Espresso House in Hötorgshallen (Stockholm) delivering quality coffee

One of my favorite  coffee bars in Stockholm belong to the chain Espresso House. They do perhaps not in general contribute to the great coffee scene but rather bringing up the average quality be serving a decent cup. The location in Hötorgshallen is however their showroom and have both better coffee and more skilled baristas than their other locations. Hötorgshallen is a food hall in the center of Stockholm and this café is on the ground floor alongside several other restaurants and cafés and downstairs in the basement there are numerous vendors selling cheese, meat, vegetables, nuts, spices and many other things (there is even a Finnish specialty food store). In general a nice place to browse but it also means a lot of people moving through there so even if there is free wifi and some space to sit at Espresso house it is still not a really great place to hang out for a long period of time. The staff are however very knowledgeable and friendly so still like the place.

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The main thing is however the coffee. As all Espresso house they have coffee roasted by Solberg & Hansen but in addition to the normal range of five different coffees to select from they have an additional three to five different ones. Usually these ones are more interesting and smaller lots. All coffees can be ordered as hand-brews and are very nicely prepared. The espresso based beverages are also good but I am not a super-fan of their espresso blend.

The food selection is virtually non-existent, only some cakes and pastries but they do kindly offer to grab some food from the other places and still sit and eat it at the tables at Espresso House.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 1
Vs local competition: 4.5

Wineweek 41: The Last of Summer

As the heading reveals, it is the last week of summer here in Sweden. After a disappointingly cold and rainy July, August gave it’s best with plenty of sun and warmth. Next week we will take out the coats and umbrellas again, and I will move from crispy dry Rieslings to nice and inviting Portuguese reds. I do like the fall. Evenings get cold and dark, but that’s ok, I bring out the candles and blankets, and settle myself on the sofa. Thats as good of an environment to drink wine as any.

September has always felt like the beginning of a new year; It is full of possibilities, new adventures and new wines. We will have quite a tight agenda with our upcoming fall and Christmas tastings, Cavatast in the beginning of October and a trip to Tokyo to check out the wine scene there. Our friend Ali has really fallen for Sake, so I am quite intrigued to do some tastings. I am also quite pumped up about Cavatast as we will have the chance to meet up with some fellow winecurious from Finland and the UK. Not too late for you to join as well (just give us a shout)!

But going back to this week, we have made some progress. If you recall, last weekend I was complaining about us being procrastinators. Well that came to an end with a new burst of energy going into the actual business, not only drinking wine. We made all the necessary arrangements for the falls first open house tasting that will take place on the 12th of September in Stockholm. We booked the space, sent out invites and now we are preparing all the materials. We also did some much hated bookkeeping as well as reminded our warehouse manager to send us some long overdue information (that guy just seems to be on vacation all the time!). And last but definitely not least, we took around some sample bottles to wine bars that we feel could be interested in our wines. Let’s hope that all these efforts bare some fruit.

Friday evening we were so exhausted that we just made camp at NoFo wine bar and sat there all evening. Erik, the owner, is a really nice guy, and knows plenty about wine. We congregated at the bar, chatted with him and some other guests basically from five to nine downing a great bottle of Julie Balagny’s Chavot 2014. We also ate meat and cheese for dinner and invited half of the bar to our tasting. Great times! On Saturday we popped by Johan & Nyströms coffee festival at Södermalm and in the evening we relaxed with a glass of Guillem Carol Extra Brut cava.

That was it for wineweek 41. The numbering reminds me of how time flies by. I cant believe it has soon been a year since I started writing this blog.. Have a great (wine)week you all!

Attending the opening of Asplund apartment hotel.
Attending the opening of Asplund apartment hotel.
Relaxing with some red from Beaujolais
Relaxing with some red from Beaujolais
The meat board at NoFo
The meat board at NoFo
Yes we do! Visiting the Coffee Festival at Södra Teatern
Yes we do! Visiting the Coffee Festival at Södra Teatern
Drinking free coffee at Johan & Nyströms Coffee Festival
Drinking free coffee at Johan & Nyströms Coffee Festival
Guillem Carol Extra Brut Cava. An excellent choice for Saturday evening
Guillem Carol Extra Brut Cava. An excellent choice for Saturday evening

Save the date! Open House Tasting on the 12th of September

One of my favorite days of the fall is approaching, the day of our big open house tasting in Stockholm. Our tasting events are a good opportunity to try out our wines before making a purchase decision (who wants to buy a pig in a bag..unless you know it’s Iberico pork). During the event we also have a chance to talk more about the people behind the wines, their production methods and philosophies. We have felt that our open tastings are the key to building a loyal and interested customer base, and we also have a lot of fun in the process. And what’s best, the open house events are always free (yay!). The tasting will take place on the 12th of September between 15:00 and 18:00 (pop by any time you like). If you are interested in joining please send an email to info@thewinecurious.com, and we will send you the address.

