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

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Grand Champagne Helsinki 2016: Enjoy Yourself/Educate Yourself 21-22-23.04.2016

It is again the Champagne week in Helsinki. The Grand Champagne Helsinki 2016 takes place this week in Vanha Ylioppilastalo starting from Thursday, ongoing during Friday and Saturday with a lot of different events and interesting lectures, which some are spreading around the city in restaurants. The ticket prices and events are very reasonable considering how interesting this event going to be, full of knowledge and interesting master classes and many many guests from champagne that you can actually meet them and discuss about their wines with them. To note here, the event will host 59 different producers. 

All 3 days, there are many different master classes happening and you can check them here via this link:

it is good to be quick, because some of the classes are sold out.

I am personally studying the Champagne Region as much as I can at the moment, to renew all I know and learn more. Because this event is such a chance for one to practice what he/she knows and learn more, by tasting many different champagnes, meeting the winemakers and personalities from the houses, attending the master classes etc. I consider it like a three-day Champagne course happening right here in Helsinki.

Related to this event, last Thursday, I also happened to be in Ceesta Shop in Töölö with few more bloggers and we got an introduction to the event as well as tasting some champagnes, together with Essi Avellan MW and Taru&Christian From of Ceesta Shop.

Essi introducing the first Champagne we tasted, G.H. Mumm Blanc De Blanc Mumm De Cramant, a beautiful champagne to cheer up, with very peaceful bubbles as a cramant. The label corner is designed as folded and there is a reason. Read here more.
There are many restaurants setting dinners with guests and serving wines with special offers during the event dates. For example in Ravintola Pastis you can have a dinner with a set of 6 champagnes of the house Janisson-Baradon together with Cyril Janisson. Check all the events and offers via the link:

Also to add, Grotesk is the official after party location of the event for all the three evenings. 

Last year the number of the champagnes that tasted was 150 and now this number will be 230. Unbelievable range of champagnes for Helsinki, all will be available to explore/drink/taste/study through this weekend.

There is also a dinner on Thursday and Friday in the same building, with Kari Aihinen, the head chef of the classic and famous Finnish restaurant Savoy. For the details, menu and pairing wines, click on the link:

Also Essi's new champagne book will be launched on Thursday which is the first day of the event. 

A quick introduction video is also available to see:

After all, as I said, this is going to be a great chance for self-studies on wine, or as well as great opportunity to have a great time with a friend in such a different way, or just to enjoy great wines, Grand Champagne Helsinki 2016 is here. If missed, it is one whole year to wait for the next one ;) So, don't miss the opportunity! :)

Thousands of thanks to Essi, Taru and Christian for the lovely evening we had and also for organizing Grand Champagne Helsinki 2106, such a big and hard to organize event, as well as such an event serving to Finnish gastronomy and culture. Yes, bring in more poetry! Finland needs. Kiitos!!!

May your glass be filled with good Champagne. Greetings.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Natural Wine Joints in Helsinki: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

Back with a few more important natural wine joints in Helsinki. Hopefully these posts will help readers who are looking for a place to drink nice wines, specifically so called "natural" style wines. Part 1 of this post has received quite good reactions so far and hopefully this one will, too. Well, writing in English, I hope this blog guides also tourists traveling to Helsinki who are wine aficionados at the same time.

Pekka, sommelier of Restaurant Grön, right before the service we had our chat. In Grön, you can check the 'wines by glass' written on the wall
Restaurant Grön: Opened relatively recent, and became first of all the favorite of the people from the restaurant industry, Grön is a restaurant focusing on local and organic products. Extremely delicious cooking is accompanied by a wine list highly dominated by organic, biodynamic and natural wines, which also has some classics. Pekka, the sommelier of Grön, had started working with classics in Restaurant GW Sundmans but two years ago he had bumped into naturals and now mainly selling natural wines, "with of course a certain quality level", he adds. Almost everything sold by glass, you can try many interesting wines during your dinner, but if you are still looking for some vintage champagne or any other fine wine, ask Pekka, he will have enough to make us all happy. I think the most fun thing about natural wines is that you can easily play with the color codes of food&wine pairing, as Pekka agrees and gives an example; "I did pair Fatalone Primitivo 2011 (a robust red) with our celery dish and the impossible looking pairing was just great."

