New York Wine Bars – Winecurious Top-3

With New York still fresh on my mind, I thought I would share a few of my favorite finds with you. As I wrote before, I was a bit disturbed by the loud music and night club ambiance of many places. However here is a list of my favorites and a few words on why. Continue reading “New York Wine Bars – Winecurious Top-3”

Saigon – Wine City

Merry Christmas! On this Christmas day, we are saying goodbye to Saigon and heading towards the fourth leg of our Asia-tour, Singapore. Looking back on these two weeks, who knew that our stay in Vietnam would be so rich with wine. We must have had a few glasses every night. The old French colony is a fine destination (in Asia) if you have a craving for some fermented grape juice during your journey. Here are a few tips where to go in Saigon:

Wine Bar 38, is a three-story wine bar located on one of the main street, Dong Khoi. The name of the bar represents the street address, so it is not very hard to find. As is to be expected, the bar has a good selection of French wines. Additionally I saw some Riesling from Mosel, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (Australia) and white Bordeaux. I was mainly eyeing the whites as it has been so hot. The bar has two dispensing machines, one for red and one for white wines for having tasters. Both fit six bottles. There is a happy hour between 5 and 7 pm. when all wines are 50%. Good deal if you ask me, as the price for a glass drops to a few euros (50-85K Vietnamese Dong).

Where: 38 Dong Khoi, Disitrict 1, Ho Chi Minh City

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The bottles are kept in a proper way
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The terrace
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White wine tastes great in the hot and humid weather

Wine Embassy is also located in district 1, just off the main street, Dong Khoi. The wine embassy has an even better selection of wines by the glass, and they offer small portions from 4cl and up. Wine Embassy also organizes tastings and wine classes. They serve everything from Riedel glassware. This bar is a touch up in wine-professionalism from Bar 38. The wine selection is very similar, heavy on France as well as Australia and other New World wines. Happy hour is also from 5 to 7 pm with a lovely 50%  off, so you will not end up paying an arm and a leg as long as you keep your eyes on the clock.

Where: 13 Ngo Duc Ke, Disitrict 1, Ho Chi Minh City

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The Wine Embassy
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Riedel glassware
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The dispensing machines carry a good selection by the glass
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Entrance to the Wine Embassy

Annam Gourmet Market is the place to go if you want to buy wine. You will not find a bargain, but if you want a bottle of champagne, the selection is ok. Ok for Asia I mean. You have a selection of around 20-30 bubblies including also some finer wines like a Krug Grande Cuvee. The champagnes start from around 700K Vietnamese Dong (around 30€). The shop has also other foods and treats. Keep your eyes open though, many western products are quite unreasonably priced, so you will find a better bargain on a box of sweets somewhere else.

Where: 16-18 Hai Ba Trung, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

This was my first time in Saigon, so I think we just scratched the surface. I am sure there are some even better wine spots in the city. We had such a good selection at the hotel lounge, that we did not really go out and explore that much. Our hotel, the Sofitel Saigon Plaza, also has a decent bar in the lobby, as well as we read up about the roof top bar at the Sheraton being quite ok. So if you don’t have time for much research, the hotels seem to carry an ok selection (and the prices weren’t that bad).

This was it from Ho Chi Minh City. Next time I will be writing to you from Singapore.

xx Soile

 

 

 

 

London Top-3 Wine Shops

Well hello London! We meet again. Yesterday I stepped of the plane at Heathrow airport to a welcoming 18 degrees (C) and could feel I had come home. My days of actually living in London were short(ish), only one and a half years, but it always feels like the place I am supposed to be. This trip is going to be brief. We are here for two reasons; the main being a visit to London Cru, an urban winery in the heart of the city (Fullham), and the second being food. The rest of the trip, we intend on eating and drinking at nice restaurants. You might call it market research, but I would be lying if I would say it is not enjoyable. Who said work always needs to be boring.

