The types of alcoholic beverages favoured by Finns have varied over the decades. Back in 1959, spirits made up over 70% of the country’s alcohol consumption. Ten years later, beer drinking increased as medium-strength beer became available in grocery stores. In 2016 wine is more popular than ever, but most of it is enjoyed on weekend nights rather than as a complement to lunch or dinner, as it is mainly the case in continental Europe. Beverages change, but Finnish drinking culture remains the same.
Wine is relatively new in Finland; as recently as 1985 wine accounted for as little as 5% of the country’s total alcohol consumption, on a par with modern-day Ghana in West Africa and far from other western economies. Since then, Finland has come a long way. Some Finns argue that part of that growth is driven by visitors to wine producing countries. Spain is one of the most popular tourist destinations and it is common to return home with a taste for Spanish vino. With 17 liters of wine per person*, Finland has equalled Spain in terms of consumption but are still behind nordic neighbours Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
Since 1932 state-run Alko is the only retailer of strong alcoholic beverages in Finland. For over 80 years the country's alcohol legislation was one of the strictest in the western world, but change is looming. Earlier this year, Finland's centre-right government agreed to relax the country's strict rules regarding alcohol sales and advertising moving Finland closer to European standards.
Alko stores will be allowed to extend their opening hours and corner shops will be able to sell drinks containing up to 5.5% alcohol (from 4.7%). Changes in alcohol laws are taking place across Scandinavia —Norway recently started to allow farmers to produce and sell drinks with 4.7% or higher alcohol levels.
Finnish chefs and sommeliers are discovering new combinations such as Albariño with Baltic sea seafood and Amontillado with consommé of Finnish mushrooms. SWL had a chat with one of the leading advocates of Spanish wines in Finland, chef Matti Romppanen, at Soil Wine Room in Helsinki. For four years he managed the modern Scandinavian restaurant Routa in central Barcelona and is therefore very knowledgeable in the field of combining Spanish wines with Finnish gastronomy.
“I’m a fan of pairing reds like Rioja crianzas with traditional foods like reindeer and elk, especially if the wine has those soft vanilla notes coming from the American oak barrels”, says Matti Romppanen, who sees a heightened interest in Spanish wines among his guests and friends, but notices that the focus is very much on the reds. According to him, the selection of Spanish white wines at Alko is so bad that many guests don't even know that there are white wines made beyond the south of France!
Below is a selection of bars and restaurants that we recommend for their ambiance, good food and, most importantly, a wide selection of Spanish wines:
Wine & View at Helsinki Airport is somewhat a legend in the wine world. This is a favourite spot for traveling sommeliers and fine wine lovers as mature wines are available by the glass. Every week they offer wines from the "1,000 Finest Wines Ever Made" wine guide, a concept that has earned them the award for 2016 Airport Wine Bar of the Year at the international Airport Food and Beverage (FAB) Awards. We tried some delicious Finnish sturgeon roe (Carelian Caviar) here with a bottle of Deusa Nai Albariño (€58, 75cl) from Marqués de Cáceres named after a Galician folklore goddess who represents the generous fertility of the Earth.
Helsinki Airport, Gate 26 +358 207 629
At this wine bar we recommend the “Manchego Tasting” for only €12. It is a great way to discover Spain’s national cheese with varios maturing times: 6, 12 and 18 months. Matti Romppanen recommends to try the richly flavoured Joan Sardá Cava Reserva (€40, 75cl).
Fredrikinkatu 37, Helsinki + 358 50 463 03 66
A cool little bar just five minutes away from the Kappi metro station. It has neither a website or a wine list but it is usually packed with people, especially on Saturdays. All you need to do is order some jamón and a jug of vino tinto —this is a place where memories will be created (and then quickly forgotten).
Annankatu 15, Helsinki + 358 45 323 05 04
Salud is located in the eastern part of Tampere, the second largest city after Helsinki. This Spanish steakhouse is famous for its Andalusian atmosphere and for serving a paella “almost as good as in Spain”. Locals come here to warm themselves with a glass of Spanish house wine or hot sangria, although in all honesty, the wine list has room for improvement.
Tuomiokirkonkatu 19, Tampere +358 03 23 34 400
Strolling around Alko is always interesting; foreigners will find many wines which have been created especially for the Nordic markets. One of these targeted wines is the bag in box Stugan Ekologisk Tempranillo (€34.9, 3 litres) that comes in the shape of a little red cottage! But you can also find some great wines such as the Adegas Gran Vinum Albariño (€19.9, 75cl) from Val do Salnés, the most famous sub-region of Rías Baixas. We particularly recommend a visit to the Alko flagship store at Salomonkatu 1 in Helsinki for the largest wine selection in Finland.
444 stores throughout Finland, +358 20 692 771
*Per person over 15 years of age (WHO, 2010)