Colour, Coffee and Art

It’s bright pink, purple, yellow and orange that catches your eye when walking by the supermarket shelves dedicated to coffee. This one’s Paulig’s Presidentti Special Blend 2017 made with coffee beans from Sumatra. To make it even more intriguing, there’s an art exhibition to go with it in the deli at Stockmann Department Store with pictures of Presidents of Finland done in WPAP style by Indonesian artist Arif Wicaksonon. You may well ask about the connection…

President Tarja Halonen in WPAP style

Every year Paulig produces a special blend that celebrates a different taste from a different country and always an exotic one. This year, it’s Sumatra’s turn to shine and this balanced yet striking mouthful of liquid is quite unusual. The edges are soft but the flavour is wild and together with a macaroon it’s a perfect afternoon break enhancer.

Six Presidents, the sixth year of Presidentti Special Blend. And how were they selected? Easy, they all have a coffee story to tell. President Tarja Halonen only started drinking coffee at the age of 18 but fell passionately in love with the brew and has a favourite spot at Hakaniemi Market Hall where she partakes of it with relish. President Kekkonen on the other hand, was alive and well and even had a hand in roasting the first blend at the then new Paulig roastery in Vuosaari where the head office is currently located. He was also known to take Presidentti with him on his travels.

President Kekkonen loved Presidentti coffee

The WPAP art was developed by Indonesian Wedha Abdul Rasyid and stands for Wedha’s Pop Art Portrait. This highly colourful, geometric style has spread outside of his home country and to other parts, now to be seen at Stockmann’s (city centre 28-5.3 and Tapiola 15 – 19.3) and at Narinkka Square at Kamppi Shopping Centre (16 – 19.3). More importantly, the coffee is for sale in every major supermarket in Finland.

Biodynamic, Organic, Natural. Huh?

Can you really taste the difference? Is it healthier for you and is it better for the environment? These are all questions that spring to mind when the discussion on organic, biodynamic and natural wines comes up.

So what’s different between these 3? All three have factors in common not least of which are little manmade intervention, zero technology i.e. no sugars or yeasts added. What you see in the vineyard is what you get in the bottle. But when we get down to the nitty gritty, what can or rather cannot be done to the grapes in order to produce wine that can be considered drinkable?

Organic and biodynamic are largely vineyard-related practices while some certification does restrict what you do in the cellar. No synthetic chemicals can be used in organic farming while the principles propagated by Rudolf Steiner’s Theosophical philosophy takes it a step further that prevention is better than cure. Build a strong, robust vine by using plants, minerals that occur naturally and animals for manure, and the battle against diseases is mostly won. Planting, pruning and harvesting are done according to the cycles of the moon and the movement of planets and stars. It’s a holistic approach preaching the inter-connectivity of everything.

Sulphites are used to preserve wine and to give it a longer shelf-and cellar life. This is taken into account by organic and biodynamic winemakers but to a far lesser degree than would generally be the case. Wild yeasts or certified organic yeasts get the fermentation process started while stabilisers have to be bentonite or cream of tartar to prevent clouding. ‘Less is more’ could easily be the motto.

So what distinguishes natural from the biodynamic and organic? No real definition exists for natural wines and no certification has as yet been issued by authorities but disciples are increasing and practices are being firmly established. ‘No’ is a word you’ll hear often when speaking to a natural winemaker. It applies to irrigation, machinery, yeasts, bacteria, additives, sulphites (although some cheat ever so slightly just before bottling), fining, filtration, meddling on the whole.

Ultimately, do they taste any different? In some cases, a resounding ‘yes’ is the answer. Unfortunately, however, this would apply in the negative sense and the liquid would preferably be spat out rather than consumed. This was the case for most who tasted Les Quarterons 2012 Sancerre (Alko €28.58) by Sébastien Riffault, a young winemaker who has taken over his father’s 5-hectare property in the Loire Valley. This Sauvignon Blanc gives you a strong nose of straw and farmyard and a smoky palate with yeast and speaks to you straight from the earth it grows in, but whether it’s palatable is another matter. It grows on you but it’s not something I would choose for a party. The blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne is something that you might look for in France’s Rhone Valley but this one comes from a producer in the Casablanca Valley in Chile called Emiliana. Signos De Origen La Vinilla is organically farmed, fermented in stainless steel and finished off in used oak barrels. The wine is lush with tropical fruit and nuttiness on the palate and has enough acidity to give it a medium finish.