Enough with the babbling. To celebrate my brief return to London, I thought I would bring back a list of my favorite wine-shops and hangouts in the city:

1. A trip to London would not be complete without a pop into the Sampler (the South-Kensington branch), one of the best wine-shops in town. Even if I am not buying, I love that they have a wide range of wines in the sampling machines as well as some sparklings by the glass. One can just pour a small taster into a Riedel Vinum and walk around the shop (or stand by the Champagne shelf drooling as I do it). Click here for a complete review of the Sampler from January.

2. The Winery is a small piece of Germany located close to Warwick Avenue tube. The shop houses a wonderful selection of mainly German, Austrian and French wines. If you are a friend of Pinot, this is the shop to come to for some interesting German Spätburgunder. We also found some wonderful Marie Noelle Ledru Champagne here the last time we visited. Her wines are only available in London through the Winery. Here is a full review of the Winery from January.

3. Our newest find is Vagabond wines. It is a fairly similar to the Sampler, a wine shop and sampling house. Vagabond is perhaps one step more towards being a bar than a shop and is quite crowded with afterworkers in the evening. The selection is also slightly heavier on Spain and new world wines while the sampler houses one of the best champagne selections in the city (grower champagnes I might add). Vagabond also has a nice amount of sampling machines for trying out different wines as well as wines by the glass. What I particularly enjoyed was their charcuterie board that could be ordered as a companion for the wines. Here is a post about Vagabond from our last trip in January.

There are many more shops that I like visiting, but these are my absolute favorite ones. Perhaps it is because you can have a glass of wine while shopping. All in all, I love the variety of shops in London and wish we could have such a selection in Stockholm. Perhaps some day…one can always dream.

Five Things You Should Know About Shanghai and Wine

I have been in Shanghai (and other parts of China) tens of times. It was my previous job as a chemicals buyer that brought me to the region and to be honest I saw more industrial estates than actual culture. So it was wonderful to get to know Shanghai again with a different pair of glasses – a wine enthusiasts eyes. My expectations were not low per se, but I was expecting big brands and high price tags to be the common denominator. I am glad that I was at least partly living in the past. Shanghai is a melting pot with expats and student from around the world mixed with the growing liberal and curious local upper and middle classes. Wine has already made its way to the city life and it will not take long for it to boom. Perhaps it aleady has.

The view from the top of Roosevelt House
The view from the top of Roosevelt House
White Burgundy on the roof terrace
White Burgundy on the roof terrace

M had done some homework and had selected around six to seven different wine bars to try out. We did not have time for all of them, but I will list them in the end, so anyone with an interest can go and check them out. However, there are some differences to the western wine-culture so here are the five things you should know about Shanghai and wine.

1. There is a clear preference to French wine. This may come with the history of French influences or the large expat community, but every wine bar in town is serving a wide range from France. Other wine countries include Australia and New Zealand, due to their geographical “closeness” and Italy with Prosecco as the less expensive bubbly on the market. Spain and Portugal were not widely represented, nor was America or South America and South Africa.

2. The prices for wine are in general high. This comes from a bunch of logistical and political reasons, duties etc. But mostly due to wine being a drink for foreigners. It is not often understood what is a reasonable price level for a tourist. Would you be happy paying 10-20 Eur for a mediocre glass of wine? We live in Stockholm where prices are also high, but due to the Swedish currency being weak, the prices in China are elevated for us. Don’t get me wrong, we found many places with some reasonable pricing, but in general one should not expect Shanghai to be cheap.

3. Smoking is allowed inside. If you were intending to have a nice relaxing moment with you glass of wine breathing in the beautiful aromas, you can forget about it. There will be at least a few people smoking cigarrettes next to you. It is not something I am used to, but knew in advance, so it was not such a big deal when someone took out their lighter on the table next to us. If you want to avoid the smokers, I suggest to find a nice rooftop terrace with a breeze.

