Wineweek 102: All Aboard

It is cold outside; +5 celsius, windy and drizzle. November is approaching, the end off fall and the beginning of winter. I consider November the worst time of the year. March comes in as a close second. It is a perfect time to do some indoor activities. So I booked my trip to Finland this time with the boat, this time Viking line. Actually I chose the boat because of flights being enormously expensive, but there is the perk that our toddler enjoys it very much. So here I go again, with the floating disco to my birth city of Helsinki.

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Sail and Shop on the East-Sea

Last week Thursday we headed for some wine shopping on the boat. The ferries going between Sweden and Finland are known for two things: getting insanely drunk, and buying duty free wine. Now these two things are often related to each other, however, the Winecurious was there to bring the bottles home (not consume them upon purpose), and that we did.

It has been years since I have been on a Viking Line ferry. The last time I recall was when I was a student closer to ten years ago. Around 7 am we stepped on-board Viking Grace, the newest of the fleet, ready to start our journey to Åland and back. We strolled around (not that much to see) and lounged on the sofas waiting for our reservation in the breakfast restaurant. There was not much to do for two adults intending to stay sober (at least until noon). Breakfast was somewhat of a chaos and the weather too cold to escape the crowds to the deck. It was exactly what we expected, so no real disappointment there.


Finally after our meal we hit the Fine Wines shop. This is what we came here for. We had a shopping list acquired from the Viking Line web-pages and we had heard that one could expect to find other treasures on the shelf as well. We saw a wonderful list on the wall with Best Buys by Essi Avellan, Master of Wine, and were already pumped up by some bubbly. And what happened? The conversation when something like this:

Me: Excuse me miss, I cant find any of these wine on the shelf. Are they perhaps somewhere in the back room?
Sales woman: No, if they are not on the shelf we don’t have them. And anyway, that list is from last November and we got something like 20 bottles to sell.
Me (pointing to a list of ten recommended wines): Ok…so you don’t have any of this stuff that you advertise? What about this wine from Agrapart & Fils that you have on your web-page, and the Salon 2002?
Sales woman: Never heard, perhaps they are in the big Duty Free Shop.

And of to the Duty Free we went…

M (in Swedish): Excuse me, but are all of the champagnes you have there on the shelf? We are looking for one from Agrapart & Fils, it’s on your web-page.
Sales woman: Never heard of it, is it in our (printed) catalog?
M: No, but its on your recently updated May price list on the web-page
Sales woman: let me check with our warehouse.

The sales woman gets on the phone and starts talking with the warehouse manager

Sales woman (now in Finnish to the warehouse manager): Jukka, there are some weird people here who claim that we have some thing called Akrapaaaart in the champagne selection….yeah, I have never heard of it either, but they claim they was it on “some” web page….I don’t know how it’s spelled, Akrapaaart or something
Me (first time speaking Finnish since we stepped into the shop. Hah! Fooled them with my classy Stockholm accent): Agrapart! It’s spelled A-G-R-A-P-A-R-T.
Sales woman (slightly flushed): Oh ok, Agrapart. Can you check if there is any wine by that name?

The call ended, she apologized that the wine we are asking for is not there. We thanked her for her help and moved on.

After less than a minute she runs after us. Excuse me! We found it in the cellar, our manager will come out in a minute with your bottle. Yay!

As the warehouse manager emerges with our precious bottle of Agrapart. He mentions how there is another box from the same producer but of another champagne and asks if we would like to have a bottle of that as well. We do. Actually, he explains, we have all kinds of weird (read: not major brand) champagnes down in the basement from last weeks wine-event, but we haven’t really had any time to explore what they are. This Agrapart looked so boring that we did not put it out yet. Now I get it why people have been saying that there are finds to be made. You just need to ask the staff to dig the treasures up from the bottom of the cellar to get to them.

Happy with our finds, and slightly agitated that I wasn’t able to go rummage around in the cellar myself (what other great champagnes might have been just lying there in their boring boxes?) we disembarked Viking Grace on Åland and boarded Viking Amorella, starting journey back to Stockholm. Amorella is one of the older ferries and exactly how I remember the boats being. It had the right “party boat” vibe with disco lights and wall to wall carpeting.