The reds were more interesting than the white wines at this tasting. Austria has made its mark on the wine industry ranking mostly as high quality and Beck Ink (Alko €16.50) holds that banner high. Watch out for Judith Beck. She has taken control of the family winery in Gols on the eastern side of Neusiedlersee in Burgenland and she’s doing some pretty amazing stuff. A blend of Zweigelt and St. Laurent, this wine is vibrant and fresh with balanced acidity in the sour cherry, herbaceous flavours. It would go well with smoky meats.

Another female winemaker in this male-dominated world is Elizabetta Foradori from the Dolomites. Her grape of choice? Teroldego, a new one for me but not for Italy where it’s been cultivated for hundreds of years. Horseradish and herbs on the nose and dustiness on the palate turns this wine into a fine example of what minimal intervention creates. Simply called Foradori 2014 (Alko €29.90), it shows the true colours of the stony terroir from where it hails.

Wine tastings with Veli-Antti Koivuranta, the Viiniministeri, take place at Nomad Cellars more or less 4 to 5 times a month and are laid-back, fun and reasonably priced events where you’ll feel comfortable whether you’re a novice or someone who takes this thing of sipping wine seriously. Website: http://www.viiniministeri.fi/ (for details in English, call +358 40 414 3705).

 

Class with a touch of casual – Emo Restaurant, Helsinki, Finland

Wooden tables, serviettes like dishcloths hanging on the side, cutlery in a wooden box all add to the informal atmosphere. But don’t be fooled. This joint might not strike you as ‘fine dining’ but dining fine you will, believe me!

Tomato soup with truffle foam

With a choice of non-alcoholic beverages like fresh apple juice or spicy tomato to get those salivary glands going is just the ticket for lunchtime. The tomato soup starter brims with richness and elegance is thrown in with the truffle foam on the side while crunch is provided by the croutons. Every mouthful is a treat and if the croutons aren’t enough, there’s plenty of home made bread with butter on the side. Haddock is my choice of the 3 main courses only because it brings back memories of breakfast in South Africa when I was child and when it was always smoked. This one comes with potato mousse, a poached egg and lots of capers to give it a good kick of acidity. It’s all so soft and creamy but get your teeth into the crispy onion and the salsify slices on top and you know the chef, Ilkka Lääveri knows what he’s doing. Combine this relatively light lunch with a cold, crisp Brut Nature cava by Castell del Remei and you wish you could linger longer. My dining partner chooses the pork with gem lettuce and a heap of caramelized-to-a-crisp onions to make for a slightly heavier meal. There’s also a vegetarian option. Of course the menu changes and whatever’s fresh, seasonal and local when possible, is served up every week.

Creamy haddock and almond potato mousse

Lunch for 2 courses sets you back €25, 3 courses €29 and 4 at €34. Dinner comes in set meals or as à la carte and is a little more expensive as is the practice in Finland. That laid-back mood is just a ruse, there’s serious food and wine coming your way at Emo.

Links:

Emo Restaurant

Curves, Folds Shades and Sandals

An exhibition of the oil paintings of Caesar van Everdingen (1616/1617 – 1678)

Place: Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Time: 16 February – 14 May 2017

Mythology, portraits, history and hunting, the stuff of Caesar van Everdingen’s masterpieces and so much more. Overshadowed by his contemporaries such as Rembrandt, he has been rediscovered and takes his rightful place as a grand master of Dutch classicism. With the help of the exhibition’s curator from the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar, van Everdingen’s hometown, Christi Klinkert, we delve into the detail.

Christi Klinkiert, curator from Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar

“The Girl with the Broad-Brimmed Hat you will all agree is wearing a white shirt. Come closer and you see within the folds of this garment that colours emerge. Grey, pink, peach was used to turn it into a 3-dimensional garment. Her hat is made of coloured cloth wound around a wicker frame casting a half shadow over her eyes giving her a seductive look reminiscent of a gypsy. In fact, the hat itself was associated with that same culture. It’s okay to say that this painting is just lovely to look at. She is the epitomy of summer.”

