Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Barrel Party: A Short Story of Sebastien Riffault Visiting Roster Helsinki With A Full Wine Barrel

EDIT: Dear visitor, I am no more related to Restaurant Roster Helsinki. March 2018

Yes, That happened. We bought a full wine barrel from Sancerre, France and delivered it to Helsinki, Finland to our restaurant Roster Helsinki and sold the wine in a week. Because we are crazy, because I have a crazy boss, because it is such a great event so far never happened in Finland before to our knowledge, and we wanted to give a try, and it was absolutely a wonderful experience, here some short story about it:

All started out of a joke with our importer Henri in May 2016. We discussed about bringing the producer Sebastien Riffault to Helsinki and he and me wanted to set a kind of different event, but what? And then the issue was, if our restaurant manager Paul Hickman would think if this is a crazy idea or not. I was even too afraid to tell about this to Paul so I asked Henri first to mention it to Paul (Sorry Henri). And he did. Same day I came to work and asked Paul what he thought about it. He said: "Crazy... But..." -"But what?" -"But a wonderful idea. Lets do it!"

And so we got the start :)

After a long e-mailing traffic, we finally decided on the dates to be 09-12.11.2016 starting on Wednesday through the weekend and we ordered a barrel of Les Quarterons Sancerre 2014 from Sebastien Riffault. The wine was not yet bottled and Sebastien managed to barrel the wine and save for us before we ordered it to Finland.

One of my favorite encounters of Sebu's(Sebastien's) wines was at Restaurant Grotesk few years ago. Once I was having dinner there and at that time my recent boss, Paul Hickman was the restaurant manager in Grotesk. I was about to have this juicy delicious beef cut "Picanha", and I personally love to play around with "the color code" of wine and meat. So I asked Paul to pair a white wine to go with this nice piece of red meat, he took a second, and then he got excited and said "Ow yeah, wait a minute!". He went to search a bottle and he came back with it, a bottle of Sebu Riffault Akmenine 2010. That was just a perfect pairing. The oxidized flavors of that white wine was dancing so well with the flavor of the meat which takes us to the relation between umami and oxidation. Anyway, breaking the color codes may be the most coolest thing about natural wines. The maceration process, oxidation and the high acidity levels freely found in "Natu" wines make it so easy to play around, white wine with red meat, red wine with fish and chicken. So we were sure that with our wide European fusion cuisine in Roster Helsinki, the wine was for sure going to work well with our food.

The event was set to start on Wednesday with a "Riffault Prestige Dinner with Magnums", followed by a natural wine panel on Thursday together with Finnish professionals, right after a sommelier tasting where the somms could meet Sebu, and the rest of the days Sebu being in the restaurant serving his wine to the guests. To pair with the wine, a 3-course "Barrel Menu" was designed for the guests for the rest of the days. To start with, beef tartar with unagi mayo&marinated mushrooms was such an umami bomb and the barrel wine served quite chilled with this dish. Followed by soy glazed pike perch with smoked potato pearls&pickled cabbage as main dish and finished with French cheese plate. The idea was to pair the wine with all these three courses, therefore the dishes were rich in umami with lots of pickled flavors, and the wine was served in room temperature with the main dish while it was served chilled with the starter and the cheese plate. The pairing worked so well. Temperature difference did make the wine pairing great with these different food portions.

So on Wednesday morning, we received the barrel to our backyard. It was up to a 300 kg package and it did need at least 5-6 people to carry in. We got help from friends and also from our chefs. This was... Well... Fun... :D Here you can see some parts of it in the following videos, thanks to our cameraman and dear friend Jaakko for filming it :)

After a big effort to take it in, we located the barrel at the entrance of the restaurant, next to the our reception desk. One of the very hard parts of the event was done. The next was the prestige dinner with magnum bottles and of course, following days selling the wine :) It was also a question asked by many that how the wine would evolve with oxidation???.... It was absolutely benefiting and getting more and more complex during the following days.

