Sunday, 17 September 2017

Grand Champagne Helsinki 2017, The Champagne Competition And The Upcoming Grand Vin Helsinki 2017

Photo: Michael Boudot

Yes, some couple of months ago I did win and got the title Champagne Master 2017 in Finland! That is the long story short. Now few more notes on where when how what etc. Enjoy reading, there might be few tips for the upcoming competitions :)

IF there is still someone wondering, what is this Grand Champagne Helsinki Event? I try to explain with my own experience.

Grand Champagne Helsinki (GCHelsinki) is a wine event, specialising on the wines (mostly sparkling/champagne) coming from the Champagne region of France, to say it right, one of the biggest Champagne events in Europe. Therefore makes many wonder, this is really happening in Helsinki, Finland, really!!! This year, 2017, was the 3rd year it was organised. Who are the names behind it then?

There are mainly three names behind the organization, Taru From and Christian From of Ceesta Shop and Essi Avellan MW(Master of Wine, Avelvino Oy). Here I have to mention also the name, Samuil Angelov, sommelier and restaurateur, who is taking a lot of action in the organisation.

GCHelsinki, I think, is a very big event for Finnish gastronomy and tourism and it should be supported on the official level so I hope City of Helsinki will turn their eyes on and support the event in a huge scale. The last event got tickets sold in 10 different countries and welcomed guests from all over Europe and other regions with guests who are into wine, specifically into champagne.

The event collaborates with wine importing companies and they invite some big rockstars from Champagne region. This year among the guests were Champagne Louis Roederer Cellar Master Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Champagne Philipponnat President Charles Philipponnat, Champagne Drappier Proprietor Michel Drappier, Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Proprietor Didier Gimonnet and many more and you are simply able to meet and talk to these people about their stories through their personal and business life. Also these people set very interesting "Masterclasses" where you can get a lot of information from them about the wines and their production while tasting those wines with them. It is quite a big thing to have this opportunity right here at home, Helsinki. So from that perspective GCHelsinki is big, I think. Very big.

Masterclasses waiting for action 

During the events many restaurant in the city offer champagne deals and winemaker dinners, as well as, surprisingly, the giant monopoly of Finland, Alko, offers special champagnes such as vintages with slightly reasonable prices.

Also the very dear friend now Michael Boudot, a young photographer from Reims, Champagne, runs a photo exhibition where you can also buy his works. He is also the photographer of Essi Avellan's Champagne book.

At the very first day, there is the "Champagne Challenge Competition" where you are entitled to do different tasks on the stage in front of the whole crowd. This year's task were choosing a champagne in the hall and introducing it with your sommelier skills including its story and why you chose that wine to introduce to the guests, and then a blind tasting, and then a quiz and then a pouring session. For example, for the first part, I chose Louis Roederer's Crystal cuvee to introduce, because I thought it was a perfect wine to talk about in Helsinki, since the Cuvee is made for Char Alexander II of Russia, who did make Helsinki as the capital of Finland when Finland was still a Russian grand duchy. His sculptor stands in the middle of Senate Square today and we walk in front of it almost every day. So that cuvee has a strong connection to Helsinki. And then we tasted 3 different champagnes blind, with such questions like "which one is malolactic fermentation?" and so on. These questions also surprised the French guests in the jury asking "Isnt it little bit too hard?" but yeah, never meaning that I knew everything right, a well experienced sommelier should have at least some ideas about the deep knowledge of wine production but guessing a malolactic fermentation right, can be very hard sometimes. And then a quiz on the giant screen, with such questions like there was a photo of Gerard Basset and asking "Who is this?" (well, I might sound harsh, but my dear friends, seriously, every sommelier should know who is Gerard Basset!!!) or a vineyard or a chateau photo from anywhere in the world and so on. And then a blind tasting and a pouring sesssion follows each other.

Now almost the same team, Taru&Christian of Ceesta shop also organising a similar event that is called Grand Vin Helsinki, same people same attitude but different concept( . This time it is not only focusing of champagne but still wines all around the world. And again, many winemakers and professionals coming to Helsinki for a weekend event and some of them are setting masterclasses also. It is definitely something to check and keep eyes on, it is here and it is here to stay, it will get bigger and more diverse next year I am sure.

Sanna interviewing Roederer Cellarmaster Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon 

Competition moments 

Photo: Ari-Heikki Vikman

Photo: Ari-Heikki Vikman

Photo: Ari-Heikki Vikman

So, long story short, don't be afraid of the competitions, get ready for it and show that you can do it, show that you have the balls to compete and join the trail of Champagne Masters on the upcoming years. Follow the new event Grand Vin Helsinki and do not forget to book the dates in your calendar!