Girl with the Broad-Brimmed Hat

“Now look at this portrait, also of a girl, part of three that are on loan from the Rijk’s Museum. Quite a contrast, warming her hands over a brazier, is wearing expensive clothes and everything about her demeanour and surroundings spells winter. Then there’s this lady, completing the trilogy, dressed in black wearing a hat which would normally have been worn by a greengrocer at a market stall. The black cloth on the smalt pigment which has faded from blue to greyish teal, suggests the season of autumn.”

We stand in front of a provocative scene: a huge canvas with a nude couple, the male obviously trying to seduce the female. Without looking at the title, is it a male? The secret is out – it’s Jupiter disguised as Diana and Callisto who looks apprehensively at her suitor, not knowing quite what to make of him. The cherubs in the top left hold a mask and Jupiter’s eagle spreads its wings wide in the shadows on the right hand side. In fact, what we’re observing is nothing other than a rape scene since the story goes that he gets his way with her. In the conservative times of van Everdingen, such a painting could have been construed as immoral but since the subjects hail from classical times, it becomes a story and he’s able to tell it without repercussions.

Jupiter and Callisto

The exhibition takes us through various portraits of people from the bourgeoisie, those that could afford to pay for the commissions or then the city of Alkmaar, immortalizing their city leaders and encouraging worthy values such as education. The detail with which every brush stroke is executed is extraordinary. The sandals are of such elegant design that they could even be Italian. The satins in contrast with wool, cotton and linen come alive in such a way that you want to reach out and touch it to feel its texture. The colours are rich and bold on whimsical backgrounds that give us hints but are not that important.

The Sinebrychoff Museum has always had a penchant for Dutch art with this exhibition being one of their great achievements. A string of events such as croquis nude drawing and guided tours of course will enhance the experience of having such mastery in our midst.

Links:

Caesar van Everdingen

Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar

 

Friendly Wines for Friendly People

If you ever thought that a Monday night couldn’t work as a wine tasting event, you’re probably right. But Maanantaiklubi (Monday Club) organised by the Wine Minister Veli-Antti Koivuranta himself, is always a success. It’s got a lot to do with lots of factors that turn dull Mondays into celebrations, not least of all the friendly crowd and Veli-Antti’s knowledgeable and laid-back demeanour.

The tastings are always blind i.e. the bottles are wrapped in tin foil. The descriptions help you along to guess what’s in the glass. The wines are handpicked and high quality. The snacks are superlative and best of all the price is within everyone’s reach.

Friendly Wines, just in time for Valentine’s Day, is kick-started by Mionetto Gran Rosé Extra Dry, recognisable as a Prosecco but not made from Glera grapes but strangely reminiscent of the classic pear and apple flavours. At €8,99 from Alko, it’s a nice little number with a touch of strawberry to remind you it’s a rosé.

More bubbles are next leaping forward into a whole new category with André Clouet No 3 Rosé Champagne Brut. At €39,95 you would expect so. Hailing from Bouzy, a region known for it’s Pinot Noir grapes, this one gives you opulence and plenty of red fruit pulled together by that lovely yeasty character of baked bread.

Not being much of a Viognier fan myself, The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015 is surprisingly acidic, the one element I usually find lacking. It’s got honey melon and a little ginger too which turns it into a good choice for seafood. McLaren Vale, Australia, is where it’s made on the d’Arenberg Estate and the name is appropriate for the terroir of calcerous remains of shell fish, the hermit crab being one.

In the set of reds, the Kleine Zalze Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 catches me off guard when I’m almost convinced it’s from Bordeaux with that unmistakeable fireplace ash nose. It’s bold with enough body and tannins to match any pan-fried steak or roast beef. And while we’re on the subject of tannins and body, get your tongue around Numanthia Termes 2013, a robust wine full of blackberry, plums and wood. This wine’s not for the faint-hearted and can stand its own with any red meat.