Yeah. we all go Grön!

Carelia Brasserie & Viinikellari: Located across the National Opera House in Töölö, Carelia is established in 1996. Since then Tuomo and Kai, who first joined Tuomo in 1998, have been running together the wine list for some time, a list with about 200 labels which 45-50 labels out of them are more organic, biodynamic and natural production. Now Tuomo is more at the importing side of the business and Kai is taking care of the management. Carelia serves a French influenced menu with very reasonable prices, accompanied by its very nice and classic ambiance. Kai, the restaurant manager and sommelier of Carelia, tells me when I ask: "What is natural wine for you? -For me, I don't really care about how much sulfites are used during the winemaking, for me it is more the growing method, how the plants are treated, and of course, I would prefer it made with natural yeast." He also tells that the guests started to ask more and more about natural wines on these days and hopefully that is a growing interest.

Kai and Tuomo in Carelia

Organic wines of Eva Fricke is "hot" at the moment in Carelia, Eva was just here in Helsinki last Monday for Riesling&Co event also. Click here to see what the "very Goode man" says about her wines

Carelia is also a perfect place to have a glass of wine before or after opera shows. You can stop by for a glass anytime and ask Kai what wines to taste at that day, or maybe their new sommelier Laura will be guiding you what to chose the best of your need. In Carelia, wine prices start from 45€ to up.

Restaurant Spis: Chosen to be the "Restaurant Of The Year 2015/Vuoden Ravintola 2015" , Spis is a 18-seat restaurant serving "almost" only natural wines from very small producers. Jani, the sommelier and the restaurant manager of Spis, first had started to get more into natural wines about 6 years ago. He explains their cuisine as "Nordic and French technicwise", which is not in extremely strict lines. They also have past experiences of molecular cuisine, Jani says.

In Spis before service. Jani has coffee, I am the one next to the bottles :) 
Even though it is possible to order wines by bottle, there is no wine list here. Wine pairings are offered during the dinner which are 36€ and 40€ for the short (4 courses) and long menu (6 courses). The wine portions follow the food portions in size. Jani is regularly storing wines for few reasons, like aging or waiting for the right dish/moment for that specific wine and the wine line up might change from one week to another, but certain wines for certain dishes always remain. I asked Jani "do you think natural wine is just a trend or more?", he replied: " For now it seems more like a trend, it came, but absolutely it is something to stay." Then Jani asked me: "What is the spectacular difference between commercial and natural styles for you?" I do like all types of wines with a certain quality and deliciousness, but my answer for this question was: " Besides the flavor, the risk the winemakers take is the biggest difference according to me." Because I think, you might probably end up with a loss of a one-year-work, or end up with "a terrific wine" as Kristian Blanco, "the natural man", or "the man of the natural", or "the man in the natural wine bottle", describes :)

While my visit in Spis, we tasted few bottles together with Jani before the service, surprisingly, one of the bottles which is normally a very good wine, Michael Gindl Buteo 2015 was very weird to Jani, I also wanted to taste to see the problem, the extreme lack of acidity and the colorless-flavorless liquid in the bottle was nothing like wine, but water :) Obviously his colleague Mark did have some time last night to fill up the bottle with water and pack the closure very nicely. Hah! That was a good one, Mark, the bottle seemed like never opened before! :)

Here some labels of the many wines available right at the moment in Spis

La Maison: Since last autumn, the very dear friend, such a gentleman! :) , Toni Aikasalo is taking part in making the wine list in Restaurant La Maison and this relatively new French cuisine restaurant actually has lots of natural wines in their list. There is a nice selection of Champagnes with many of them being organic, biodynamic and natural style production. Also a few PetNat options available. The white and red wine selection includes some of the best natural wines available in Finland at the moment, and classics like Joly, Mosse and Villemade. You can also stop by in La Maison for a glass... or two.

