought of sleeping late tomorrow. I have had a bit of a writers block lately, or perhaps it has been that I have been busy with other things, but posting has become slightly less frequent. I am not sure if that is a bad thing and as with wine I will try to concentrate more on quality (of the writing) rather than quantity. Today, I thought about introducing one of my favorite accessories, a collection box for sparkling wine metal caps.

This is a gift from a dear friend. He brought it back from Champagne last summer. It is a leather box with around six or seven layers of space for collecting the metal caps from sparkling wine bottles. I love it as it is like a box of fine memories. I wish I had some more patience to always mark the caps with a date (and perhaps place) as it is quite fun gazing at the pretty collectibles and reminiscing the experience of the wines.

Checking out the collection with a glass of wine
Checking out the collection with a glass of wine

We started our collection last summer (2014) and in the picture above you can see how we have progressed. The champagne caps are on the top with the cava and other following below. Not much space any more, but luckily there are several layers one can fill. The pace will of course slow down over time as we do not collect all  the caps from bottles we open. We will not collect doubles just for the sake of it.

This was a gift, so I do not really know where to find such a box, but this one is from Champagne. Nor do I have any idea what it cost, however I can’t imagine it is something outrageous.  After a bit of googling I can see that similar boxes or books are available from around 20-50 Euros. So a fun gift for a lover of sparkling wine (or yourself). I am at least excited every time I fill a new compartment, not to mention how psyched I will be to finish a whole layer. Must drink more to achieve my goal!

Wine Review: Louis Barthélémy Brut Amethyste Champagne

The more we work with wine, the less and less it seems we have time to just randomly open a bottle. Many times we have an agenda of either trying out samples for our collection or checking out the competition. Last Friday we just randomly opened a bottle, the Louis Barthélémy Brut Amethyste. The wine was mediocre but the freedom felt great!

This specific bottle was sourced from London over the New Year. It was from a small wine-shop, Philglas & Swiggot (Review here) located in Marylebonne. The selection was heavy with wines from down under, but they also had some interesting rieslings and champagnes that I had not seen anywhere else before. Louis Barthélémy was a goo example, a producer exclusive to Philglas & Swiggot in London (They were are the importer). The bottle cost less than 30£ so we decided to grab one for a try.

Louis Barthelemy Brut AMethyste
Louis Barthelemy Brut AMethyste
Golden color with lively bubbles
Golden color with lively bubbles
My precious collectibles
My precious collectibles

The House of Louis Barthélémy was founded by a Russian Princess who fled revolutionary unrest to Epernay, France (there are worst places to flee). In 2002 it was acquired by Jean Barthélémy Chancel a young champagne maker driven to make distinct and elegant wine with low dosage and long ageing on lees. Sounds like my kind of wine! The house does not own its own vineyards but sources grapes from crus (vineyards) around the famous grand cru villages of Ay and Epernay.

The Brut Amethyste is made of 50% Pinot Meunieur, 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and aged approximately 3 years on lees. It is fresh in the nose with golder colour and lively bubbles. The taste has notes of red fruit, brioche and zesty orange.

Perhaps it was the style or the young age of the wine, but the Brut Amethyste does not rank among my favorites. I am slightly curious in trying some of the other wines as the style of the house should by description be something to my liking. They also have a extra brut and a zero dosage, so perhaps I should have a go at those (when I can find the time). So all in all we give the wine a 2.5 in pure quality and a 3 in value for money.

On Top of the World at Roosevelt House, Shanghai

After a week of recovering from our trip to Shanghai, it is time to start unwinding the wine selection of the city. As I explained in a previous post, my expectations were not high. China is a country for beer and local rice-wine (not something that caters to my champagne-loving taste buds). Luckily I was just living in the past. Apparently I forgot one of the most significant features of Shanghai, it changes and evolves faster than any other city in the world (as far as my experience goes). With an apple so big the natural place to start it the Roosevelt House, home to one of the most extensive wine cellars in the world

Roosevelt Wine Cellar located on the Bund (no 27) in the historical Roosevelt House boasts the largest wine cellar in the world with wines from over 4000 unique producers. We were unfortunate as there was an event the night we decided to visit, however the top floor restaurant and rooftop bar also serve the same wine list as the actual wine cellar. Not so unlucky after all. We sat down on the terrace with a marvelous view over the Yangze river. It is a unique sight and one of the best places in town to gaze at the contrast between the two sides of the city: the French style historic Puxi and the futuristic new center of Pudong. I think I spent more time trying to catch the perfect photo instead of drinking wine.