The line-up at the Monday Club usually consists of at least 6 wines, 7 to 8 more often than not. Good bread, cheese, cold cuts and lots of sweet goodies all from Stockmann’s delicatessen adds to the sheer pleasure and enjoyment of tasting quality wines for a mere €25. For an evening out in Helsinki, that’s a real deal.

Links:

To join, look at the website:

Wine Minister’s Wine Club

Skiing Vorarlberg, Austria

Montafon is not on my bucket list and was hardly known to me before I spent some time there in January 2017. While it may not be the heart and soul of the après ski party, it’s got so much going for it not least of all a large skiing area with great infrastructure.

The view from my bedroom at Haus Idili

Our base was Haus Idili in St. Gallenkirch where Petra the owner couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly. The apartment was lovely, very well equipped and about 100m from the main cable car that takes you up both sides of the mountain. The price? Around €50/person/day including final cleaning and did not have to be booked from Saturday to Saturday, an annoying restriction. Thrown in were depot passes which meant you could wear your own comfortable shoes to and from the lifts while your snug, warm skiboots awaited you in the mornings. No lugging of heavy equipment either.

Portions are huge and servings are heavy in Austria.

Sunshine was in plentiful supply even though snow had to be manufactured in several places. There were hardly any queues and the longest one took 5 minutes max on Sunday with day trippers making the most of the great weather conditions. The Valisera Bahn transports you to the sunny side in the morning where all levels are catered for including plenty of fun for off-pisters. At the end of the day though, the trail down to the village is in the shade and can be quite slippery and slidy. The Grasjoch Bahn going up the other side takes you towards Schruns, a bigger centre than St. Gallenkirch. The slopes at the top of the Hochalpila Bahn always seem to catch the rays.

Wormser Hütte above Schruns

Don’t miss out on Wormser Hütte sitting at a height of 2307m above Schruns. This stucco hut that is not easily accessible since you have to lug your skis and climb up to it, has oodles of atmosphere and friendly staff that make good food at ok prices for mountain dining. Freshly made apple strudel fills your nostrils and tickles your tongue with its hint of acidity. The soup menu is long and homemade with not a hint of MSG in them. And the Grüner Veltliner served ice cold, sends you on your way with a glide and a turn you never thought you were capable of.

Break your momentum and enjoy the scenery on the run down to St. Gallen Kirch

Aprés ski lasts only a few hours (or at least for me…) after the end of the last run and is the best at Edelweiss Alm on your left as you finish the long, winding trail down to the valley at Valisera Bahn 1.

Links:

Montafon

Haus Idili

St. Gallenkirch

Wormser Hütte

Schruns

 

 

 

 

Challenges facing South African Tourism

Described as a ‘world in one country’, South Africa is a highly favoured tourist destination. There are few places in the world where you get beaches, mountains, wild life, great food and wine, spectacular scenery all thrown in one. And the prices are good even though the South Africans themselves complain that they’re rising all the time.

Hout Bay at sunset

But there are some serious issues, some of them easily solved. Here are a few that I noticed on my Christmas 2016 trip.

 

