Food & Wine

Recently I went to Stockholm for a long weekend.  I am not sure if it was due to the cold weather, my habits or just unconsciously trying to stay professional even whilst on holiday, I found myself constantly in search of a decent wine in the supermarket to go with my dinner, but to no avail, nothing was found. The only thing I could see in any supermarket was terrible-looking non-alcoholic wines or beer. I did come across a wine shop on a Saturday afternoon, but guess what, it was closed at 3pm. Coming from the UK where you can buy booze 24/7, I was in shock. Who would close a wine retail shop at 3 pm on a Saturday?

Then my wine-professional-self kicked in. Suddenly I got it. For years, I have learnt that the Scandinavian countries have government regulated alcohol monopoly in place. Now I realize how it works. The Swedish government operates a monopoly on the alcohol retail sales. Anything above 3.5% ABV will need to be sold through the 430 plus government-owned “Systembolaget” wine shops.

Originally, everything, including the import and export, production and both on and off-trade alcohol sales, was controlled by the government. However, in 1995, when Sweden joined the EU, they were allowed only to retain its retail sales monopoly on alcohol. Therefore, nowadays it’s possible for business to import and sell wines to restaurants directly. But to buy wines to enjoy at home, you will need to go to Systembolaget.

As a result, my trip in Stockholm ended up with only a glass of Spanish wine, three times the usual price I would pay in the UK, from Ribera del Duero in a restaurant. But at least it was really delicious!

Museum of Spirits in Djurgarden Stockholm

Museum of Spirits in the island of Djurgården, Stockholm – Photo credit@Spiritmuseum

It seems like Stockholm might not be an ideal destination for wine travel then. However, to my surprise, I found a little gem in the island of Djurgården amongst all the major tourist attractions. It’s a boutique style Museum of Spirits (SpritMuseum – dedicated to alcoholic drinks, not ghosts). Small it might be but it is modernly decorated and equipped with a tasting room, a bar and a restaurant. I went into the special Champagne exhibition first where you could learn everything about Champagne.

Aroma pumps in Museum of Spirits In Djurgarden Stockholm

 

More Aroma pumps in the Museum of Spirits

Aroma Pumps

Just when I thought that this museum was disappointingly tiny, I turned into the main spirits section and was totally blown away. Admittedly, it is not massive. But I was extremely impressed by the well thought through layout and various aroma pumps that are on display.  Aromas of all major spirits such as Cognac, Whisky, Calvados, Bourbon are there for you to sniff. Then more astonishingly, the aromas of many rare ingredients for spirits making, for example, wormwood, which is for making Absinthe is there too for you to smell. Being a wine and spirits educator myself, I have been dreaming of such a ‘classroom’ to show students how those ingredients smell like.  Apart from the aroma pumps, there are different sections where you can learn about spirits making in an interactive way. Even the sometimes difficult to understand distillation process has been made easier to understand by the beautiful animated film that is on show.  In short, this is heaven for people who like to learn more about spirits in a very engaging way.

Slow baked hake with burned onion puree and pickled onions by chef Petter Nilsson

 

 

 

 

 

Apart from the main exhibition sections, there is also a bar and a restaurant called The Dining Room headed by Chef Petter Nilsson who spent 15 years in Paris at the acclaimed neo-bistro La Gazzetta which he co-owned.

Delicious ingredient-focused, season-specific Nordic dishes are served here. After learning all about spirits, admiring the seasonal collections, it is definitely a treat to settle down and enjoy a beautiful and nourishing Nordic meal here. Not to mention that the view from the restaurant is picturesque, which is a bonus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Museum of Spirits in Djurgarden Stockholm

SpritMuseum: Djurgårdsvägen 38-40, 115 21 Stockholm, Sweden.   Photo credit@Spiritmuseum

Current exhibitions:

 

·         CHAMPAGNE! – Until 30/10/2018

 

·         SWEDEN: SPIRITS OF A NATION – Until 31/12/ 2018

 

SpritMuseum: Djurgårdsvägen 38-40, 115 21 Stockholm, Sweden.

