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

Thursday, 15 December 2016

This Ain't A Restaurant Critic: Roster Helsinki - A Wine Point Of View

Photo Courtesy: Roster Helsinki
I so far never wrote anything to this blog about myself in personal scale, but this post has some of me in it too. I will be talking about a "relatively" new kid in town, restaurant Roster Helsinki where I work as the assistant sommelier. Roster itself is another reason why I couldn't write much in my wine blog, because it has been so busy. No matter what, it is such a pleasure to be a part of it. I will now put a few words as a "wine blogger/outsider/customer" and a little bit of an "insider".

It all started in May with a pop up restaurant almost next to the venue in Unioninkatu. Paul Hickman who is latest known from Grotesk (as he has quite an incredible past in the restaurant business both in Finland and international), and Kari Aihinen, the head chef of the very famous Savoy, came together and opened Roster Helsinki pop up, a 4 weeks adventure which was going to become the giant Roster Helsinki situated in Pohjoisesplanadi 17, the old premises of the restaurants, Sasso and Fishmarket.

The Two Bossmen of the Apocalypse!

In one of my favorite reference books "The Art of The Restaurateur", written by Nicholas Lander, the Financial Times restaurant critic, writer, food critic and an ex-restaurateur himself, he says these words in a sentence: "The partnership of a visionary restaurateur alongside a talented chef can create restaurants of even more outstanding character..." So true, and at some point Roster Helsinki is a proof of this, by Aihinen-Hickman being partners in this tough work.

I have eaten many times in Roster but I have not eaten in Roster "as a blogger/critic so far", so this post is more about the wine point of view as Roster is one of the most unique wine joints in Helsinki. But still a few words about food to be said. The food is a big fusion of European cuisines from the Northernmost to Southern, with such influences and elements ranging from Japan to Lebanon. Roster also serves a very reasonable lunch which can be considered from casual to business lunch, with many options including a 5-course menu option too, served with wines, cocktails and anything you would like to have in a restaurant, regardless of the time of the day. The kitchen is an open kitchen where especially in "Chef's Table" area, you almost dine in the kitchen, you can see all the action going on, you can talk to chefs and watch the entire service.

"Kape at work"

Famous Chef Kari "Kape" Aihinen, who has many books and TV shows, is many times to be seen in the kitchen at work too. For it's location and atmosphere, Roster is definitely a fun place to be. I am saying all these as a customer myself, not as one of the workers of this restaurant. In my free times I also go to Roster and enjoy a fresh cocktail, a glass of wine or an entire meal. The bar team has created one of the most unique cocktail lists in the city. Go and experience yourself, Roster is at the moment one of the most coolest joints to be for sure.

The open kitchen of Roster

From the wine point of view, the wine list first of all a very interesting one, most of the wines coming from very small and high quality producers and among them most of the wines can be called "cheap". Your business class supervisor at the university probably did taught you that "You should not say "cheap" for a product, cheap is a word that gives a bad image to the customer, use the term -reasonably priced-." But the truth is, when you are rolling through the pages of Roster wine list, you might see such prices that will make you surprised for the "price-quality ratio" of the wines, so that "reasonably priced" will not be enough to describe it better than the term "cheap".  Roster Helsinki is arguably one of the "cheapest" priced wine restaurant serving high quality wines which many of them has by glass prices like in between 5€ to 10€ price window. I repeat again, that I said "ARGUABLY", before anyone gets confused ;)



The wines are not listed by color or by country, but by the styles. Because a French Chardonnay from Jura would have no simple similarity to a French Chardonnay from Languedoc. As simple as this. Roster definitely introduced a new style of wine menu to Finland. I remember the first "brainstorming" moments and how excited Paul was about this idea which he wanted to introduce the new style of wine menu into the industry, while working inside the dusty construction site when Roster was being built and upstairs dusty kitchen table was the "office" :) since then we did taste hundreds of bottles of wines, discussions, appointments, importers, phone calls, meetings... It is such a pleasure to be a part of this project and definitely such an experience in my life that I will always remember. Thank you, "The Bossman" Hickman.

A quick one while Bossman at work

The list has such titles like "Crowd Pleasers, Sense of Place, Burgundy Lovers(recently changed into -Lovers of Elegance-), All Natural" and so on. To explain here the Crowd Pleasers title, as I heard some of my friends having problem to understand it, so, it was never meant to anything negative, it is a product term used commonly in English, meaning, good quality, satisfying product that makes most of the people happy. As an example, Converse shoes Chuck Taylor All-Stars model is a great "Crowd Pleaser", we probably all have or at least once had a pair of it at home, a simple but great design loved by everyone. Not more, not less, good stuff. That is exactly the idea in Roster wine list. The wine list is also constantly changing, new wines coming in, some wines run out in the stocks etc. Let's see how the list will look like after two years :) That is maybe the most fun part about it, that you never know when you might taste a terrific wine and get it into list, or which wine will run out of the stocks and we would need to wait the next vintage, and if it is enough good vintage to keep in the list, etc. We also have a nice approach to the hot topic "Natural Wines" in Roster. We do not fetish natural wines, nor we do not have anything against it, we see it as a new segment of product(which has actually existed for years but now it is "the hot topic") and we love to have them in our list. I personally prefer and love drinking well made, clean, fruity, acid bomb natural wines myself.

Into the mirror - Through the dining room

Among the very decent prices, another thing to mention is definitely the wide selection of the by glass wine selection. In Roster, over 50 wines served by glass( in Menu Volume 2, it was 72 wines in the by glass selection, probably the biggest by glass selection in Finland. The wine list Volume 3 is the recent list at the moment). and every now and then the crew also serve wines that are not in the by glass selection. Just ask the staff for more.

Roster is also quite a whisky joint on these days, "As in" ;) The whisky selection is not the biggest of the city but is ranging up to about 30 different selections and growing everyday. While I was taking my photos for this post, I also had the chance to take a photo of the two Finnish men who would probably bleed whisky, "The Two Whiskymen of the Apocalypse", Ville and Jarkko, who kindly let me to take a photo of them after our short chat. Actually Ville himself is quite a winelover too, I have served him some really good Piedmontese wines that he had chosen from the list during my service hours on the past days.

"The Two Whiskymen of the Apocalypse"

Just ask for the spirit list, with "arguably" the most coolest cover in the town

The wine team, me as assistant sommelier, Olli as the head sommelier and Paul as the restaurant director, is supported by the great friends as our colleagues working with us and doing our best to give a great experience to our guests while they are enjoying their dinner.

Come and experience Roster! May your glass be filled with fine wine, greetings.

Olli - A happy somm in it's natural habitat :)
A happy waitress in it's natural habitat :)  Lili <3

Roster's big wine cabinet

Roster's big wine cabinet