The view from the top of Roosevelt House
The view from the top of Roosevelt House

The wine list was vast, perhaps even too vast to review here to the detail. There was a clear preference to old world wines, especially from France (as mentioned in the post: five things you should know about shanghai and wine). The Champagne-list was impressive, but not great value for money as one can imagine (It is mainly the exchange rate killing us at the moment). They had their own private label champagne though that was closer to the price level we were ready to pay. I was also happy to see some half bottles on the list as sharing a full 0,75l pre-dinner can have hazardous consequences.

We tried ordering a half bottle of a cava that we had not before heard of, however it was, to our disappointment out of stock. The waiter tried replacing it with a bottle of Freixenet Gordon Negro (yuk), so we quickly turned to the relatively extensive list (10-15) of wines by the glass. We ended up with glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and a White Burgundy. Both decent and moderately priced (10-12 euros). It was hot and humid, so I was happy that the wines were properly chilled.

White Burgundy on the roof terrace
White Burgundy on the roof terrace

Even though we only got a glimpse of the actual bar and scratched the surface of the wine list I could tell this is the place to come for wine in Shanghai. I would recommend coming as a group so that sharing a bottle/few bottles is not too much, the most interesting wines are not sold by the glass. The wine cellar also has a restaurant, so one does not have to go out for food. All in all, I have been to better wine bars (around the world) with a selection more suitable to my taste as well as a price tag that my wallet can handle (and I was a bit phased at the Gordon Negro offered by the staff), however looking at what the local competition is, Roosevelt is at the top of my list for wine bars to visit in Shanghai.

Coffee Bar Review: Seesaw Coffee (Réel location), Shanghai

Our recent travels have taken us to Shanghai and even in a country where tea is the ruling drink there is some decent coffee. Most of the coffee here verges on undrinkable so I was almost set on just having the coffee I brought with me. After doing some research I did however find some promising places. The first on my list was the mini-chain of Seesaw Coffee. From what I gathered online they had three branches but when stepping into the one at the Réel mall the staff informed me that they now have five locations. The location at Réel is on the fifth floor is often, as often is the case with upper floors in malls in Shanghai, calm and surprisingly empty. They have succeeded in making the cafe feel fairly cozy and nice despite being in a mall. They fit well with the shops on the fifth floor as well as there are several stores selling small design accessories and such there as well.

Looking at the coffee they serve an impressive array of different beans, when I visited there were six different beans to select from for hand brews. One could also select the method and they also offered three coffees as cold drips and of course espresso based beverages (two different blends to choose from). I have on different occasions sampled three of the beans made as filter (V60), some cold drip as well as espresso based coffees. The quality is consistent and while not world class they are very adapt at making coffee. The Ethiopian was the best I tried, while the Kenyan was slightly to dark and the Yunnan coffee more interesting than great. The cappuccino was very good and the Panama cold drip was also pleasant. They roast their own beans (at another location close to Jinan Temple) and the roasting is done fairly well but I would prefer it slightly lighter as I believe the main improvement in the quality would be if they picked up the roasting quality level a bit they would be even better.

The food selection is very limited, basically no proper food just pastries. For those who do not like cheesecake the selection is meager (it can vary from nothing to one or two different cookies). For the lover of cheesecakes it is however great, usually a large range of them and very good ones. I am not really a fan (of cheesecake) but some of them are really excellent.

Service was very friendly, eager to show the selection and while English was not superb it was good enough for us to communicate and get a lot of information on the coffee. There is free wifi but as often is the case in China it is a bit slow and a lot of services such as Google, Facebook, twitter and others are not accessible, still it is possible to sit and slack and lounge. All in all a very good place (perhaps the best) in a city that has an average quality of coffee almost as bad as in Italy.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 2
Vs local competition: 5

Wineweek 29: The Last Stretch Before the Summer

Summer in Sweden is short. The spring basically starts in April and turns into summer in June. That is how it should be. Every year, however, the wait for warm weather is so intense that it seems like June is just a tease. It looks like summer when you gaze outside of your window, but a cold wind usually pushes for wearing several layers of clothing. July and August are warm (and hopefully not too rainy) and by September the cold winds return. All this introduction brings me to one point, that is one must enjoy all the good weather one can and take a long summer holiday. So after our last boxes of wines have reached their new owners, that is what we will do, take a vacation.

We returned from Shanghai late Wednesday evening. As it was a day flight, it was not a problem at all to adjust back to European time. On Thursday we were already holding tastings and taking more orders for or pre-summer delivery window. It has caught us partly by surprise what has been popular. We have selected all of the wines based on what we like, but one never knows if others share your opinion. This said we were cautious with the number of boxes we ordered from our suppliers. We were especially cautious with the more expensive wines and Rose, as one does not want to be left with a lot of stock with those. So this of course resulted in us selling out of the Quinta de Saes Rose and Rimarts 100% Chardonnay Cava almost at once (and the great red from Antonio Madeira we are also running low on). You live and you learn.