On the older boat the fine wines shop was located in the a la carte restaurant. It was minimal compared to the big shop on Viking Grace, but very much better equipped. The shelf was filled with Selosse, Pasqal Doquet, Bereche & Fils and other great champagnes. These babies were right out there and not gathering dust in a cellar. And it seemed that there were not that many people queuing for the cash register.

We arrived back to Stockholm in the evening with bags packed with great bottles and a slightly thinner wallet. We did some expensive purchases, however it was totally worth it as we saved perhaps 20-40% on the sales price of all of the wonderful bubblies. It was totally an investment (or that it what I tell myself). Overall the collection we took home was wonderful, however I was slightly disappointed regarding the effort we had to make on Viking Grace to find them. Also, I was not happy that they were flaunting around 6 month old price lists with bottles they have not had around in ages. It seems like the selection of wines has been done with care, however managing the actual stock and sales of them is something of a chaos. On the older boats, I expect there are not that many wine-enthusiasts, so the reserves last longer.

All in all, it was a fun trip, but I don’t need to do it more than perhaps ones a year. Best possible outcome is if you can convince someone else (like your parents) to take the trip for you.

Wineweek 26: May Moments in Stockholm

May is always a confusing month in the Nordic countries. You are on the doorstep of summer, however there is still a cold wind reminding you that you are not there yet. This morning I woke up to a cold looking rain that is showing no sign of stopping. So this might be one of those days that I just stay inside. But there is much work to do. We are holding our open house tasting in a weeks time and we want everything to be ready for the new collection: samples, accessories (like coolers and spit buckets), not to mention the information on our webpage. This long weekend we have updated our webshop and it looks awesome! Much better than it did before. We work with a free online platform, Tictail, so there is so just so much one can expect. However functionality-wise, it’s nice and simple, and it works (as opposed to not working).

Optimists enjoying the weather in Stockholm
Optimists enjoying the weather in Stockholm
Cherry blossoms in Stockholm
Cherry blossoms in Stockholm

The wine week has been pretty awesome as well! We were on the Viking Line ferry on Thursday for one purpose and one purpose only, to buy wine. We had read up that the collection was decent and prices very good for the wallet. Also a friend of ours tipped us off that there are often other bottles there as well, not mentioned in the online catalog. The ferries traffic between Stockholm and two big cities in Finland, Helsinki and Turku. We hopped on a boat going to Turku, hopped off on Åland (and Island between Sweden and Finland) and boarded the boat going back. This took all day, however in the end it was worth it. I will write a separate post on shopping on the boats, but in short, it was a gold mine. The name behind the Viking Line wine selection is Essi Avellan, Master of Wine and undoubtedly the most recognized wine-personality in Finland. The tax free shop did not offer much on the shelves, but when we asked around for a few bottles we had read were supposed to be there, the staff dug them up out of the storage. Also, the Food Garden, the a la carte restaurant, had it’s own little wine boutique selling some very nice grower champagnes. These bottles were on no list, and we were lucky to be there a week after the storage had been filled up. That evening we disembarked Viking Amorella with 10 bottles of bubbly of the likes of Selosse, Agrapart & Fils, vintage Charles Heidsieck etc. It was not a cheap trip, but all bottles ranged between 20-40% cheaper than what we would have been able to buy them for on land.

Another interesting event this week was yesterdays beer brewing. We were invited by Yelp to a small event at Cafe Proviant, a brewery and a pub here in Stockholm. We followed as the brewmaster, Roger, introduced the equipment and the ingredients, and prepared the beer for brewing. We saw all the steps to making beer while sampling the pub selection of drinks and food. A very nice venue and a fun event. I could imagine this being something fun for a birthday (or bachelor) party. I am slightly worried though as I saw M eyeing the equipment with that look of “if we just had an extra room…”. Although, it would be quite fun having your own beer. We could call it the Beercurious.