4. Bars are (usually) open every day of the week, but have a plan B if your selected hangout is not open (or has suddenly moved). Sometimes the internet is wrong (or has old information).

Wine decorations
Wine decorations
The bar at Dr. Wine
The bar at Dr. Wine
Trendy interior at Dr. Wine
Trendy interior at Dr. Wine

5. Local wine is expensive, but that has nothing to do with quality. Local wines cater to local tastes. The wines are often sharp in taste, high in alcohol and have an oxidized character to them. I am not saying there is no good local wine, I have just tasted a few. But be prepared for a different palate than what we Eurooeans are used to. China has a lot of potential for future vinegrowing and I believe some day we will see great things happen. But today is perhaps not yet that day.

(6.) And here is an extra treat for you: The local saying “kam pai” (kam bei) does not really mean cheers in the same way that we understand it. In reality it means bottoms up. So if someone raises their glass to you and says these words, you are expected to empty the whole glass with one gulp.

Here is our list of wine bars to try out and visit. I will review the ones we had time for in future posts. Roosevelt Wine Cellar, Dr. Wine, Project Wine, Le Vin, Napa Wine Bar & Kitchen and Wine Must.

Vivant: Great foodie wine bar in Paris with a Swedish touch

Our recent trip to Paris, not surprisingly, entailed a lot of nice food and wine. We have already reviewed the excellent Frenchies Bar a Vin but we did also visit other places. On the day we arrived we wanted something close by the hotel so opted for Vivant Cave for dinner. It is a very narrow small space where the bar takes up a large part of the entire premises and behind it the chefs are working on creating the nice small or mid-sized plates. There is seating all along the bar as well as at a few tables that have been crammed in at strategic places. There are also several wine fridges lining the wall opposite the bar.

The restaurant used to be owned by Pierre Jancou but he has now moved on to new projects. I had not read up on the new chef before but being seated at the bar and having the chef take the orders for us I right away heard the unmistakable Swedish accent. The new chef is indeed Swedish, Svante Forstorp , but while relatively new at Vivant Cave he has plenty of experience from before for example from Aux Deux Amis. He makes some lovely small dishes behind the counter, the limited space does not seem to bother him at all. Not only is the food very good, it is also great to watch him at work. I am of course a bit of a sucker for the open kitchen but I am a firm believer that it keeps restaurants honest.

We opted for a selection of different dishes but among the highlights were the asparagus, the spicy pasta (chili and fresh lemon) as well as the smoked foie gras with cabbage. The place is known to have a good selection of, in Paris so trendy, natural wine and we were rather pleased with the wine recommendations. We tried an lovely Brut Nature champagne from Ruppert-Leroy  as well as an excellent Austrian sparkling from Strohmeier as well as some nice reds – the reds were very different, one extremely light while the other was much darker and fuller. I think the picture gives a pretty interesting comparison.

Service was in general very attentive and the staff were happy to explain the all-French menu to us. I also very much liked the pleasant atmosphere here, staff were relaxed and that made guests relaxed as well. We ended up chatting with people seated next to us at the bar and it did really seem very popular with foreigners visiting (we had Danes, Brits and Americans around us).The price level was rather decent as well, not exactly cheap but definitely value for money. Will be on my list for places to return to if in the area.

Wine review: Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2013

I will not repeat the story on Kloof Street and Mullineux as I have written more about it in a previous review of the Kloof Street Swartland Rouge, read it here. What can be said about this Chenin Blanc is that it is not your run of the mill entry level wine. The vines used for this are over 40 years old so this is actually really interesting wine for this price level.

The Kloof Street Chenin Blanc is reminiscent of a Loire Chenin Blanc, or at least that was part of how it was described to me by the knowledgeable sommelier at Monvinic where I sampled it, and I can see what they mean. It is pale straw yellow in color but the nose was a bit strange to me, it had notes of ripe pear and apricot but also a bit of wet granite. There was however a scent that somehow was a bit stale about it, and at first I thought something was off about the wine. With some air it did however disappear but I was almost on the verge of checking with the sommelier if it corked. The wine is fresh and clean on the palate with dry pineapple and mineral but combined with a nice creaminess.