 

https://spritmuseum.se/en/

 

Leona de Pasquale wine correspondent for The Vintage Magazine

 

Leona De Pasquale DipWSET, The Vintage Magazine’s Wine Correspondent

Originally from Taiwan, Leona has been working in the wine industry for more than 10 years as freelance wine writer, translator and educator. She wrote and translated for Decanter Magazine (Chinese Edition in Taiwan), Le Pin Magazine in Hong Kong and is the UK & Europe Correspondent for the most influential wine and spirits magazine in Taiwan (Wine & Spirits Digest). She is also the translator for The World Atlas of Wine, American Wine and Natural Wine. She obtained her WSET Diploma in 2016.

Lisbon

Lisbon

Recently in Millesime Bio (the world’s largest organic wine fair) in Montpellier, I overheard a conversation between a visitor and a Portuguese wine producer.  After tasting some of the impressive wines which were mostly clean and showing pure fruit characters, the visitor challenged the producer by asking, “with a wine [pure] like this, where is the Portuguese ‘terroir’?”

The question is not an easy one. Famous for its Port wine and infamous for many cheap and cheerful Rosés, Portugal wine industry have undergone some dramatic transformations in the last few decades. Huge funding had been injected into many different regions, which helped to improve winemaking techniques, equipment and vineyard management.

But the Portuguese, long been criticised by some marketing experts for their unpronounceable and difficult-to-sell grape varieties, continue to guard and cherish their native varieties and slowly but surely prove to the world that you don’t always need Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc to win sales.

Focusing on what you have, embracing new technology as well as protecting ancient traditions, one can make impressive wines and proudly show the ‘terroir’.

Portuguese native grapes

The Portuguese are the guardian of their native grapes

 

During my short stay in Montpellier, I thoroughly enjoyed trying the below Portuguese organic ‘terroir’ wines.

Mica 2017 Vinho Verde Vinibio

 

 

 

 

Mica 2017, Vinho Verde, Vinibio

 

Made by a group of four organic wine producers in Vinho Verde region in the northern part of Portugal, Mica is their flagship wine made by a blend of Loureiro and some Azal and Trajadura. “Loureiro” means “laurel” and typically shows aromas reminiscent of laurel flowers, orange blossoms, apple and peach. It has refreshing acidity balanced by some residual sugar (19 g/l).

I asked the producer Antonio Sousa Pereira if Mica is always off-dry?  The answer was, “it depends”.

He told me that 2017 was a very dry year in the region and Loureiro had lots of sugar accumulated by the time of harvest.

Every year, Mica has different style ranging from bone dry to off-dry. They just let the nature take its course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phaunus Palhete 2016 Vinho Verde Aphros Wines

 

 

 

 

Phaunus Palhete 2016, Vinho Verde, Aphros Wines

 

A blend of 80% Loureiro and 20% Vinhão made by this biodynamic producer. This is not your usual Vinho Verde! It’s quirky but it’s also ‘traditional’.

Using the ancient method of blending white and red grapes, fermented dry with ambient yeast in clay amphora, the wine shows some funky aromas initially, leading to fresh cranberries and herbaceous and earthy notes.

I also admire their wine label which shows a Faun (a mythological half human–half goat creature) enjoying some music whilst the vines and grape juice are working hard together to produce delicious wines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain
― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Unlike T.S. Eliot, I love April. Who can resist the charm of spring when everything becomes anew?  When young green shoots and spring blossoms of all colours dotted the luscious pastures and birds sing happy tunes. Well, this was pretty much the image in front of my eyes when I visited the Loire Valley in France in mid April.

The Loire Valley is the longest river in France

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Coravin Wine Pourer - sample wine without opening bottle

OK, I’ve heard this: “If you have a Coravin at home, that means you don’t have enough friends.” Well, it maybe true. But recently I got a Coravin for my birthday and I have to say, it’s one of the best wine gadgets that I’ve ever had.