You might recall that we arranged one in May as a kick off for our new Portuguese selection (more about it here). This time focus is naturally on our fall selection of red wines which means that we will be sampling some of the great wines from Quinta do Escudial, Quinta de Saes, as well as one of our new potential producers Almeida Garrett. Bubbly moments will be guaranteed by our trusted cavas from Llagrima d’Or, Rimarts and Cellers Carol Valles. We will hold samples of the rest of the selection under the counter if someone is interested in the other products.

At the tasting we will also be opening our early fall order window. This possibility to top up for long and dark October weekends end on the 20th of September and the wines will be in Stockholm within a week. How exciting is that!!

Our selection is available for browsing on www.thewinecurious.com

Cavas at the May tasting
Cavas at the May tasting

Wine Review: Champagne Agrapart & Fils Minéral Extra Brut

During my journey down to the rabbit hole to the world of Champagne, I have come across a few names that seem to excite (or repell) many professionals. Anselme Selosse is one of them, having become a world renown rebel of Champagne. You either love his wines or you really don’t see what the fuss is about (I am on the lovers side). Agrapart & Fils is a fresher name on my list, but it has the same ring to it. Combining tradition, amazing vineyards in the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Oiry and a disinterest in what “others” think (this is all good), Nathalie and Pascal Agrapart make a range of very interesting Champagnes coveted by many wine geeks (like myself). You might recall of trip to Terres & Vins de Champagne last May (post here)? Well the stand of Agrapart was completely packed all morning and ran out of wine after lunch. Popularity or bad planning? Who knows, but it caught the visitors interest. So when we found a few bottles from the cellars of Viking Line, I was quite excited.

The Agrapart & Fils Mineral is not a bottle you open just any Friday (so probably not movie Champagne), it is something you share with good friends who have a similar love of the French bubbly. Acquiring the bottle took some work (it’s not all a bed of roses taking one of those boat trips with Viking Line) and it was not cheap (71€), so we had the bottle stashed up for a special occasion. Having my sommelier friend and fellow champagne lover, Iisa visiting from Finland seemed like the perfect occasion (even though it was a Wednesday).

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We had some good wine and snacks that night
This wine is a blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) directly from the heartland of Chardonnay, Cotes du Blancs. The vintage of this bottle is not advertised on the front label (it is in the back), but it is from the harvest of 2008 (one of my favorite years among the more recent years). The champagne has been made with malolactic fermentation, aged 5 years on the lees and turned manually. The dosage is only 4g/l, so one can draw the conclusion that the producer has relied on the quality of the grapes. That is how I like my bubbly, dry and faithful to the grape!

When opening the bottle, you get a whiff of citrus, yeast and brioche. The nose of the wine is dry and chalky, as are the first sips. The wine is almost savory in character. As the wine warms up in the glass the fruity flavors of peach, lemon bitters and cherry emerge. There is a clear white wine character to the champagne, it reminds me of the style of Olivier Horiot (I adore Horiot). The wine is nice and complex (sweet and savory flavors combined) and the taste is long lasting.

This is an amazing wine. If I completely disregard the price, I would give this a 5. The bottle is, however, not cheap. We bought this bottle on the duty free ferry for around 71€, which I think is a fair price, but not excellent. Value for money I would say is 4. If you have a chance to snag a bottle, I say go for it!

White Label Coffee: Top roaster in Amsterdam

The coffee Monday this week goes back to Amsterdam. When people talk about Amsterdam and coffee in the same sentence it has historically been more the coffee shops where there is more smoking than coffee drinking go on. The specialty coffee scene in Amsterdam is however really taking off and in the past couple of years a variety of new places have popped up. One of my recent discoveries is White Label Coffee in the western part of Amsterdam.  I first encountered their coffee at Kokko in Helsinki and then decided to make sure to have time to visit.