May your glass be filled with "Grande" Wines!


Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Barrel Party: A Short Story of Sebastien Riffault Visiting Roster Helsinki With A Full Wine Barrel

Yes, That happened. We bought a full wine barrel from Sancerre, France and delivered it to Helsinki, Finland to our restaurant Roster Helsinki and sold the wine in a week. Because we are crazy, because I have a crazy boss, because it is such a great event so far never happened in Finland before to our knowledge, and we wanted to give a try, and it was absolutely a wonderful experience, here some short story about it:

All started out of a joke with our importer Henri in May 2016. We discussed about bringing the producer Sebastien Riffault to Helsinki and we wanted to set a kind of different event, but what? And then the issue was, if our restaurant manager Paul Hickman would think if this is a crazy idea or not. I was even too afraid to tell abut this to Paul so I asked Henri first to mention it to Paul (Sorry Henri). And he did. Same day I came to work and asked Paul what he thought about it. He said: "Crazy... But..." -"But what?" -"But a wonderful idea. Lets do it!"

And so we got the start :)

After a long e-mailing traffic, we finally decided on the dates to be 09-12.11.2016 starting on Wednesday through the weekend and we ordered a barrel of Les Quarterons Sancerre 2014 from Sebastien Riffault. The wine was not yet bottled and Sebastien managed to barrel the wine and save for us before we ordered it to Finland.

One of my favorite encounters of Sebu's(Sebastien's) wines was at Restaurant Grotesk few years ago. Once I was having dinner there and at that time my recent boss, Paul Hickman was the restaurant manager in Grotesk. I was about to have this juicy delicious beef cut "Picanha", and I personally love to play around with "the color code" of wine and meat. So I asked Paul to pair a white wine to go with this nice piece of red meat, he took a second, and then he got excited and said "Ow yeah, wait a minute!". He went to search a bottle and he came back with it, a bottle of Sebu Riffault Akmenine 2010. That was just a perfect pairing. The oxidized flavors of that white wine was dancing so well with the flavor of the meat which takes us to the relation between umami and oxidation. Anyway, breaking the color codes may be the most coolest thing about natural wines. The maceration process, oxidation and the high acidity levels freely found in "Natu" wines make it so easy to play around, white wine with red meat, red wine with fish and chicken. So we were sure that with our wide European fusion cuisine in Roster Helsinki, the wine was for sure going to work well with our food.

The event was set to start on Wednesday with a "Riffault Prestige Dinner with Magnums", followed by a natural wine panel on Thursday together with Finnish professionals, right after a sommelier tasting where the somms could meet Sebu, and the rest of the days Sebu being in the restaurant serving his wine to the guests. To pair with the wine, a 3-course "Barrel Menu" was designed for the guests for the rest of the days. To start with, beef tartar with unagi mayo&marinated mushrooms was such an umami bomb and the barrel wine served quite chilled with this dish. Followed by soy glazed pike perch with smoked potato pearls&pickled cabbage as main dish and finished with French cheese plate. The idea was to pair the wine with all these three courses, therefore the dishes were rich in umami with lots of pickled flavors, and the wine was served in room temperature with the main dish while it was served chilled with the starter and the cheese plate. The pairing worked so well. Temperature difference did make the wine pairing great with these different food portions.

So on Wednesday morning, we received the barrel to our backyard. It was up to a 300 kg package and it did need at least 5-6 people to carry in. We got help from friends and also from our chefs. This was... Well... Fun... :D Here you can see some parts of it in the following videos, thanks to our cameraman and dear friend Jaakko for filming it :)




After a big effort to take it in, we located the barrel at the entrance of the restaurant, next to the our reception desk. One of the very hard parts of the event was done. The next was the prestige dinner with magnum bottles and of course, following days selling the wine :) It was also a question asked by many that how the wine would evolve with oxidation???.... It was absolutely benefiting and getting more and more complex during the following days.