Coravin is simply a high tech wine pourer that allows you to sample wine from a bottle without uncorking it. Sounds like a magic trick I know, but it has sound scientific background behind. Invented by Greg Lambrecht, MIT nuclear engineer turned medical device professional, over 10 years and after 23 prototypes. Coravin, launched in 2013, initially caught the eyes of many sommeliers in high-end restaurants and only recently became more accessible and affordable to consumers.

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Rick Stein Sandbanks Hot ShellfishHot Shellfish with parsley, chilli, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, mussels, brown crab claw, langoustine, whelks, scallops, cockles, winkles, razor clams,oyster and clams –

One of the Inovative Dishes on Offer at Rick Stein Sandbanks

Recently we were in the magical county of Cornwall where we were fortunate enough to time our visit with an unprecedented period of sunshine filled days.  To be precise we were in Trebrethrick only a few miles from Rock and a short boat trip across the Camel estuary to Padstow, now fondly known as Padstein due to the predominance of Rick Stein eateries.  However, sadly for us on this trip we were unable to try any of Rick Stein’s emporia but on our return we travelled to Sandbanks in Dorset to try the latest establishment in his burgeoning empire.

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Well, viniculture is one enduring legacy all bon vivants should be thanking the Romans for.  They had vineyards as far north as Lincolnshire but by the 19th century production had almost died out mostly due to pests.

Thankfully with the huge demand in the UK for locally sourced products and the increasing interest in food and drink from small producers, the English wine industry has been well and truly resurrected in the 21st century.

As a whole the UK’s wine industry has upped its game in recent years and has continued to make its mark in international rankings as customers are increasingly realising the high quality of the wine produced in the UK.  As a result of this demand a greater number of producers are flocking to the market.

Group-shot-in-vineyard,-with-medal-stickers

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I can still remember vividly what the late European Director at Wines of Chile (a generic organisation), Mr Michael Cox, said in a Chilean wine seminar in London a few years back.  “For a long time,” he said with an amused expression, “Chilean wines can only satisfy demand but can’t excite.” Back then, those seminar attendees smiled in agreement. But now, people can grin for Chilean wines for many good reasons, as wines from Chile have never been so exciting.

One of the driving forces behind the rapid transformation of the image of Chilean wines has to be attributed to Mr Eduardo Chadwick, the President of Viña Errázuriz.

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I was all over the place attending wine fairs in the first half of 2015. First up was an organic wine fair in Montpellier in January, followed by ProWein in Düsseldorf. Then came the London Wine Fair in early June. In mid-June, I found myself in Bordeaux for the biennial wine fair, VINEXPO.

There are so many different wine fairs in Europe. Are they all that different? Do you need to attend all of them?  The answer, though it depends, is probably “No”.  For me, if I have to pick only one to attend, I will most likely choose the well-organised and super effective annual ProWein in Düsseldorf. After all, who can beat the German for their efficiency?

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VINEXPO-2015__Credit_Vinexpo

Thai curry is just one of those things. If you go to an authentic Thai restaurant and order their staple dish it’s just bursting with flavour and I always love it. I went to a Thai place in Brixton the other day for a friend’s birthday lunch and we all sat outside – yep, that’s right we sat outside in Britain in January. But along came our big bowls of steaming Thai curry and everyone was happy – warmed, satisfied and chipper, if a little numb in our fingers and toes.

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The Ultimate Thai Green Curry

I’ve never been much of a soup person. Other people always go on about how great it is, how easy to make and how delicious it can be. Maybe it’s because I used to eat those Covent Garden soups from the supermarket which are bulked out with butter and cream – and that’s all they taste of to me. Soup from the supermarket, especially Tesco own or even Sainsbury’s own, just doesn’t cut it one bit. And they all seem to have funny, artificial, unidentifiable ingredients, just like almost everything else on the shelves. I’m also really not a fan of boiled vegetables or watery soup (keep broth away from me) – for me it has to be thick, creamy and tasty to the max.

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Roasted-Parsnip,-Butter-Bean-and-Almond-Soup