Pictured: A very happy sommelier in its natural habitat

After all, natural wines are not "better" than any other good wine, but definitely something different to try. It is a different category that is not "new". Many well-known producers have been practising organic, biodynamic and natural methods for many years already. As Jani of Spis mentioned, I would really like natural wines to be something that "came to stay", some organic, biodynamic and natural wines might not give any special idea about these categories but some of them can be amazing and surprising, terrific and extremely delicious as well. Give a try if you haven't yet.

This might be continued.

May your glass be filled with good natural wines. Greetings.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Natural Wine Joints in Helsinki: Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

I have been thinking about to write about natural wines and restaurants in Helsinki serving natural wines, since the first time I was introduced to natural wines. Because it was totally different, another room in the tremendous world of wine. Since then, I have been studying, writing, interviewing/talking to professionals/friends and tasting (naah, sometimes drinking too) natural style wines to write this blogpost. You will now read few names of some restaurants and after that some more about natural wines and will read what the sommeliers and other professionals said about it. I sincerely thank them with all my heart, for all the help, and friendship.

Some Helsinki streets of Vin Nature:

Chef&Sommelier:  One of the best restaurants in the town absolutely, regardless of the Michelin star it has. The sommelier of C&S, Johan, had been anyway focusing on the more natural side of a wine list since they opened and he is introducing more natural wines into his wine list all the time. This is also where I was deeply introduced to natural wines by the Danish sommelier Solfinn Danielsen, when he was doing a guestplay in C&S.

Photo Courtesy:
Baskeri&Basso (BasBas): Becoming many people's favorite in such a short time, a real bistro with a real bistro style atmosphere with a real bistro service with a real bistro style menu and food philosophy, is just, a real bistro. So far the only bistro that is a bistro, that I know. The wine list has some classics but the rest is extremely dominated by lovely natural wines, and so far by my knowledge, the first place which had "PetNat" wines as a separate title in their wine list. Correct me if I am wrong.

Juuri: Again one of the best restaurants with flavor bombs in your mouth, with a great work behind everything, as I know that I did work myself there for a short time. The sommelier, Pilvi, is always keeping a very nice and short wine list mostly consisting organic, biodynamic and natural wines. Ask for it.

Latva Bar: Juuri's little sister which is located on the same blog, just a short walking distance away, again serving naturals in the list, as the wine list is made by Pilvi again.

Grotesk: Lord Paul Hickman, the sommelier, keeps very interesting selections of wines and beers in his list, as well as naturals. He says, "I do introduce the natural wines to my customers saying that " I have an interesting wine, have a try", and then I pour a taste. If they like it, after that I tell about the natural wine philosophy. Also I have always sold Dagueneau, which is always more on the natural side." Go and ask for more. They also have a "friendly" pricing method, read about that here more.

PetNats in Sinne

Sinne: One of the longest wine lists in the town, Sinne is serving "classical preparations of Nordic ingredients" as the wine director Lauri Vainio describes. Lauri and Edmund as a wine duo, they have almost 20 different labels of natural wines and also recently added a PetNat title in their wine list. The wines of the natural winery COS from Sicily are must to try. Also every weekend PetNat wines served by glass.

Pastis: Otto Sovelius, my dear friend and the sommelier in Pastis, always keeps few bottles of natural wines in the list, for the guests who might ask for it or might ask something different and unusual.

This is not the end. I will write another post as a Part 2 and there will be some more restaurants in it. To be continued.

Now few words:

What is Natural Wine?