Sebu meeting with the Finnish wine lovers
Ready for the Prestige Dinner

Prestige menu was: Starters: Slightly roasted salmon with pickled radish and beef tartar with unagi mayo&marinated mushrooms. These two starters were served together at the same time with wines, for salmon, Les Quarterons 2014 straight from the barrel and Akmenine 2010 for the tartar. Then this set was followed by the intermediate course, grilled octopus "Bouillabaisse" with fennel&clam mayo and paired with Sauletas 2010. Until now the wines were all white and 100% Sauvignon Blanc with different amounts of rotten grapes (Les Qu.20%, Akmenine 40%, Sauletas 60%) and this was giving every single one of them a more complex and distant character with flavor profile getting more complex and the body getting fuller. The main dish was grilled lamb chops with harissa sauce and cream cheese topped with pomegranate. Matching wine was a Pinot Noir, Raudonas 2011 with robust, fruity and acidic character, unfiltered, unrefined. Lamb and the slightly chilly effect of harissa sauce, cream cheese and the acidity of pomegranates, and of course the generous amount of parsley in this dish was pairing so well with the wine and it was really memorable. The final done by a selection of unpasteurized French cheese assortment, and paired with Sebu's sweet treat, Auksinis Tardif 2010. That was a great night for sure, and I had the chance to be one of the guests. Paul hosted the whole event for 3 full chef tables of 24 guests in Roster's chef table area.

Pulpo Fiction <3

After beers!
Next step was a natural wine panel and right before that, a sommelier tasting with Sebastien to where Henri invited many professionals from the industry. This event was right before the panel and went very smooth in the Chef's table in Roster.

...And the panel time came. Natural wine is a big thing in Finnish restaurant industry at the moment, as well as the Finnish monopoly getting more an more natural wines into their portfolio so also in the retail selection we see more and more natural wines on these days. So following all these, Paul came up with the idea of a panel and we invited professionals from the restaurant industry and importing companies as well as consumers, to discuss natural wine culture. After two weeks of emailing traffic, we were ready for the panel with the speakers who were sommeliers, importers, consumers and wine professionals; sommeliers Johan Borgar, and Katrina Laitinen, importing professionals Oskari Kaikkonen, Mika Vanne, Kim Moliis, our friend Tuomas Rahkamaa, and Sebastien Riffault. That was a very nice and informative conversation on natural wine and we also published the event on Facebook live. Again very big thanks to the speakers for their time.

A bunch of Finnish pros with Sebu


After the panel I felt so relieved that everything went so smooth and nice, we did a great organization, very big thanks to the big Roster family and of course, to the big boss Paul Hickman :) for the great effort that he put in and made everything happen. Otherwise all these would just stay as an idea.

After that, the next and the biggest step was to sell all that wine of course but we did not do so much as it happened by itself, the guests did show very much interest and either with Barrel menu or any other dish they took, they did order the barrel wine and in a total of about 10 days we almost ran out of the wine. As Sebastien told us, we bottled the last liters of the barrel and still served to our customers. The performance of the wine did surprise us so much that it did keep so well and even did benefit during the time.

After getting all these done, of course we were stressed, tired, but relieved, so we decided to go to sauna. Sebastien and Henri left to see Linda in Restaurant Ask and we made a deal to meet&eat something and then go to Allas Sea Pool. Sebastien was performing so well in the snowy winter with sauna as you can see in the pictures :) We are very happy to sent Sebu back to France with some real Finnish experience :) We found ourselves in BasBas surrounded by great friends eating dinner together. No idea how we ended up there. Surprise :)

Very brave.

To BasBas or not to BasBas, that's the question.

On Friday evening Sebastien was our guest sommelier for a few hours serving his wine to the guests and telling the basics of his wine production, as well as meeting professionals who stopped by to meet him. And Saturday, of course, we went out after the service, and I saw the truth, that Sebu is such a disco king <3

So that is the story in a nutshell. Was it easy? No, not even close! But all in all, that was for sure quite an experience for all of us and we are proud of it that we got it done. Check! Roster Helsinki Crew did a great job.

May your glass be filled with some of the most interesting wines. Greetings.