Filter coffee
Filter coffee
Cool espresso machine
Cool espresso machine

They have a rather spacious café where they roast coffee, sell beans and some equipment as well as of course serve the coffee. They have a wide range of coffee for sale and upon my visit they had an impressive seven different coffees available to order as hand-brewed filters. The guys working here really know how to make their coffee, very nicely prepared. The roasting is also very good and I was impressed by filter as well as cold brew. For me they are among the top coffee places in town and for me they are currently only beaten by Scandinavian Embassy but I do believe the fact that these guys roast their own coffee is something that may in the long run make them number one.

There is some simple café food on offer and nice apple pie and other pastries but I would still not say that it is the place to come for a full meal. What they have is however nice and decently priced. I like the atmosphere of the place and the people working there are very friendly so it is a nice place to hang at. It is fairly spacious and has free wifi so it is also possible to hang around for a longer period of time.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 4.5
Food: 3
Vs local competition: 4.5

Wineweek 40: Xarello on My Mind

Very little has happened this week. Plans have not progressed and I have had very little good food or wine. I haven’t even taken that many nice pictures to share with you (thus the poor number of shots in this weeks post). There is only one true explanation to this lack of enthusiasm, and it is that M has been away on a business trip. We are a team and wine as well as wine related things are best enjoyed when having company. Not saying I cant open a bottle of wine just by myself (last night I did) but I want to save the good ones for sharing.

There is however something I want to share with you this Sunday, and that is my new profound interest in the grape Xarello. We are old friends, Xarello and I. I have been drinking cava (where Xarello is most often present) since I came of age, and my love for the Spanish sparkling has not faltered even after I fell into the ranks of the winecurious. On the contrary, I respect cava even more. Lately (this summer) I have been trying out quite many white wines made with Xarello as the main grape and I must say they have been excellent. My most recent encounter with a Xarello white was on Friday at my favorite wine bar in Stockholm Gaston.

Having breakfast and writing this weeks post
Having breakfast and writing this weeks post
Home alone..enjoying the warm August evening on the balcony.
Home alone..enjoying the warm August evening on the balcony.

Xarello is one of the most grown white grape varieties in Catalonia. Xarello has a thick skin in more ways than one: The grape literally has a thick skin, and it is popular among the growers for being able to tolerate a wide range of climatic conditions. Xarello is also not too fussy about the soil composition, so it produces a solid yield year after year. The juice has an excellent balance of sugars and acids and it is highly regarded for its ability to age well. The taste is textural with lemon-acidity and stonefruit. The nose is fresh, slightly misleading with it’s floral notes. I think the taste profile goes wonderfully together with some more meaty seafood, like crab or scallops, or even some fresh and spicy dishes, like Vietnamese Pho (with lots of koriander, nomnom).

Fresh Xarello white at Gaston wine bar
Fresh Xarello white at Gaston wine bar
A night with wine  is incomplete without some snacks.
A night with wine is incomplete without some snacks.

As we are soon going to Catalonia, I am actually planning to spend a day in Alella, a small town just a few miles north-west from Barcelona. This town is known for its excellent Xarello whites with lime-blossom flavor and aroma. Sounds perfect for summer 2016 doesn’t it? Now I just need to do some reading up to find the right producers to visit. What are your encounters and experiences with Xarello, and do you have any favorites to share with me for my trip?

Short but sweet, that was wineweek 40. Next week I hope we can pick up with our projects. We have planned open tastings for the 3rd and 12th of September, but we need to make a few arrangements first, like reserve the space, send out invitations, make the materials (tasting sheets) and agree on a new delivery window with out freight forwarder. September is closing in, so procrastinating further is not an option. Have a great week you all!

Blogs I Like

I just read a fun post the other day in a wine blog that I occasionally follow. It was about (wine) bloggers being narcissists and, well, assholes. Why? Because we think that among the millions of winecurious in the world, WE have something original to say (narcissist) and that by not going all out on social media about our thoughts we would be depriving the world of our greatness (asshole). I laughed when reading, but hey, perhaps its a bit true. However, without all us narcissists (not saying we are not nice people as well) there would be a lot less to read about. I am not sure how much original things I have to say (deep down I must think I do), but I do love some of the other blogs out there, and I am happy that these people have valued their own voice enough to distribute it worldwide. Here is a list of some of my favorite reads:

For sure, I have something original to say. Let me just have a few sips of this wine and I will tell you all about it..
For sure, I have something original to say. Let me just have a few sips of this wine and I will tell you all about it..
Wine Anorak is a blog by British wine journalist Jamie Goode. He writes many posts and reviews on smaller wines and wineries. The kind of less known houses I am usually interested in. When we have travelled in some wine regions, we have checked out what wines Jamie has reviewed from the area and booked visits. It’s perhaps a similar taste that has drawn us to Jamie’s blog, so perhaps it’s not for all. However, that’s what discovering wine is (mostly) about, learning what you like and how to differentiate between different wines in that category. At least this aspect is important to me.

