Wineweek 163: Pre-christmas in Helsinki

Every year, we travel abroad for Christmas. And not just abroad, but preferably far far away from cold Sweden. We like spending the holiday season somewhere warm. Other prerequisites are safety, good food and preferably good drinks. There are plenty of travel destinations in the world, but only a few of the fulfill our requirements. So despite a tough analysis on all of the possible options, every year we end up going to South-East Asia. This years destinations include Thailand (Bangkok and Hua Hin) , Cambodia (Siam Reap) and Singapore. And whats best, we leave already next week. Next week! Awesome! But before that, we have been spending some time in Helsinki to make up for the lost Christmas with my family. We did some fun stuff. Here are a few tips for Helsinki in December. Continue reading “Wineweek 163: Pre-christmas in Helsinki”

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.

Classic Dining at Carelia – Helsinki

Last Sunday I was (shortly) writing to you about Carelia, a restaurant and wine cellar in Helsinki. Carelia is one of those places that has been where it is for a long time. It is an old apothecary turned restaurant almost 20 years ago located in my childhood neighborhood of Töölö. A popular venue among opera-goers and athletes as it is located near to the stadium and the Opera of course. I can’t believe that this was the first time I visited as it for sure will not be my last.

Today I will be mostly concentrating on the restaurant part, but just so you know Carelia also rents out a private wine cellar. There are several tasting rooms you can use if you are a member and catering can be arranged from the restaurant kitchen upon request (basically you can just order of the menu). What a perfect concept to be able to enjoy your own wines with some classic food.

Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
The restaurant and bar
Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
Old apothecary deco
Carelia Restaurant Helsinki
Decorations at Carelia

We were invited for dinner by an old friend of mine, Iisa, who is also the sommelier of the restaurant. She had picked an aperitif for us, a bottle of Pierre Gimonet Oenophile Premiere Cru 2008. We don’t often see each other with Iisa, but it is like she read my mind with selecting a 2008 (one of my favorite young vintages) and a non-dose. It tasted like yellow apples and brioche and was absolutely perfect for the start of the dinner. I peaked at the menu and noticed another Gimonet (Cuis1) only around 13 euros for a glass, that is a definitely a fair price here in the Nordics. For food (starters) we ordered the beef tartar and asparagus with Hollandaise accompanied by some semi-sweet Riesling. Both dishes were very good, but I must say the asparagus was perfect, a simple dish with no compromises.

For mains we had the classic entrecote with Bernaise, fries and salad, and some tasty small chicken (why is it that the smallest are always the tastiest?). The meat was wonderful and made exactly like we ordered, medium rare (almost mooing). To accompany the mains Iisa selected a nice Pinot Noir from Chambolle-Musigny. For dessert we shared a platter of cheese, the rhubarb sorbet with almond and rosemary sauce and the Tarte tatin.

Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
The beef tartar
Restaurant Carelia Helsinki
Tarte Tatin
The Carelia Sommelier Iisa showing us around the cellar
The Carelia Sommelier Iisa showing us around the cellar

After the dinner things started getting “out of hand”. I am not talking drunken wild, just that we ordered a great many wines for tasting (we ordered one glass of each and split them by four people). We tried several Rieslings from Auslese and a Muscat de Rivesaltes Grand Guilhem. The Rieslings were served from beautiful Magnum bottles and tasted fresh and fruity. The Muscat was interesting with light notes of port wine but a very low alcohol content. A nice dessert wine. We also took a “short” tour down stair in the wine cellar. A friend of ours was arranging a tasting there and we stayed a bit. To end the evening, we moved to the bar (to get out of the way from hungry opera goers) and ordered a bottle of Blanc de Blancs (2007) from Lilbert & Fills.

All in all Carelia is a beautiful restaurant. The wine list is awesome with closer to 30 different champagnes and prices are not a rip-off. Of course champagne is always quite pricey, but Carelia has clearly positioned its self as a place for wine-lovers, and most wine-geeks will stay home and drink from their cellar if the restaurant aims to rob you blind. I must say I had similar feelings or reasonable pricing at Sinne Helsinki (review here), so it seems like the Helsinki wine-scene is really starting to get on its feet. The food is nothing innovative (it does not aim to be), but it is classical dishes made extremely well. My salute to the kitchen! Last but not least, the sommelier at the place is really something, so if you visit, I recommend leaving your wine-adventure into her capable hands.

Wineweek 24: The Beginning of May in Helsinki

If last week I “complained” that there was not that much wine-action, this week there has been an abundance. The start of the week was very slow, but starting from Thursday, it has been a continuous celebration. May 1st is a day of spring and festivities in Finland, when the students as well as almost everybody else hit the streets to enjoy the start of the warm season. As every year, it is too early to rejoice sunny weather, but that seldom stops people from having a picnic. The Finns don’t believe in bad weather, it is something the right amount of clothing can solve. We did not go for a picnic this time (it was cold and at times a bit of rain), but did some friendly sabering in the backyard on May eve instead.

We were not in Finland to celebrate spring though, we were there for a friends wedding. And what a wedding it was! The bride was beautiful and the speeches moving, but what really set this wedding party apart from many others I have been to was the selection of wine. It was the wedding of some equally winecurious friends and they had made sure that the drinks were interesting. You cannot go wrong if you serve a vintage Palmer & Co. champagne as an aperitif. There was also a wine quiz (mainly with questions about the couples wine trips) and the winner got to go and select an interesting wine from the couples cellar to enjoy with the main course (the bottles were pre-selected so not the entire cellar). We were in groups of 4-6 people and there was a different bottle for every group.  Good that we were seated next to the best man (and an oenology student), so we got to select our wine second, right after the wedding couple.

We also attended a brunch on Saturday at the couples wine cellar. It was a private cellar in the residential neighborhood of Töölö with around 60 wine cabinets you can rent. There was also two tasting rooms and a kitchen that all the members could use. It was not as fancy as Magnussons Fine Wines we visited in March (Wineweek 19), but a very practical space with all the equipment (nice glasses, cutlery) for holding tasting events. If we lived in Finland, I would definitely want to have a cellar like this. There are not that many, but they are not too badly priced.

We were also lucky enough to visit another cellar the same evening while having dinner at restaurant Carelia in Töölö. A good friend of mine is the sommelier there, so she was able to give us a tour. Carelia is a very traditional restaurant that has been built into an old apothecary. It is located next to the Opera, so it is very popular pre- and post shows. We spent the whole evening there, from five to almost midnight trying wines and eating some great food. All the dishes we tried were a positive experience, nothing innovative, but traditional food made exceptionally well. The white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce was perhaps the best I have had in a long time. I will write a separate post about Carelia and the wines we tried, but to give a taste of the nights wine list, we started the meal with a Pierre Gimonet 2008 Champagne, and finished it with a bottle of Lilbert & Fils Vintage 2007. We also had some amazing Riesling from Thomas Haag.

Sunday came fast but not a moment too soon. Three evenings in a row meeting with friends, having wine and staying up late have taken their toll. While lugging our bags to the airport (way too early) this morning, M and I reminisced about all the great wines we had this weekend. There was not a glass that we could have skipped (maybe just the refills) or an event that would not last in our memories for a long time. However I am glad that not that many weekends this coming summer will be as eventful.