'Natural wine' term is used to describe the wine made with the minimum additives such as enzymes, sugar, sulfites, several chemicals, etc. and still made with the minimum technological manipulation, including the type of yeast, whether natural or laboratory produce. Lauri Vainio of Sinne  says: "This is a tricky question, probably the natural wine would be 'vinegar' thinking about all the natural process happening in nature." True that wine ends up in turning into vinegar, so which part of the process it can be called 'natural wine', when to call it 'natural', it is quite unknown. Many say "I don't like the term 'natural' to describe this style of wine." But yeah, do we have an alternative at the moment? Maybe "naked wine" as the natural wine advocate Alice Feiring would say so, who is also looking for the Leon Trotskys of the wine world. How sweet is that :)

Also the natural wine man of Helsinki, Kristian Blanco Sequeiros adds " Natural wine can be horrible, very tasteless and so on. But if you do not mess up with the nature, the symbiosis of the vineyard might bring out terrific wines with phenolic compounds at the highest.".... So true... Like a bottle of Joly... I guess I am in love with Nicolas Joly's wines. <3

Trend or Philosophy?

If I ask so, Niki Thieulon of Baskeri&Basso says "Both." Yeah, I agree. Philosophical way as the perfect reflection of the terroir, as well as the protection of the terroir itself, but also the demand for it might turn it into a trend. Hopefully not a trend because trends are doomed to die, but again, hopefully the demand rises, so more producers tend to go that way, I would not mind, I simply enjoy natural wine so much :)

Health Benefit Issue

Everyday we are reading many articles about how healthy the wine drinking could be as the consumption is kept in certain levels per day, but at the same time we might be drinking many unhealthy chemicals or chemicals that bind the aroma particules or simply killing the bacterias in wine. I am talking about the sulfites additive. There are always so much debates going on about it. One research in Spain proved that the good probiotic bacterias such we get from dairy products do also exist in wine content. As I always enjoy to say, "Wine is nutrition.", here I would like to put the words of the American sommelier Larry Stone: "Wine is comfort food." Absolutely. (!)

Niki says " The naturalists are now divided into two, those who add slight amount of sulfites and those who are totally against of it." But he also adds: "Sulfites or not, to me good and enjoyable wine is the one easy and tasty which I drink and I wake up next morning with no headache."

UPDATE: My words on sulfites can be understood as "It is such a bad thing", so I need to elaborate that part little bit. Sulfite is a natural product of fermentation and found in every wine naturally, here what is in question is the extra sulfite that is added into the wine, which is many times told to be nothing to worry about. It is also not a poison in wine because the amount of the sulfite added into the wine is under the threshold that might give any health effect to a human. Sulfites improve the longevity of wines. it stops a possible fermentation by the alive yeast in the bottle, if any yeast left. What I wonder, is that it might bound also fruit and other aromas too. So I don't really mean natural wine is the best, I don't really mean it is more healthy than any other wine, I don't really mean sulfites are such a bad thing.

Food Pairing
Thats the most interesting to me about natural wines. The oxidized notes and the body of natural wines first of all break down the color codes; "red wine with red meat/white wine with fish." I like color codes and they work well but I love the wines that are easily breaking down the color codes, I even did a wine workshop on that, but I am not the only one thinking of it. One evening I asked Paul Hickman of Grotesk to pair a white wine with their Picanha, the very soft and tasty meat dish in their menu, he just brought a natural white to the table, Sebastien Riffault, Akmenine, Sancerre 2010. The pairing was just perfection.


So, after all, we are talking about wine. It is a product that might be prestigious to some, or can be a very simple thing, told by one of the most famous wine critics, Jancis Robinson, "Wine is a peasant activity." As simple as that. It is an agriculture product. It is the beverage of the Mediterranean publics for hundreds of years that was spread around the world. Why to puzzle that much about it? Maybe just, it is fun to do so?

I would like to thank Kristian Blanco Sequeiros very much of the big help he gave me while I was working on this post, I had the chance to taste many natural wines with him while having a long and lovely conversation.

May your glass be filled with good natural wines. Greetings.