If you are on the market to learn more about wine, Wine Folly is a fun site to follow. They often do posts about production methods, different grape varieties and the “science” of wine. The explanations are made simple (perfect for me) and complicated language is left out. It is a bit like wine for dummies, but what else do you need? Why say something complicated when you can just make it simple.

My third recommendation would be the Reverse Wine Snob. It’s a blog by Jon Thorsen, a fellow wine consumer and enthusiast. Like me, Jon has no special training in wine, no tasting superpowers, he just loves wine and does not want to rob a bank to be able to drink it. Jon reviews only wines that cost less than 20$ and gives good tips in what to look for if you want to make finds in your local supermarket. Perhaps the selection he reviews is not what we have here in our local monopoly, but I still get some good ideas on what to pay attention to.

I am also fond of other blogs, like Please Bring Me My Wine and Talk-A-Vino. They are witty and genuine and in general feelgood wine reviews and thoughts about wine. Not too commercial, just a few narcissists people like me (perhaps slightly more professional), sharing their vision about the fermented grape. I am yet to find local Swedish wine blogs that I like, but perhaps I have just not been looking that hard (tips welcome).

All in all, I love blogs and I really like writing one myself. Even though blogging has become a career to some, text and photos are as professional as in magazines, it still feels more like you are listening to a real person (than someone with a marketing agenda). My career is somewhere else (I work in procurement, I call it my adult job), but I hope these casual “Sunday writes” are at least entertaining and can give some tips and ideas on your route to wine discovery.

To the Moon and Back – Saturday at Restaurant Kuu

When I was a kid growing up in Helsinki, going out to restaurants was something of a special occasion. There was nothing very innovative at that time. Or maybe there was, but most of the places I remember (stood outside the window drooling in) were finer with white table cloths, smooth lighting and nicely dressed staff. Food was traditional: pepper steak or salmon fillet with creamy mashed potatoes and some cooked greens. Kuu (the Moon in finnish) is one of these places. A finer neighborhood restaurant focusing on traditional Nordic dishes and produce. Its still there in the same corner I remember. Last week, my childhood friend and sommelier, Iisa, invited me to visit, as she was working there for the night.

Kuu is not the place to go to experience new, innovative or cutting-edge cuisine but they do offer very well prepared food. Looking at other reviews, the food seems to continuosuly get praise for being perfectly prepared. Service is also very nice and flexible. For example, M didn’t find anything on the menu that he liked among the starters, so they very nicely offered to make the beetroot and blue cheese risotto from the mains into a starter sized dish. I opted for the goat cheese salad with almond vinegarette. We were almost equally pleased with the food but I would say that the risotto probably was a bit sharper. From the mains we enjoyed the lovely reindeer as well as the garlicky lamb. Both dishes perfectly executed. Actually we were too full for dessert but still managed to share the vanilla ice cream with berries – simple but good.

The classic: goats cheese salad with almond vinegarette
The classic: goats cheese salad with almond vinegarette
Rudolf, perfectly done
Rudolf, perfectly done
The simple, but delicious dessert. How is there enough to share for two?
The simple, but delicious dessert. How is there enough to share for two?

And now for the part that interests most of the follower of this blog, the wines. We started the meal with a glass of Pierre Gimonnet 2006 Cuvée Fleuron. I really like the toasty style of the house, and I must say their newer vintages have been very drinkable already now. I have previously sampled the 2008 and that also seems to be peaking early. Staff  impressed with fantastic wine pairings. Ok, I am complementing a friend, but so what, she is a great sommelier. I had some Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) with my goats cheese salad and M went completely rogue by going for a lightly oaked Chardonnay from Jura. If you ask M, he is a bit of an ABC-person (Antyhign But Chardonnay), but the wine and the pairing with the beetroot risotto was excellent. We are starting to think that his complicated relationship with Chardonnay is due to drinking only poor Chardonnay in the past. I think he was already googling where to find a bottle in Sweden. With the mains we tried out a Rioja and a new (for us) interesting grape variety from Italy, Magliocco. As with the starters, the pairings were excellent. The wine list by the glass is not huge but carefully selected, so I suggest to check how the kitchen has thought about the matching.