  • Getting through Oliver Tambo International Airport – it took 3 hours for a passenger like me with hand luggage only to get through passport control and pick up a car at Avis/Budget. For those of us with electronic passports, well, there just aren’t any facilities. Every person is screened, photographed, finger-printed by a truly glum, unfriendly controller. Car rental with all your information online, was reduced to filling in pen and ink forms manually all over again and while the staff were friendly and chatty, all of us would have preferred them just to get on with their jobs.
  • Toll roads – please make sure you have South African money if you’re coming from abroad. I was really caught between a rock and a hard place when I got to the first toll road where the toll sensor supplied by Avis/Budget didn’t work and no foreign credit cards were accepted. I had not had a chance to get SA money and was planning on drawing some at the first gas station where you can usually find ATM’s. A kind driver in the truck behind me, paid for my toll and I followed him to the next money withdrawal machine. An angel, to say the least since the chance he took could have cost him!
  • Service – Waitrons as they are called, lack training. When it takes you 30 minutes to get an order of 3 uncomplicated drinks, you know there’s something wrong. Gin and tonic has to be the most common of traditional mixes but for some reason, it took 3 waitrons to make sure that they understood what we wanted. Then it arrived with no ice and no slice of lemon. It’s as if they make their own lives complicated too. As you walk by, pick up the plates, notice the new patrons, take their orders, remember what they said…. There’s no sense of what the term ‘good service’ means. Smiling is not enough.
  • Wifi – If you’re staying with family, it seems that most homes don’t have it and if they do, it’s capped and runs out very quickly. Even the Airbnb cottage I rented in Clarens for no less than €75/night, had no wifi at all. Airtime and data ‘bundles’ are separated and you have to make sure you have both if you’d like to use your iPhone the way it should be. Why so complicated? Why can’t it just be an all-in-one package? Getting wifi is also not guaranteed even if you’ve set up your system to work. It’s slow and unreliable.
  • ATM’s – talk about complicated, there seems to be a different ATM for every bank in SA. You’re spoilt for choice but how unnecessary and what a waste of money to set up all those different stations.
  • Toilets – these have to be the most awful I have come across bar China. At rest stops the sewage system has problems coping with the number of people passing through and blocked toilets are common. Even though the staff work hard to keep it clean, there’s little they can do when the infrastructure breaks down.
  • Potholes – toll roads are fine, you should jolly well hope so! But veer off on a road less travelled and you’re at risk of breaking the entire car chassis and believe me, you wouldn’t want to do that on a lonely thoroughfare.
  • Driving behaviour – Overtaking on the left in a country where you drive on the left, happens more frequently than you would like it to. Breaking speed limits is common place while indicators are considered useless little protruding sticks with no real function. You need hair on your teeth to drive in South Africa. In DecemberJanuary 2016 alone, there were close on 2000 deaths caused by traffic accidents related to incompetent and drunk driving.
  • Crime – figures for ‘contact crimes’ which include murder have risen and every house, building and farm is behind a security fence or is armed with plenty of dogs. Security at car parks and at beaches is good and you don’t feel threatened. However, make sure you check not only the driver’s door when you use your remote control. A phenomenon called lock jamming is growing which means that when you think your car is safe and sound, the other doors are remotely controlled to be open.

If this sounds like a rant, it’s not meant to be. I still think that SA is one of the most desirable countries on earth to visit and when you compare quality and price, it puts a smile on your face every time. But lock your doors and keep your windows up i.e. get an air conditioned hire car and look around you when you get out and in. Don’t get too drunk and keep your wits about you. Stay in built-up areas especially at night time. Keep your belongings close and just use common sense.

The Stepsister – Durban on your Bucket List

Cape Town has its mountains, wine and beaches, Johannesburg has business going for it and the Kruger National Park but for some strange reason Durban in KwaZulu Natal, has been left out of the equation. It’s not exactly the first stop on tourists’ priority lists when visiting South Africa. As a native of this part of the world, I’ve always thought this unfair. One thing’s for sure, the Durban City Council is taking this personally and doing a lot to improve the situation.

Sun Coast Casino on Durban beachfront
Sun Coast Casino

Beaches abound along the Indian Ocean shoreline and its year-round warm waters give it one step up from the cold Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town. The promenade stretches 5 km turning it into a great big playground for runners, Segway riders and cyclists. The casino at one end keeps the slot machine addicts entertained, the hungry fed with its huge food court and the movie goers occupied. The paddling pools near North beach provide a safe splashing spot for kiddies and uShaka at the other end is a shopping paradise, restaurant complex and more pools and adventures for the whole family. The entire area is kept pristine and security is strict. Then there are other unique features that make it stand out. The car guards at North Beach take care of your keys while you go swimming or surfing, a service not to be found anywhere else as far as I know. They’ll even Whatsapp you to give you a surf report if you live some kilometres away. The rickshaws are iconic and perform their jumps and shouts wearing native costume for gleeful tourists.

Durban and its colourful rickshaws

The football stadium built for the Soccer World Cup, aptly called The Bread Basket because of its shape, houses huge international concerts and sports meets nowadays. Right next door, a superb outdoor market called I Heart Market fills the lawns under the trees at the weekends selling everything from mohitos to delicious curries, jewellery, clothing and lots, lots more.