Sebu meeting with the Finnish wine lovers
Ready for the Prestige Dinner

Prestige menu was: Starters: Slightly roasted salmon with pickled radish and beef tartar with unagi mayo&marinated mushrooms. These two starters were served together at the same time with wines, for salmon, Les Quarterons 2014 straight from the barrel and Akmenine 2010 for the tartar. Then this set was followed by the intermediate course, grilled octopus "Bouillabaisse" with fennel&clam mayo and paired with Sauletas 2010. Until now the wines were all white and 100% Sauvignon Blanc with different amounts of rotten grapes (Les Qu.20%, Akmenine 40%, Sauletas 60%) and this was giving every single one of them a more complex and distant character with flavor profile getting more complex and the body getting fuller. The main dish was grilled lamb chops with harissa sauce and cream cheese topped with pomegranate. Matching wine was a Pinot Noir, Raudonas 2011 with robust, fruity and acidic character, unfiltered, unrefined. Lamb and the slightly chilly effect of harissa sauce, cream cheese and the acidity of pomegranates, and of course the generous amount of parsley in this dish was pairing so well with the wine and it was really memorable. The final done by a selection of unpasteurized French cheese assortment, and paired with Sebu's sweet treat, Auksinis Tardif 2010. That was a great night for sure, and I had the chance to be one of the guests. Paul hosted the whole event for 3 full chef tables of 24 guests in Roster's chef table area.

Pulpo Fiction <3

After beers!
Next step was a natural wine panel and right before that, a sommelier tasting with Sebastien to where Henri invited many professionals from the industry. This event was right before the panel and went very smooth in the Chef's table in Roster.

...And the panel time came. Natural wine is a big thing in Finnish restaurant industry at the moment, as well as the Finnish monopoly getting more an more natural wines into their portfolio so also in the retail selection we see more and more natural wines on these days. So following all these, Paul came up with the idea of a panel and we invited professionals from the restaurant industry and importing companies as well as consumers, to discuss natural wine culture. After two weeks of emailing traffic, we were ready for the panel with the speakers who were sommeliers, importers, consumers and wine professionals; sommeliers Johan Borgar, and Katrina Laitinen, importing professionals Oskari Kaikkonen, Mika Vanne, Kim Moliis, our friend Tuomas Rahkamaa, and Sebastien Riffault. That was a very nice and informative conversation on natural wine and we also published the event on Facebook live. Again very big thanks to the speakers for their time.

A bunch of Finnish pros with Sebu


After the panel I felt so relieved that everything went so smooth and nice, we did a great organization, very big thanks to the big Roster family and of course, to the big boss Paul Hickman :) for the great effort that he put in and made everything happen. Otherwise all these would just stay as an idea.

After that, the next and the biggest step was to sell all that wine of course but we did not do so much as it happened by itself, the guests did show very much interest and either with Barrel menu or any other dish they took, they did order the barrel wine and in a total of about 10 days we almost ran out of the wine. As Sebastien told us, we bottled the last liters of the barrel and still served to our customers. The performance of the wine did surprise us so much that it did keep so well and even did benefit during the time.

After getting all these done, of course we were stressed, tired, but relieved, so we decided to go to sauna. Sebastien and Henri left to see Linda in Restaurant Ask and we made a deal to meet&eat something and then go to Allas Sea Pool. Sebastien was performing so well in the snowy winter with sauna as you can see in the pictures :) We are very happy to sent Sebu back to France with some real Finnish experience :) We found ourselves in BasBas surrounded by great friends eating dinner together. No idea how we ended up there. Surprise :)

Very brave.

To BasBas or not to BasBas, that's the question.

On Friday evening Sebastien was our guest sommelier for a few hours serving his wine to the guests and telling the basics of his wine production, as well as meeting professionals who stopped by to meet him. And Saturday, of course, we went out after the service, and I saw the truth, that Sebu is such a disco king <3

So that is the story in a nutshell. Was it easy? No, not even close! But all in all, that was for sure quite an experience for all of us and we are proud of it that we got it done. Check! Roster Helsinki Crew did a great job.

May your glass be filled with some of the most interesting wines. Greetings.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Travaglini Gattinara 2011, Viinibloggaajat/Finnish Wine Bloggers Group Post

Photo by Alko

Well it has been such a long time we haven't done much together, so every now and then a group post is nice to see how we taste the same wine and how different we think about it. So the lucky wine is Travaglini Gattinara 2011 with 23,99€ bottle price (February 2017) and the method is that every wine blogger buys the wine, taste and publish their tasting note at the same day on social media. Here is my tasting note regardless of the producer or importing company (yes I paid that wine myself, no gift, no commercial deal).

FIRST IMPRESSION: The wine gives you what you paid, so for the price-quality ratio, it is a nice wine. But nothing surprising at all. One good thing is that it is from Gattinara, I get excited whenever I taste something from Piedmont that is Barolo or Barbaresco, but I get "double" excited whenever I taste something from Piedmont that is NOT Barolo or Barbaresco!

