Perhaps the Best Wine Bar in Copenhagen

It is a warm and sunny August afternoon an I am strolling down towards the canals in central Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark. I am not wandering aimlessly. I have a destination. It is Ved Stranden 10, perhaps the best wine bar I know. At least the best wine bar I know in Copenhagen. Ved Stranden is also a wine shop, so if you like what you drink, you can buy a bottle to take home. I wish this kind of concept was possible in Sweden. Continue reading “Perhaps the Best Wine Bar in Copenhagen”

Foody Delights In the Heart of Stockholm, Högtorgshallen

I have always been a fan of food markets. Browsing around food stalls, snacking on tasters and sitting down for a cup of “market-coffee” is wonderfully brainless and relaxing, not to mention quite Finnish (especially the “market-coffee” part). The food I decide to pick up also sets the mood for the evenings wine-activities.

Högtorgshallen is one of my absolute favorite food markets in Stockholm. It is not the cheapest, as it is right smack in the center, but it has a good selection of foods, as well as nice restaurants to satisfy mid-shopping snack-attacks. This place might get a bit touristy in the day, but if you head there early in the morning, you can browse in peace. Here are a few tips for restaurants and stalls, and an abundance of photos to get your tummy growling.

1. One of the best cafes in town in located on the street level in Högtorgshallen. Espresso House is a Swedish chain serving decent coffee and cafe food (you can rest assured to get at least an ok brew from every branch). A chain is always tricky because you do not have the same coffee-talent at each location, however this one is special; they have a brew-bar and the talented baristas make hand/brewed coffees from Solberg & Hansen single-origin beans. They don’t serve much food, but you can just pop into the Gateau bakery next door to get some pastries or hand made sandwiches to have at the cafe.

Morning coffees at Espresso House
Morning coffees at Espresso House
Some cheese from Saluplats Husmans
Some cheese from Saluplats Husmans

2. Tokyo Diner is one of my favorite spots for lunch in the city center. They do sushi and also some warm dishes, like Yakitori, steamed cod and the best pulled pork tacos in town (Asian inspired of course). No reservations required, just walk in and enjoy watching the market come to life around you.

3. Saluplats Husman is a cheese stall downstairs. They have a nice selection of french cheeses, like Gryerge and Comte and some wonderful Brilliant-Savarin (adult Philadelphia). There are always some tasters on the counter to get you into the mood for cheese-shopping and the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable (even though this is one of the most touristic markets in town). I do prefer shopping for cheese at Wijnjas Cheese Garage in Kungsholmen though. Their quality is equal and prices 30% lower. However it requires some effort to get there, so if in town, I pick up my cheeses here.

Some charcuterie is a lovely pairing with sparkling wine
Some charcuterie is a lovely pairing with sparkling wine
Pick up a bottle for the evening from Systembolaget
Pick up a bottle for the evening from Systembolaget
Finnish delicacies make me think of home
Finnish delicacies make me think of home

These tips were just scratching the surface of the selection at Högtorghallen. There are also several meat stalls, fish restaurants, Taylor & Jones gourmet sausages and a Finnish shop, with all the classics from a Finnish food market (not the touristy crap, but the real deal). You can pop in for wine shopping in Systembolaget (on the bottom floor), and outside on the square you can buy fruit and vegetables, berries (in the summer) and flowers. I also spotted they have a terrace on the roof for having summer drinks outside. Everything is here for a perfect Saturday pre-wine shopping spree.

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.

Shopping wine at Selfridges, London

Just when you thought I cannot possible have any more reviews of wine shops from our last trip to London..

The wine shop at Selfridges is a really a nice place to browse around in. It is located at the bottom floor of the iconic department store on Oxford Street, and they actually do not only carry a respectable assortment of wine but also an impressive selection of beer and other spirits. The wine selection is also a very good mix between the big name brands mixed up with some smaller producers to appeal to those who want to try something new. The price level is above the average wine boutique or online store but not so much to prevent me from shopping there. It is however good to have a view what the fair price is as some of the wines are a lot more expensive while others are reasonable priced.

The selection of English sparkling wine is impressive. I have not tried that much of then, mainly due to my suspicion on poor-ish price vs quality ratio, but it has tickled my interest (perhaps I should do a tasting round to get some more insight on the situation). The selection on Champagne is also very nice with some smaller producers represented in addition to the big names. Selfridges has their own private label Champagne from Henri Giraud that I am also aching to try.

The staff are knowledgeable and very service-minded, but if you would like to have a proper chat, I would suggest not visiting on the busiest hours of the weekend. There are also a few tasting machines, not as extensive as the Sampler (review here) or Vagabond Wines (review here) but something to entertain you for a little while. All in all you can have a very nice shopping experience at Selfridges and it is a good combination some other purchasing activities from the luxurious department store. For example, having a few nice tasters of wine and then heading to the shoe department works very well for me (not that well for my wallet).

Get Ready to Sample

Back to a cooler climate for a change (not me, but the blog). Its time to write about my favorite wine shop in London. The Sampler is everything I want from a wine boutique. They have a large selection with some emphasis on small producer sparkling, they have an abundance of tasting machines, and they serve snacks. I love having snacks with my wine.

The sampler has two locations in London. The original one is in Islington and then the one we mainly visit (and the one this post is about) is in South Kensington, just a stone throw away from the tube. This branch is slightly more spacious and I also feel that the staff has been very attentive and knowledgeable. The set-up is that they sell over 1500 wines. It is a wide range of wines from “cheap” (below £10 per bottle, not talking about bag in box here) and up to high-end wines. They are not really aiming for the big brands but rather more unique or interesting wines which makes it a really great place to find new things.

At all times they have at least 80 wines ready to sample in the tasting machines. To use the machines you just need to buy a card that can be carged with money (at least £10), a bit like an Oyster card (public transport). After topping up you can insert the card in the machine and press a button to sample the wines. There are three different sizes of tasters so it is great if you want to sample a lot of wines without getting too tipsy. There is usually also a few really rare and expensive wines in the mix, so this is a great way to sample some things that you may never dream of buying. Sometimes I just want to see what (if anything) I am missing out on.

The Sampler also serves some nibbles like charcuteries and cheeses and there are seats to sit down and enjoy a full glass (or glasses). They also arrange some tasting events with specific focus on type of wine, region or matching. For example I recall they had an event on best wines to match with chocolate. Mmmm! Thinking of the Sampler makes me want to live in London again.

The selection of wine is also very interesting and I have found a lot of my favorites and new favorites here. They are especially good with grower champagnes and US red wines, some of my favorite categories. Despite being a great shop prices are also reasonable and this makes the Sampler my top wine shop in London. There are of course many other good places with nice wine and tasting possibilities, like my new hangout on Charlotte street, Vagabond. Check out the review here. However the Sampler was my “first love” in London, so it will always have a place in my heart as one of the favorites (unless they screw it up with bad service someday). So if you are wondering where to go browsing (and tasting and buying) in London for wines, this is my top recommendation.