Despite my initial hesitation the wine won me over when it had some air. It rates as a 3.5 for quality and price wise it will set you back between €13-17 and that is decent value for money so also there a 3.5 rating. Pleasant, drinkable and would consider having it again.

Fabrica Moritz and Bar a Vins: Great Wine bar at a Brewery, Barcelona

I have never really been a fan of the local (Catalan) beer brand Moritz but I was still somehow convinced to visit their combined brewery, restaurant, shop, bar and wine bar called Fabrica Moritz. The place has been extensively renovated and I will happily admit that it does look really nice. They are also making some special beer (not available elsewhere) in this location so there are actually some much nicer beers here than what is normally available under the Moritz brand. It also means that it is not just a design and concept idea since they actually produce beer here as well. What however did surprise me immensely was first that the food was pretty decent and second, which is the main topic of this post, that they have an excellent wine bar called Bar a Vins.

When I was browsing their standard wine list I did find some pretty decent wines and what I really liked was that it was possible to also have really small sips of the wine. I then started asking a bit about the wines and was then brought the full wine list and they asked if I also wanted to have a chat with the sommelier. Really appreciate that it was possible to order the full range of wines while seated in the restaurant and the good service attitude.

The set-up of the wines are a bit different than in some other places I have been. It is possible to order in three different ways: by weight, by the glass or by the bottle. Most of you are probably familiar with by the glass and by the bottle but the ‘by weight’ is perhaps a bit new. They are using a system with argon gas canisters on the bottle allowing to take small amounts out without damaging the remaining wine. It is very much similar to the Coravin system but this was from what I could see a different brand or producer. This does allow one to order either a specific number of grams of wine or if that is the preference order for an amount of money (and you will then be poured as much as that amount will buy you).

There are around 40 wines available by the glass (and by weight) and in addition to that more than 400 by the bottle. Spanish wines are very well represented here but there are international wines available. I did to my surprise find the excellent Carousel from Alvaro Castro (of Quinta da Pellada) by the glass here. The slight disappointment is perhaps that the selection of Catalan wines was not as good as I would have expected but it is still one of the better ranges of Catalan wines around. I was however happy to see four sparkling wines available by the glass. We sampled nice Cavas here and they also had some Champagne by the glass. A nice touch is also that all the wines served come with a little label around the foot of the glass with information on the wine.

The service is very good, friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. It does seem that the fact that it is in beer brewery makes it a bit more relaxed than some other wine bars. The possibility to order wines by weight also makes more high-end wines available to a wider audience so I think they are doing some really good things for the wine scene in Barcelona. The food is also very nice, and while perhaps not the cheapest meal it is still decent value for money.

The design of the place is pretty neat and I do encourage a visit to the toilets as they are pretty nicely designed as well. One objection I have is that it tends to get fairly loud as many people who go to the beer bar seem to be there more to drink a lot of beer than to sample different things so I do in general prefer to sit in the smaller space at the Bar a Vins than in the actual restaurant.

Take me to Paris

Spring is in the air and I am eagerly waiting for our trip to Champagne next week. On Monday the 20th of April, The Winecurious is attending Terres et Vins de Champagne, a festival dedicated to grower Champagnes held in the town of Reims located 150 km north-east from Paris. While we are anyway travelling via Paris, we thought that we would take an extra day and spend it looking around town. I have been there once before, but it is such an overwhelming city, that there is always more to see. I doubt we will be visiting the Eiffel tower or the Champs-Élysées, but rather going around in wine shops and bars amazing at the selection at hand. Paris feels like the mother-ship of wine, and we are going to take a trip to “our roots”.

