A Fresh Breeze for the Helsinki Wine-Scene – Sinne Helsinki

After visiting Helsinki over Easter, I said to M that perhaps the wine-scene is picking up enough to justify an honest consideration of Helsinki as a home city again. Since moving abroad in 2012 I have not longed back, although I have been missing my friends more than words can describe. Helsinki has felt too far away and small for my taste and the places to go for wine, coffee or whatever culinary experience could be counted with one, or to be less dramatic two hands; Finnair has been too dominant as an airline and the amount of patronizing the individual in the form of an abundance rules and regulations has often made me crazy. I am not saying things are much better anywhere else, Finland is a great country, but I needed to see the world to know what I am missing.

However, the scene is changing, not with regards to bureaucracy but at least the culinary experiences. Cozy Central-European influences are being drawn in and the offering for specialty coffee and wine is now pretty good. Perhaps this has been going on for a while, but now the selection really seems to be at a decent level. Sinne-Helsinki is just one example of something wonderful being set-up in the heart of the capital city. It is fresh and casual; and it would satisfy even the more demanding wine-geek with its selection of bottles.

The restaurant is located just off the main streets, behind Forum (big shopping mall) and Torni hotel. The space is divided into two parts: the Deli, where you can just pop in for a bite and a glass, and the ‘Garden room’ where they take reservations. The Garden room is built in an inner yard with a glass roof, so the space has a lot of light and a nice airy feel. The decoration of the space is nothing special, but there is some green (plants) in the middle of the room which created a nice ‘winter garden’ feel. Nothing special was needed to make it cozy.

Bulle de Rosé from Savart
Bulle de Rosé from Savart
Glass roof covering the inner yeard
Glass roof covering the inner yeard
The Deli
The Deli
The garden room at Sinne Helsinki
The garden room at Sinne Helsinki

The drinks list consisted of a decent selection by the glass. Three bubblies: one Austrian sparkling wine, a Janisson-Baradon Champagne (13€) and a Champagne of the day. Yes, a daily rotating Champagne (16€), this is what I’m talking about! The waiter offered for us to taste a small sip before deciding, so we sampled all three. The Champagne of the day was Bulle de Rosé from Savart, a wonderful aromatic bubbly with some berries and brioche. After declining the Austrian sparkling wine due to it’s sweetness (hey, if you would drink mostly zero dosage, you would probably think a Brut is sweet as well) M went for the Janisson-Baradon. For the drinks with our food, the Malaysian born sommelier, Edmund Liew, came over to our table to make recommendations. He was aware of our food orders (Asparagus for me and pork for M) and asked some questions to what kind of wine we would like. After that he sneaked into his wine room to bring out his suggestions. As I know wine, I am much more comfortable with browsing a proper list instead of someone choosing the wine for me but I must say he did a good job. I had a nice dry Riesling from Weegmüller and M had a Patrimonio Rouge 2010 from Corsica. Both well chosen to match the food, however I am still slightly annoyed that I could not see if there was something even more to my taste available nor was I made aware of the price prior to purchase (that is actually very annoying). There is a proper wine-list, but it was never brought to our table.

But when talking about the wine at this place, the list by the glass is only a scratch on the surface. The actual wine list (by the bottle) is amazing. It is 40 pages long, so I cannot really describe it to detail in this blog post, but browsing through the champagnes (now after our visit), I can already see many favorites, like Egly-Ouriet and Pierre Gimonet. They also offer a wide range from Selosse, this is stuff that you can’t even find in in the store (I don’t think there is any Selosse at Alko). Something that caught my eye as well were some of the prices for these bottles. A bottle of Selosse Brut Initial for 132€, that is a bargain! Normally I would expect the retail price to be well over a 100€, so to pay only 20-30€ more at a restaurant is fantastic. Finally a place that is offering a great selection of wine for an affordable margin. Other than Champagnes I noted some wonderful Rieslings from Nahe and a Castell d’Encus from Northern Spain. What I was left missing was a wider selection of other than Champagne sparklings, some premium Cavas for example. Ridgeview from the UK is old news and I have more than often been disappointed by Cremants from Loire. The prices from other sparklings were also close enough to some great Champagnes, so I would rather pay the extra 15-25€. All in all, a wonderful list, I really need to go with a group next time to be able to sample the amazing selection at hand.