The fine wine shop on Viking Grace
The fine wine shop on Viking Grace
The Brewmaster evaluating his work at Cafe Proviant
The Brewmaster evaluating his work at Cafe Proviant

Next week will be exciting. I am looking forward to seeing how our new collection will be welcomed and of course how sales start of. We have also set up a few new payment options that will hopefully be nicer for the customer. Earlier, we have only had an option of either bank transfer (an old fashioned invoice) or credit card via PayPal, which are both slightly annoying. For using PayPal, one needs to create a user account and that just seems like a waste of time for making one payment. So we hope that this results in a better shopping experience. We have also made some summer-packages for people to stock-up for their cabin or boat. It really feels like that the business is starting to take off.

That is it for this Wineweek! Hopefully summer will arrive soon to bless the terrace-season (for real). Next week, I will be writing quite a lot about our new selection, introducing the wines that we have spent so much time on finding. In a few weeks we will also be heading for a short trip to Shanghai, which I am sure you will hear much about.

Wineweek 25

The lazy weekend after a hectic week, this is what I am enjoying today. Just sitting around reading newspapers and eating pizza. To be honest I caught the flu on Friday and have been forced to rest, otherwise I might have arranged some more action. M is in London this weekend for a football trip, so I have been circling around the wine fridge contemplating what to open just for me. It’s not like we have that many bottles there that I would dare open alone. Not because I could not consume it, but rather all bottles in the fridge are there because both of us want to have a taste. So tired and slightly fluish (my taste buds are not at their sharpest) I actually opted for tea instead of wine. Next week will only be a three day work week, so I am sure that there will be wine soon enough.

Petrus Bakery Söder STockholm
Some coffee and pastries at Petrus, Söder
Maria Torget Stockholm
Taking a sunny walk in Söder
Maria Torget Stockholm Sweden
Flower shopping

I have some exciting news to share with you this week as we will be opening a new sales window for Sweden next week. We will also be doing something new, arranging an open house wine tasting for our new selection on the 23rd of May. We will have all of our new wines as well as our dear Llagrima d’Or and Peret Fuster wines out for a try. The tasting room will be open from 2pm to 8pm so people can stop by to sample the summer collection. We will also have some exciting offers for those who are looking to stock up for the summer vacation. Myself and M have visited all of the producers and tasted all of their wines and think they are awesome, but I cannot wait to hear what others think of them. If you are reading this and thinking it would be cool to stop by, send us an email to info@thewinecurious.com.

I must say I am really looking forward to the new sales window. The last one was a bit of a tester, and we didn’t market it that much to keep the volumes small (you don’t want to use too many customers as guinea pigs). We had a new warehouse and a new courier company handling the deliveries. So you never know if the service matches your expectations. It definitely did! We are working together with Danske Fraektman and JetPack who are both experienced in delivering wine and spirits, and I must say the service worked impeccably well. The boxes were handled with care, they left Denmark exactly the day they were supposed to and customers received good instructions for when their package would be delivered. It is not often I complement transport companies, so one should read this that I am utterly impressed. You don’t get that many chances in this business, so good partners are key!

And what is up next week? We will be heading for a cruise! It has been years since I have traveled with the ferry sailing between Finland and Sweden. They are often referred to as ‘Party boats’ as they draw a slightly drunken crowd (yes, I used to cruise around as a student as well). However, this time we are not heading there for the festivities, but rather to shop. And anyway, we are just taking the day cruise to Marienhamn (the island between Finland and Sweden). Viking Line has Bubbly Weeks all May, and that means bubbly menus in the ships restaurants and some great offers in the Tax Free shop. We have been eyeing the Charles Heidsieck Millessime 2005 and Blanc de Millenaires 1995 that we tasted about a month back at Magnussons Fine Wines (read about it here). The 2005 can be bought for less than 50€ a bottle and the 1995 will set you back 110€. Comparing to what they cost at the Swedish monopoly ( 70€/150€) these prices are GOOD! Also there are some other pearls that one might land at the boat that are not mentioned on the website, so it is definitely worth sacrificing a day to look at ‘happy’ Finns and Swedes rummaging between the buffet, tax free and disco. I am keeping my fingers crossed for a quiet cruise.