First bottle I bought was faulty. "Ethyl acetate" is the fault I thought about. I returned the bottle back to Alko and it was replaced with another bottle. Do not hesitate to return any bottle back to Alko if you think there is a clear fault or flaw!!!

Second bottle was fine.Here we go:

Transparent light red color with brown rims that reminds a developed red wine though it is only 6 years old, surprisingly early color change. First nose offers earthy notes with a touch of leather and slowly fruit comes to the scene. Supple and round in the mouth,offering cherry and currant aromas with a high acidity. Light bodied, tannins are slightly strong but integrated. The nose gets more and more fruitier all the time for the following 15-20 minutes. The final has moderate length under the effect of acidity, which is a good thing.

After 2 hours:

After two hours of proper decanting, the nose offers a more complex, almost "cooked fruit" aromas such as fig jam and plump jam. Acidity goes slightly down as no surprise, though still enjoyable. I would recommend the wine to be consumed chilled and with fish and seafood dishes, as well as light grilled meat with a nice light green salad next to it without any heavy dressing which will be needless for and against the beautiful, feminine/elegant structure of Nebbiolo, so just with olive oil dressing, might work well too. Or, a nice vegetarian dish, beetroots roasted and served with lentils and fresh herbs, mushroom risotto with a mix of mushrooms and topped with a reaaaally generous amount of parmesan, or as well as a chickpea patty would work well with this.

All in all, for the price quality, it is a normal good wine. Good for sure in the very very limited retail selection in Finland. Try to taste more producers from Gattinara (Az. Vit. Nervi for example)!

Few of the other bloggers that joined this group post which you can also read are:

May your glass be filled with awesome undiscovered regions' wines! Greetings.

Friday, 3 February 2017

It is here again: GRAND CHAMPAGNE HELSINKI 2017! (11-12-13.05.2017)

Same place, same style, same and even more excitement here again! This year in the middle of May, 11-12-13th of May, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 3 days of wine events full of bubbles, laughters, good mood and fun, Grand Champagne Helsinki is here again as a serious cultural event bringing some joy and life to Helsinki.

Essi Avellan MW presenting the program

I had the pleasure to be in the press release of 2017 event program on 19th of January in Vanha Ylioppilastalo, the always same premises of the main event. Many thanks to Taru, Essi and Christian for the invitation. We had gone through a nice set of Champagne tasting with snacks and got the information about the program. This year the event welcomes over 40 producers from Champagne region and many of them also giving Master Classes during Grand Champagne Helsinki 2017. Easy to register, reasonably priced and very interesting, please take a look at the Master Classes here:

Samuil Angelov, one of the leading sommeliers of Finland, will be also lecturing during the events

One of the most smiley, funniest and energetic personalities in restaurant business, Savoy's and Roster Helsinki's Head Chef, one of my bosses, Kari "Kape" Aihinen is again the name behind the traditional Grand Champagne Dinner which is hold together with Champagne producers every year. You can also book a seat and join this dinner where you can have a first class dinner while having nice chats with Champagne producers tasting their Champagnes together with them. Take a look here at the link:

Boss Chef Kari "Kape" Aihinen


First of all, this event can be considered as a 3-day Champagne course. You will be tasting hundreds of different Champagnes from different houses and vintages, you will have a chance to talk to winemakers and cellar-masters and you will have a chance to meet all other wine professionals and enthusiasts in Finland. That is the personal part if you think about it as a self-study opportunity.

And hear hear my idea here! --> Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend? Do you often take her/him out for a dinner? So here we go, a ticket to Grand Champagne Helsinki is a perfect way for an interesting and a really different kind of date with your beloved one! :) Who wouldn't love to have a partner who would do this for him/her? :) Or simply just with friends, come to Grand Champagne Helsinki and enjoy a great evening tasting and talking to producers, this is a great event to experience and it is not happening every week in Finland!!!

And after all, it is a great chance for you to spend some good time with bubbles and wine knowledge spreading all around all these three days. We need more of these events in Finland and so far Grand Champagne Helsinki is absolutely one of the most professional and well organized events ever set in Helsinki.

Meanwhile, anytime during the event dates you are welcome to Roster Helsinki where I work as the assistant sommelier, we will be popping up several Champagne bottles as always and even more bottles during these 3 days! Me, Olli and Big Boss Paul Hickman and any of our colleagues in Roster will be more than happy to serve you a glass of Champagne!

May your glasses be filled with good Champagne and ears with sweet laughters! Greetings.

Also Check out the digital tasting tickets!

The tasting set up of the day