African jewellery made out of cloth and recycled paper

Up the road, about 20 km inland, the Valley of a 1000 Hills is jaw-droppingly beautiful for its views while Zulu dancers and cultural ethnic events drum up the native in you at PheZulu. And then there’s the food and the incredibly cheap prices that put a smile on your face when you’re presented with the bill. The standard is high, the quality good and the portions generous not just at PheZulu but everywhere you go.

Valley of a 1000 Hills from Phezulu

And while you’re in Durban, take a trip up north where the Hluhluwe Game Reserve houses the Big Five and where the wild of Africa grabs you as much and which might even be less expensive than the Kruger National Park. And we haven’t even touched on the spectacular mountain range about a 3-hour drive west called the Drakensberg.

African dancers at uShaka, Durban beachfront

Bathe in the warm Indian Ocean, enjoy the good weather and immerse yourself in the multi-culturalism that is Durban and surrounds.

Line Up at The Roster – a modern eatery run by a hip crowd

With a view of some of Helsinki’s stunning period architecture, The Roster stands out as a trendy place to have your lunch, drink a cocktail or indulge in their version of a Sunday roast. Brainchild of Kari Aihinen, executive chef of the exclusive Savoy Restaurant, this one’s not a ‘baby Savoy’. His love of ice hockey speaks for itself in the name and he runs this kitchen as well as the more upmarket one, like he would a hockey team. The right hand knows what the left is doing and the result is a winner.

Trout, spinach purée and lobster sauce

My trout on a spinach purée with lobster sauce melts in the mouth with umami, freshness and creaminess all intermingled. The salad that comes as a side looks dull since it’s just a bunch of leaves but my oh my, that truffle dressing is enough to stop you in your tracks. I feel like a red wine with all of this and the recommendation of a Pinot Meunier from the house of Friedrich Becker from the Pfalz region in Germany, is earthy, with hints of truffle and terroir that just brings this whole meal together.

All of this doesn’t come cheap but you wouldn’t expect it to. You get the feeling that every ingredient is hand-picked and that the food is prepared with the utmost care. Service is friendly, funny and full of personality. I think they like working here and if they don’t, they’re damn good actors. Go for the slapshot, fork out €40 and knock yourself out with a great plate of nosh.

Links:

The Roster Helsinki

What a Kombo

Sini was invited to a party in Madrid, Christian was too. Serendipity played its role in the meeting of this Finnish woman with this Spanish man and olé, it worked! Dovetailing their talents, they now have the cutest eatery in Sörnäinen, a tram ride away from the heart of Helsinki.

The buzz at Kombo starts at around 7pm and by 7.30 every table is taken. Grant it, it’s not big with covers for around 25 -30 people but for a place that spends zero on advertising, word of mouth has done its job and customers come from far and wide.

Christian is down on his haunches at the table, explaining the food on offer which basically consists of a variety of tapas that comes in 4 sizes from a snack to a hearty portion. The wine is palate-picked ranging from lighter red to heavy-duty stuff. And of course there’s white and cava too but on a miserable winter’s night, it’s the red that pulls and what a combo (sic!) with the food.

dsc05489It’s the Grenache Noir of La Fontaine des Loups from Languedoc that takes my fancy and delivers well when it comes to the winter salad, duck rillettes and Spanish omelette on my plate. Every mouthful is a treat with the pomegranate popping in my mouth, speaking to the black currant and plum flavours of the wine.

dsc05494The generous cheese plate arrives and my choice is the Artigazo’s blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon that gives you that nice, toasty feeling and leaves a trace of balsamic behind. The aged Manchega cheese has a partner in the form of red capsicum jam, a first for me.

Kombo is all about matching combinations. While Christian handles front of house, Sini does her thing in the kitchen and they both do their job with aplomb. The food hits the spot and the wine just takes it to another level. They’ve thought this through carefully and come up with a winner and even your wallet survives the experience.

For bookings: http://www.kombowinebar.fi/Kombo.html