© Paris Tourist Office - Photographer : © Jair Lanes
© Paris Tourist Office – Photographer : © Jair Lanes
© Paris Tourist Office - Photographer : Daniel Thierry
© Paris Tourist Office – Photographer : Daniel Thierry

As I am a novice when it comes to Paris our plans are based on what we have been reading about. I found a nice article on the Guardian that seemed to have a list of places that match my taste. So here are a few interesting places I am contemplating on visiting:

1. Albion: Located close to Gare du Nord train station Albion is run by English chef Matthew Ong and New Zealander barman Hayden Clout, who used to work at the Fish La Boissonnerie. They have a monthly changing selection of wines and some traditional eats such as vichyssoise with oysters, and orange and lemon curd tart. Mmm, sounds good!

2. Le Verre Vole. A hipster spot near Canal Saint-Martin, this bar is considered by many the best new-style wine bar in Paris (I don’t know what new-style bar means, but Parisian hipsters sound like they know wine). It was recently expanded, making it easier to bag a table – a reservation is probably a must. The tipsters say to check out the wine bottles on display, library-style, on open shelves – perhaps these are the bottles that are open on the day?? The food also sounds awesome with dishes like lamb and fig terrine. Also the cheeses get very positive reviews.

3. Frenchies Bar a Vins by chef Gregory Marchand’s, an annex to his bistro Frenchie. The bar gives a great opportunity to sample his cooking without the ordeal of trying to book a table at the restaurant. Sample is the right word as one can expect excruciatingly small plates of such delights a an earthy terrine de campagne with country bread and smoked trout with cucumber, pickled onions and garlic flowers. I also hear that Sommelière Laura Vidal manages one of the most interesting wine lists in Paris right now.

4. Willi’s Wine Bar owned by Englishman Mark Williamson, who has had a big influence on what Parisians drink today. The crowd is international and I hear there is a brilliant selection of wines by the glass. The menu follows the seasons with dishes such as quail breast on salad leaves with spiced nectarines.

All of the above sound great and interesting. I think we will prioritize places with a wide selection by the glass as having a bottle at each bar is perhaps a bit too much. I have not visited any of these places yet, nor have we decided on an agenda, so it would be great if any of the readers would share  your experiences and tips for Paris (preferably with a focus on wine)

Wine review: VallDolina Brut Nature, Organic cava

We are always on the lookout for wine makers that use organic/ecological methods when producing. many of the producers we work with and/or have visited largely follow what is required to be organic but they are not willing to spend the time and money to be certified (the certification can include several audits a year and certification fees). We did however recently encounter an interesting cava that is marketed as organic.

The cava is called VallDolina and is made by producer Celler-Masia Can Tutusaus. The winery was started in 1987 by Joan Badell Badell, who decided to bottle his first wines and to plant his first trained vines. It was not until 1999 when Raimon Badell Rosés, the son of the founder, who was then studying oenology and already involved in the winemaking process, turned the focus to ecological and biodynamical production. Since then, in 2006, oenologist Ferran Gil García has also joined the team.

The winery has 10 hectares where they currently produce one white wine, one rosé wine, three red wines and three different types of cava. the entire production is done with grapes from their own estate. The vineyards are boardering the natural park at the Massif of Garraf, with an altitude of between 240m and 360m and have limestone and reddish clay soil and produce, on average, 3500l/h. The climate is Mediterranean, strongly influenced by the vicinity of the sea. The winery produces only around 20 000 bottles a year and the small scale also mean that they just like for example Rimarts still can make the disgorging manually, without freezing the sediment. I am not knowledgable enough to know whether it produces a superior cava but I know it is cool to look at the manual process so if you ever get the chance to see that it is great fun.

The specific cava that we now tried was the Brut Nature Reserva. It has made with traditional cava trio of grapes (Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada) but also a touch of Chardonnay. It has been aged for 24 months. I must also inform you that I tried this side by side with a champagne (Pierre Gimonet, 2008 Non Dosage) so some of the impressions may be influenced by that comparision. I have tried to give it a fair rating so have hopefully managed to remove any comparison.