Our light aperitiff: Perre Gimonnet 2006
Our light aperitiff: Perre Gimonnet 2006
The whites: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre and Chardonnay from Jura.
The whites: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre and Chardonnay from Jura.

All in all a great place and what fun to take a stroll down memory lane. There is a good reason Kuu is older than I am and I find it great that they continue true to their roots. What I may say is that to be a neighborhood restaurant it may be a bit on the pricey side to come every week, but for the quality its worth the small investment.

Kahvila Siili (Helsinki): Relaxing summer cafe with pastries and brunch

This pleasant little summer cafe in a residential neighborhood of Helsinki is really a pleasant addition to an already good coffee scene. It is in the basement of a house and has a few tables inside and plenty of seats outside. It is perhaps not where one would expect to find a café and with public transport it is not that easy to reach it.

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The coffee here varies from excellent to acceptable and much is dependent on who is making it and how busy they are. Occasionally the Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese is making the coffee and  then the coffee is great. When he is not there they do not offer hand brews and the coffee quality gets more shaky. The batch brew is still good but in order to be a proper coffee destination they would have to be more consistent.

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The coffee served has been from Blue bottle in San Francisco but upon my last visits it was instead from Square Mile. Nice to see some variety in what is offered. They also have some wine on offer as well as perhaps the main reason to visit, the brunch. Superb brunch with perfect egg at 63 degrees (celsius that is) and yogurt with granola, avocado toast, apple juice and coffee of your choice. Pastries are also very nice.

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The setting is very nice and relaxing and the service is pleasant albeit a bit slow. No free wifi and weekend crowds eyeing your table even before you have finished your brunch does not encourage lingering. A place well worth visiting before they close at the end of Summer (hopefully they open next summer again).

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 4.5
Vs local competition: 3

Wineweek 39: Helsinki State of Mind

Sun, fun, food and wine. These are the ingredients of this past weekend. Summer seems to be here to stay, even though I can feel the chilly fall wind in the evenings. The weather forecast is showing nothing but blue skies for the coming week. I think I need the vitamin D to survive the long dark winter from September to March, so keep it coming.

We have been visiting Helsinki this weekend for one reason: Restaurant Day. It is a day arranged three times a year, when anyone can open their own restaurant (for that one day). Many people put up food stalls, but some even invite people to dine in their home. There is an app where you can browse for options and check out what is close by from a map. We have in the past visited many quirky restaurants: We’ve got Pork (pulled pork sandwiches), What the Pho (Pho served from someones kitchen window), and my favorite being the Empanada Mans Kitchen. A man dressed up as a giant empanada was dancing on the street and cashing in, as the yummy empanadas were lowered to hungry customers in a basket from the fifth floor of a building. The food wasn’t world class, but I felt I got my moneys worth.

I love the concept, but this year I must say I was not as impressed by the result. Many of the food stalls were run by professionals, mainly ethnic restaurants, not common people just cooking for fun. The app was not optimized for the growing concept and the food had become relatively expensive. If I want to pay 10€ for a burger, I can go to a burger place. There were also multiple events in town at the same time: Helsinki City Marathon and Flow festival, so it was a bit too crowded for my taste. I am not completely sure if I will visit again. At least not very soon. Or to be honest, I should have done better research on which stalls to visit. There are good ones in there, but you need to read up to pick them out from the hundreds of others that are on display.

We also visited some nice restaurants and tried out good wines. More about those next week as I am currently at the airport, soon ready to board the plane back to Stockholm. Hopefully you enjoy the pictures!

Forest berries, mascarpone cream and Cristina Ventura cava
Forest berries, mascarpone cream and Cristina Ventura cava
Pulled pork at Hakaniemenranta
Pulled pork at Hakaniemenranta
Japanese yakitori skewers
Japanese yakitori skewers
What the Pho, Vietnamese delights served from the kitchen window
What the Pho, Vietnamese delights served from the kitchen window
Some gingerade to revive the energy levels
Some gingerade to revive the energy levels
Flowers and food stalls at Karhupuisto
Flowers and food stalls at Karhupuisto
Pork bun!
Pork bun!
Cocktails and camera dreams on the terrace of Gaijin
Cocktails and camera dreams on the terrace of Gaijin