We also tried some nice wines ourselves this week. On Friday we opened a bottle of Louis Barthelemy Champagne, a bottle bought from London in January. It was slightly different, a very orange zesty champagne with some brioche on the nose. Not bad, but not a favorite. A review will follow. We also visited our old friend, Gaston Wine bar, and restaurant Volt on Saturday. It was a great night out with some interesting wines and beautiful food. If you look at the photos they are taken with my new baby, the Samsung Galaxy S6. I am so pleased with the quality of the camera. The iPhone really pales in comparison.

That is it for this short Wineweek. Coming up next week, we will be working with shipping of wines for the Midsummer celebrations, M will be visiting our accountant and Noma (not jealous at all) in Copenhagen, and we have a booking at a new restaurant in Stockholm called Punk Royale. I suspect (with 99% certainty) that there will also be some wine. Have a great week you all!

Guide to the best cava – Part 3: Prestige cavas

A while ago I started the series on the best cavas in different price ranges. The intention was to publish all parts faster but a little trip to Shanghai managed to sneek up on me. Here is however the third part. The first part on entry level cavas can be found here and the second part on the mid-range cavas here. This price range is from 200 SEK per bottle (approximately €22 and up) and more. Just a reminder that this will not cover cava sold anywhere but rather cava available to consumers in Sweden and Finland.

When creeping up over 200 SEK per bottle it is nearing the range of the price of some champagne, so the quality level here also has to take a step up. There are in my view many good cavas in this range but the selection in the Nordics is not too wide. We have, however been able to find some good options.

The Rrimarts Family of wines
The Rrimarts Family of wines

Gramona III Lustros Gran Reserva 2006 from Gramona: 281 SEK at Systembolaget. Gramona is one of the bigger mid-sized producers with around 150ha of vineyards. This 2006 vintage is a blend of 75% xarel.lo och 25% Macabeo. It has a really nice nose with nougat, brioche, minerals and pear. On the palate it is a pleasant mix of yellow plums, citrus with a hint of mineral and lovely brioche. Not cheap but competes nicely with the best champagnes in the same price range.

Gramona Reserva Brut Rosado from Gramona: 335 SEK at Winefinder. Another cava from Gramona but this time a rosé. This is a 100% Pinot Noir so not the traditional grapes from the region but still good. There are not that many good rosé cavas available so I have included this one in my list. It is over-priced but still good. To be decent value for money it should perhaps be priced around 200 SEK, but since it is so rare with good rosé bubbly in the Nordics I still included it on my list. It has lovely scent of red berries and blueberries as well as hints of anis and citrus. The taste has nice red berries with a pleasant dry finish.

Relats de Recaredo Gran Reserva Brut Nature 2010 from Recaredo: €25.90 at Alko. Recaredo is delivering one of the really good cava options available in Finland. I do not have any detailed tasting notes from this one but recall tasting it a while back and really enjoying it. Blend of Xarel.lo and Parellada, aged for at least 32 months.

Guillem Carol Gran Reserva Barrica Brut Nature from Cellers Carol Valles: 250 SEK at thewinecurious. This is a an interesting cava from a small family producer Cellers Carol Valles. It has spent time on oak (which the Barrica in the name indicates). It is made from Xarel.lo (50%) and Chardonnay (50%). The 4 months on oak gives the cava a bit more rustic flavor and I am myself very fond of this but it is not everyone’s cup of tea. This is a cava that has fine and elegant bubbles. It shows clear signs of aging and the nose has brioche-like and buttery notes from the Chardonnay. There is also pleasant aromas of ripe candied fruit mixing with the floral notes from the Xarel.lo. In the mouth it is full with a long taste. The brioche and candied fruit once again comes through in the taste.

Rimarts Brut Nature Gran Reserva Especial Chardonnay from Rimarts: 242 SEK from thewinecurios. This is from one of our favorite producers, Rimarts, a 100% chardonnay cava. The cava has been aged from 38 to 44 months and the aging really pays off. It is intense and bright gold in color. The bubbles are very fine and persistent . Sharp and intense nose with a variety of aromas where there is a clear freshness of citrus and green apples but also the brioche like aromas. Very balanced, with a fruity finishing flavor.

Tasting at the house of Rimarts
Tasting at the house of Rimarts

There are not as many recommendations in this third part but it does reflect the fact that there is not as much offered in this higher price range. There are also some of the cavas offered in this higher price range that are just not that good value for money so this round up has tried to find the gems in the category.If I need to pick my favorite it would probably be the Barrica from Guillem Carol. The time spent on oak really gives the cava some extra character.

This concludes the round-up of the best cavas. If you have your own suggestions please do not hesitate to suggest those and if I agree I will add them to the relevant post.