Peach tart
Peach tart
Nöff, the pork dish
Nöff, the pork dish
The Asparagus
The Asparagus

The food was also wonderful. We had the glazed pork cheek with heart salad and Malmgård-emmer rice and the grilled asparagus with mushroom wild rice and pesto. Both dishes were awesome with full and balanced flavors. For dessert we had the peach-tart with vanilla ice cream and caramel-sauce to share.

All in all a great and refreshing experience in Helsinki! I would hope that they in the future show up with the wine-list though (so that I can see what I am paying). So all you wine-enthusiasts out there, this is the place to go if you are in town. The foodies won’t be too disappointed either.

Wine bar review: Monvinic, Barcelona

Monvinic is a lovely wine bar located in the Eixample neighborhood in Barcelona. It looks really sleek and classy from the outside and the feeling is the same when entering. The entire place is designed by interior designer Alfons Tost and it does feel like it is a fitting design for an upscale wine bar. I must however say that while it looks nice the chairs at the tables are not very comfortable so I always prefer squeezing together in the sofa instead.

There is an extensive wine library along one of the walls and it is from what I understand fine to browse the books. I have never really found a reason to do it as I have most of the wine books I want at home. While the books are impressive the reason to come here is the wine list. The wine list by the glass is constantly changing. Most of the time there are around 30 wines available by the glass and several hundred more by the bottle.

The list by the glass is a nice mix of both Spanish and International wines. There is usually three different sparkling wines, around 10-15 reds and whites respectively and then some sweet wines as well. The wine list is presented on tablets (not iPads but some other brand) and that is of course nice but I do wish they would have made better use of the technology. There is very limited information on the wines and the producers and it would be so easy to have something more there when they have the tablets. The use of tablets does however make it very easy to change and update the wine list and that means that they sometimes change the wine list by the glass during the evening.

All the waiters serving are also trained sommeliers so it is always possible to get knowledgeable service. Or I would rather say that it should be. At times Monvinic gets very busy and it is then sometimes not possible to really get the attention of the staff. It did not really use to be like that but since the Wall Street Journal piece on Monvinic it does seem like the place also draws in more people (and to some extent more the people that want to appear to be interested in wine). I would recommend coming either a bit earlier (before 19) or a bit later (after 21.30) to get the best service. The wines are usually interesting and the prices by the glass are decent. What i really like is that it is possible to order half-glasses. It gives a good chance to sample more wines and since many of the half-glasses are around €3 it does not have to be very expensive.

Recently I sampled some interesting wines from South African Mullineux (the white Kloof Street as well as the red Mullineux) as well as some great sparklings. Amongst them an Italian sparkling, Faccoli from Francacortia (if this was a blind tasting I would have picked it as a Champagne) alongside some, while not bad, more disappointing champagne from Pehu Simonet and cava from Albet i Noya. The international selection is pretty impressive but I would actually have expected more from the Spanish wines. There are however some interesting local wines there and I have on previous visits sampled lovely wines from Castell D’Encus (they make some lovely unusual Spanish wines in the Pyreenes, their Acusp is 100% Pinot Noir and the Ekam is a 100% Riseling).

Monvinic also serves food and while the quality is pretty good I must say that prices are rather steep for it. The food is a mix of set tapas menus and some larger dishes. I often struggle to find any set menus I like (as they usually contain something I do not want/like) and as I have come with the purpose to sample some wine I do not want a full main course so prefer to eat elsewhere. All in all I do however love popping into Monvinic for a few half-glasses, some wine talk with the sommeliers and then head elsewhere for dinner. It is without a doubt one of the best wine bars in Barcelona. I may not agree with the Wall Street Journal that it is the best in the world but it is clearly a good place for a glass or two.