The VallDolina Brut Nature is very pale yellow in color. The nose is very fresh with some citrus, mineral and earthy aromas. As it is Brut Nature (no sugar added) it is very dry, nice acidity and a touch of citrus. To me it lacks some complexity and I would have liked a bit fuller flavor. As it is, the cava is pleasant enough as an appetizer but it lacks the complexity to be paired well with foods. It is however still good enough for me to be interested to sample their other wines and especially the Gran Reserva. Pure quality rating I would give it a 3, value for money is a 3.5 as I had it for €7 a glass at a wine bar in Helsinki which is a pretty good bargain. If I however look at the price at Alko (the Finnish Monopoly) it is almost €110 for a case of 6 (not sold by the bottle) and that is not good value for money (more like a 2). Looking at the price level in Spain and elsewhere in Europe it is however possible to find it at better prices and I would not doubt trying it again as it is a pleasant enought cava and compared to most other organic ones I sampled this is one of the better, so I recomed trying it as an example that it is possible to produce good organic cava.

Wine review: Faccoli Franciacorta Extra Brut

Faccoli is one of the many sparkling wine producers in Franciacorta . The founder was Lorenzo Faccoli who in 1964 acquired land on the hills of Mount Orfano, in Coccaglio. At this point in time Franciacorta was in its infancy as a wine region. That year Lorenzo obtained 12 hectoliters of wine from grapes of an existing vineyard, making wine on his own and sold by measure. Soon he realized he wanted to do more so he arranged the terraces and planted vineyards of chardonnay and pinot blanc, according to the recommendations of the new registered designation of Franciacorta origin. Already in 1970 he bottled part of his own wine and in 1979 he produced 300 hectoliters from his own wine and grapes.

In 1983 a lot changed for the Faccoli house, the sons Mario and Claudio stepped into the business. The decision was made to make sparkling wine the focus. In 1989 the production was 45 000 bottles (15 000 still and 30 000 sparkling) but the company still struggled as returns were too low. They also made the decision to manage the sales themselves and to focus even more on bubbles. To facilitate the growth they invested in an expansion of the cellar and added a higher end vintage cuvee to the selection, the Vintage 10 Anni. In 1990, they uprooted the old red vines of Cabernet Merlot Barbera and Nebbiolo and reduced the production of still wine to 10.000 bottles of white wine. In 2000 they stopped producing still wine and made the sparkling the only focus of the company. Today the company produces over 50 000 bottles of sparkling wine and have added several cuvées to the selection, today these are: Rosè brut, Extra Brut, Brut, Dosage Zero and Vintage 10 Anni.

The Facolli Franciacorta Extra Brut was the one I sampled (at Monvinic). It is grown on the hills of Mount Orfano and it is a blend of 70 % Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc and 5 % Pinot Noir. Facolli uses the méthode champenoise for producing their sparkling wine. No surprise as they are in Franciacorta , the only Italian sparkling wine appellation that must be made by méthode champenoise. This specific cuvee has been aged 21 months on the lees. The extra brut has minimal extra dosage and is very low in residual sugar (2.5g/l).

I have previously not been very impressed by Italian sparkling wines but this one I did find pretty decent. I sampled it side by side with a Pehu Simonet Champagne and a Albet i Noya cava and from that trio this was clearly the best (reviews of the others to come)

The color is pale yellow with fine bubbles. The aroma has nice brioche and bread notes as well as yeast and hints of mineral. On the palate it is very clean, bright with mineral and citrus. It works excellent on its own, as an aperitif, but also with some lighter food. As I did not have much expectations on it, I felt pleasantly surprised. Looking at quality I would rate it as a 3 (S was pretty fond of it, so she might say its a 4). It is nice but would perhaps not go out of my way to find it. It can be found online (mainly from Italian wine shops) for €13 to €20. In the lower end of that segment it is good value for money (a rating of 3.5).