Other exciting stuff. M is in London. And besides watching a lot of football, he is on an important mission. On our trip to London over New Year, we came up with the idea for a private label champagne tasting. Many big grocery chains have their own champagne often produced by a big name in the region. Fortnum and Mason for example have Billegart-Salmon and Louis Rhoederer and Selfridges Henri Giraud. Champagne is seldom cheap but these babies are half price compared to the producers own labelled stuff. I am not sure of course if the product is exactly the same as with what they bottle for themselves. I do hope so, as it should be the quality of grapes and knowledge of the winemaker that makes a product great. So if the private label products are not close to the producers standards, then I suspect the drop in quality is intentional. The producers name must be mentioned on the bottles, so I do hope that they see this as a part of their brand as well. We will soon find out as M has been a busy bee and collected already 19 bottles to bring back home.

That is it for this wineweek! Hoping to come back to you soon with some more bubbly-action!

Wine Review: Pongracz Brut Sparkling Wine

Yes I know that I said that I would not be posting as often as Soile and now here I am posting almost right away after my introduction. Well, what can I say. When inspiration strikes I am just unable not to share my thoughts.

There is this ongoing debate on whether there are any sparkling wines from other regions that can compete with Champagne. There are purists, like well-known Champagne expert Richard Juhlin, who claims that even the worst Champagnes are better than what other regions can produce. I do not agree with that – there are some brilliant Champagnes but there is also a lot that is produced in Champagne that is not at all very good. Taking value for money into account there is also a lot from other regions that is more interesting than Champagne. I do however in general find that the method used in Champagne is key to making a good sparkling. I have had excellent examples of sparkling wine from other parts of France, Spain, Italy, the US, South Africa and New Zealand (and we have some interesting bottles from Germany and recommendations for Austria as well) and what unites all of them is the Method Champenoise.

With this little introduction I want to highlight one of the very good value non Champagne sparkling wines out there. It is a South African sparkling made with the traditional champagne method – in South Africa this is indicated by the Méthode Cap Classique on the label. This specific one is Pongracz Brut. I had the pleasure of having a glass or two of it when visiting the lovely Yelp Community Manager for Stockholm.

Pongracz is made with 60% Pinot Noir and 40 % Chardonnay and with 8g/l of residual sugar. It has been aged for 35 months. The name comes from the Hungarian Desiderius Pongrácz, a nobleman who fled the uprising in Hungary in 1956 and was one of the key people in shaping and developing the wine making in South Africa.

The color of it is pale yellow and a the nose of it is really pleasant. It has clear scent of bread and crisp green apples and white fruits. The first time I smelled it i was surprised and I did really think this was a more expensive wine and for a moment I was even wondering whether it could be a champagne. The flavor is full with  a toastiness to it but also clear notes of apple, nuts and mineral. The bubbles are small and pleasant. The aftertaste is fairly long and has hints of berries.

It does present some really excellent value in most markets. For those in the monopoly markets it is available in the standard assortment in Finland for €14.90 (Alko) and the special order assortment in Sweden for 111 SEK (Systembolaget). I have also seen it in the UK for around £10-12. If you are also willing to venture on the ‘party boat’ going between Finland and Sweden it is also possible to buy them at Viking Line for a mere 82 SEK per bottle. In general I am not really a fan of the ferries as I spent way too much time traveling on them when younger and going to the summer house, but looking at the selection and prices at Viking Line there are some real bargains to be had and I will probably come back in future posts on the selection on board.

I would rate the quality as a 3.5 (on a five grade scale) but in a value for money perspective this deserves a strong 4. Compared to other wines in the same price range it is really excellent. For me it still lacks something in the flavor, the nose is excellent but flavor-wise I would have wanted more full flavor to give it a higher quality rating. Still it is a lot better than many wines that cost twice as much and clearly a wine I could imagine drinking more of.