For most foreign workers Finland’s state monopoly is somewhat of a departure from the norm. In the UK for example fierce competition exists between the supermarkets and high street chains, all of whom pursue aggressive pricing to lure your loot and there is a vast number of independent and on-line wine shops. Of course here there is an on-line wine shop – Alko!
It is easy to see how long term residents might become a little bored by buying the same wines week in week out, but when was the last time you really looked at what is available and tried something new? Most wine drinkers will know what they like and stick to it – Australian Shiraz, Chilean Merlot, Italian pinot Grigio, whatever. How about Mexican Petite Sirah, or a Georgian red? These are available in your local branch.
The other issue is price – when I first looked at moving here most people said something about the high cost of wine. I was fully expecting to be unable to find anything decent for less than 20 Euros. Having inspected at length the more affordable options there certainly are a few wines that I would be happier washing the dishes with than drinking, but that is the same the world over. For around 8 Euros one starts to see some quality in terms of everyday drinking.
One thing that seems a little out of balance is the relative cost of French wines, compared to those from other European countries. It makes sense that South Africa, New Zealand and Australia would carry a premium because of the distances involved, but France seems to carry an extra percentage of cost for no apparent reason. The only link seems to be that if the name of the region is well known, (Pouilly Fume, Margaux, Chablis), then the price is slightly inflated. The answer? If you like French wines then look away from the famous regions to their close neighbours – go for Cotes du rhone or Gigondas, not Chateauneuf du pape, go for petit Chablis instead of the straight Chablis and in Champagne, go for the one you have not heard of, instead of the big brand.
Champagne prices globally have been rising, with demand very high, some of the prices asked for recognised labels are very high here, but we have a superb product for a very reasonable price available to us. Bonnaire champagne is made in the Village of Cramant, which is a Grand cru area (one of only 17) and has a high proportion of chardonnay from the area, although it also has the other grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the blend. It is rich and full flavoured, well balanced and more than a match for many of the more famous names. All for under 25 Euros.
If 25 Euros is too much for you then how about the champagne alternatives? Alko has a far broader range of fizz than you are likely to find in your native country – wines from Argentina, Chile, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Australia, California are there to be tried and many are very good. One of the most commonly asked questions is ‘are sparkling wines better than Champagnes?’ and the infuriating answer is ‘that depends’. Different people have different palates and just as we are not all the same, so champagnes are not all the same and sparkling wines are different again. If you like a light crisp style then Lanson Black label is a good Champagne, perhaps the Massard fizz from Luxembourg and the freixenet Cordon Negro would be good, more affordable alternatives. If you like richer styles then Pol Roger is an excellent choice, with something like Cordoniu Cuvee Raventos as you cheaper alternative (that’s the one in the strange shaped bottle). A good rule with all wines, but fizz in particular, is try it, you might like it.
With the onset of Spring and hopefully a warm summer to come, many people drink more white than red and again the range available is diverse in terms of both quality and affordability. South Africa and Chile are good value regions if you prefer the citrus freshness of Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand seems to be under-represented, but you can find the excellent Jackson Estate Sauvignon for a shade under 15 Euros, which is reasonable value. Italy is very well represented and it is here and in Spanish white that I would encourage you the reader to branch out. Both these countries have a less than brilliant reputation for white, but gone are the days of paint-stripper soave and nail-polish Valdepenas. A focus on quality wine making, regional specialities and traditional grapes brings us wines like Vesevo Fiano D’Avellino from Italy and Fillaboa Albarino from Spain. Both are the wrong side of ten Euros, but both worth every cent. They are quite similar wines, with pineapple and blossom aromas, peach, citrus and apricot flavours, making them perfect seafood wines. Alsace is also well represented, with the aromatic whites of this region matching well again with seafood and particularly Thai or Indian cuisine. Sadly there are a few monsters lurking on the shelves and some fairly sharp prices like Jolivet Sancerre for nearly 20 Euros.
Sadly at present the selection is a little limited, particularly if you prefer drier styles, Château d’Aquéria Tavel being the best of the bunch by a long way. It makes a sharp contrast with mateus or the chemical confectionary flavours of White Zinfandels. Pink fizz is probably a better option with the Cordoniu Pinot Noir Cava a light and fresh wine, but top prize has to go to the Taltarni brut 2006 from Tasmania. This is a wine region that is just starting to emerge as a producer of seriously classy wines and if it has to be pink and bubbly then you will not be disappointed with this one.
With reds it is really the same story as Whites, with heavy representation from Chile, Italy and Spain, the French classics all there but a little pricey, but some hidden gems from elsewhere. The Spanish selection has some real superstars such as Muga Reserva 2004 – make sure you get the 04, some stores still have the inferior 03 vintage – a classic, powerful Rioja with all the dark fruit and spice you could want. There is a pleasing selection of different valpolicella Ripasso, with some superb producers like Tedeschi Tomassi and Zenato, but all are again around the 15 Euros mark. So where is the value and the diversity? Value is in Chile and Argentina, with the wines of Cono Sur, Casillero Del Diablo and Argento. Until recently the Tocornal cabernet Sauvignon was the best bargain in the shop at only 5.79 however this now seems to have been replaced with the Shiraz cabernet with is really quite poor in comparison.
Diversity? Portugal – some excellent wines from throughout this under-recognised country such as the full bodied Quinta do Encontro and the more affordable and easy drinking Tagus creek. Another mention for Jackson Estate – Their Pinot Noir is good value at 18 Euros and for the incomparable Chateau Musar, a bizarre wine from Lebanon that has a real cult following. Be warned though, Musar is something you will either love or hate, but it is brilliant with spicy meat dishes, don’t worry if it smells odd when you open it, it’s supposed to!
Overall, be adventurous, try something new and different, maybe spend an extra Euro or two. There are interesting wines on the shelves, get a few friends round, open some different bottle, have a wine tasting, you have to find something to do with all this daylight after all…