Being part of the famous vodka-belt, Sweden’s drinking culture is traditionally linked to hard spirits, like the local akvavit. Still to this day the largest agricultural export is Absolut Vodka. Political campaigns by the Swedish government and changes in tastes are making wine increasingly popular among drinkers.
Wine consumption surpassed spirits in 1977 for the first time, a trend that has continued for almost 40 years, according to Johan Franco Cereceda, a well-known Swedish wine journalist specialised in Spain.
In the seventies and eighties red wine was almost synonymous with Rioja. Cereceda believes that the craze for these soft, fragrant wines was partly due to the popularity of Spain as a tourist destination.
Swedes returning from their Spanish vacations brought their taste for Rioja, undoubtedly the best wine at that time, says Cereceda. Not only these oak-aged wines paired well with the country’s traditional cuisine called husmanskost, but they were also competitively priced. Unfortunately the wineries in Rioja increased their prices, but not their quality, and after the Rioja sales peak of 1985, Swedes have increasingly been flirting with other wines. Indeed, “Swedish wine consumers are disloyal and curious wine drinkers, always looking for the next thing,“ Cereceda said.
Swedish sommeliers tend to be Francophile in their selections, or at least euro-centric. Reds and whites from Burgundy as well as German and Austrian Rieslings are on most wine lists, with Loire cult producer Clos Rougeard as the new name on everyone’s lips.
Sommeliers are still pretty inexperienced when it comes to Spain. This might be due to the fact that there are only a few importers exclusively working with Spanish wines, thinks Olly Bartlett at Wine Trade, a Stockholm-based wine importer. Swedish sommeliers understand that interesting things are happening in Spain –they just don't know what.
The thirst for more information about Spanish wine is considerable, but some restaurants are better catered for than others. If you're in the mood for a Spanish wine experience, these are some our must-go places that we locals, Cruz Liljegren and Olly Bartlett, recommend to anybody visiting the Swedish capital.
(Jakobsbersgatan 17, phone: +46 8 30 74 00)
Boqueria serves genuine tapas such as jamón de bellota (top quality ham), pimientos de padrón (pan-fried green peppers) and boquerones en vinagre (anchovies in vinegar). Boqueria’s wine list boasts a good selection of new offerings as well as old classics. Enjoy a cold glass of La Goya XL Manzanilla ”En Rama” from Delgado Zuleta (120kr/€13/15cl) while you scan the menu and the hip clientele.
(Hornbruksgatan 24, phone: +46 8 22 00 21)
A new wine bar serving a large selection of European wines in an unpretentious atmosphere. Share a bottle of Ribeiro from Luis Rodríguez Vázquez (750kr/€80/75cl) and let yourself be guided in modern Spanish wines by local celebrity sommeliers Robert and Fredrik.
(Kronobergsgatan 37, phone: +46 8 410 681 00)
A restaurant specialized in meat and famous for its well-cured beef. Walk in and order a perfect entrecote and a half bottle of Oloroso VORS from El Maestro Sierra (875kr). Bring tissues as the combination of the fat in the meat and this long-aged savory oloroso might just make you cry. On a budget? Expect more tears when presented with the bill as good Swedish meat comes at a price.
(Kungsholms Strand 157, phone: +46 409 09 640)
Visit the Catalan chef at Matkonsulatet and enjoy impeccable tapas in a beautiful location by the river just opposite Karlberg Palace. Get in the mood at this elegant location with the 2007 Kripta cava from Agustí Torelló (850kr/75cl) a unique and sought-after bubbly. The wine list is a bit thinner than Boqueria and focused on Catalonia.
(Regeringsgatan 44, phone: +46 8 796 98 10)
If you're thinking about buying Spanish wines then the Systembolaget store at Regeringsgatan 44 is your best option —it’s the biggest wine and spirits shop in Sweden. The country’s alcohol monopoly was set up by the government in 1955 as a means to reduce heavy drinking in the country. To say that no one likes Systembolaget would be unfair —in fact most Swedes don't want it abolished. Whether this is due to a rational decision or to the millions of euros Systembolaget is investing in self-promoting commercials on Swedish television and news outlets, the answer is unclear.
This flagship Systembolaget store has over 130 Spanish wines catering to most palates. Old classics such as La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 (299kr/75cl) are almost always in stock with exciting brands such as La Mujer Cañón from Uvas Felices in Gredos mountains near Madrid (579kr/75cl) and Altos de Lanzaga from Rioja producer Telmo Rodriguez (599kr/75cl) displayed on the “temporary wines” shelves. In addition to Spanish red, white and sparkling wines, this behemoth of a wine shop carries more than 30 sherry labels.