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Helsinki for wine lovers

On Finland’s far southern coast, across the water from Estonia, this welcoming and compact capital city is home to an increasingly lively food and drink scene. Wine lovers can find many a venue to explore, including these eight recommended by our local expert.

Neighbouring capital cities such as Copenhagen and Stockholm may have grabbed the spotlight earlier, but Helsinki has quietly gone about honing its culinary craft, while also developing a taste for good wine. The city’s restaurants have embraced the Nordic-cuisine ethos of simplicity, local ingredients and sustainability. Finland’s forests and pristine waters offer a bounty that runs the gamut from wild mushrooms and berries to fresh fish and game meats, all of which find their way onto Helsinki’s plates.

Finns, many of whom are first-generation wine drinkers, have learned to appreciate wine. This transformation is not only due to the tireless work of sommeliers, but also enthusiastic importers who have played a pivotal role in fostering the growth of a diverse wine scene.

Finland has strict alcohol laws, so there is no ‘bring your own’. Travellers seeking to purchase a bottle of wine to go are limited to the government-controlled monopoly Alko, which has hundreds of shops scattered across the country.

Helsinki map

Credit: Maggie Nelson

In Helsinki, wine lists are typically compact and focused on Europe. More and more places are offering a good selection of wines by the glass and, in keeping with international trends, there is a growing interest in natural wines made by small artisanal producers, which feature prominently on the lists of many bars located in the hip neighbourhoods outside the more-mainstream city centre.

Summer is a popular time to visit Finland, but if you’re eager to get acquainted with the local culinary scene, you should note that between late June and mid-August, many restaurants close their doors so their staff can take a holiday. (It’s also worth noting that most establishments are closed on Sundays and Mondays – and many are also closed on Tuesdays.) Better to come in spring, as Helsinki is emerging from its long winter slumber and the city blooms with vibrant hues.


Bar Petiit

Suvannontie 17

The aptly named Bar Petiit is a small wine bar located in Puu-Vallila, a wooden-house district 20 minutes by tram from downtown Helsinki. Owner Henri Bäckman, a local trailblazer in organic, biodynamic and natural wines, curates a delightful selection, together with Julius Saari, that caters to wine lovers seeking something unique. Showcasing small-scale producers such as Sicily’s Frank Cornelissen and Martin & Anna Arndorfer in Austria, the bar attracts a trendy crowd with an appreciation for both good music and quirky but delectable wines. There’s no wine list as such – bottles of the available wines hang on the wall for all to see. The bar doesn’t offer a food menu either; however, the charming restaurant Plein conveniently resides just across the street if you’re feeling peckish. @petiitbar

BasBas Kulma

Tehtaankatu 27-29

Opened in November 2015 by the dynamic duo of Nicolas Thieulon and Kalle Kiukainen, Baskeri & Basso Bistro (or just BasBas, as the locals call it) has been a game-changer in the Helsinki dining scene since its inception. BasBas Kulma, the acclaimed bistro’s younger sibling, offers a more approachable experience for those who find the original too elusive (it’s notoriously difficult to secure a table). Nestled in the same building as its big brother, BasBas Kulma is essentially a bistro, too, but with a bar counter where walk-ins can order small plates and choose from a dozen or so wines available by the glass, priced from about €11 to €16. The Europe-focused wine list features selections from numerous small artisanal wineries and vignerons, including a good number of natural wines. Despite all of the interesting wines, it’s the warm service that keeps people coming back for more.

Café Savoy

Eteläesplanadi 14

Credit: Anton Sucksdorff / Cafe Savoy

Café Savoy, the southern France-inspired offspring of the inimitable Savoy restaurant, with which it shares a building, became an instant classic when it debuted in 2022. While its unapologetically Europe-only wine list is more compact than Savoy’s extensive offering, it still runs to some 250 or more different wines, with prices ranging from €55 to €3,995. In case that isn’t enough, diners also have access to the big brother’s cellar, bringing it to a combined collection of more than 1,000 labels. For those with a predilection for natural wines, the extended list provides a reliable port in a storm. ‘We don’t tolerate wines that taste like mousy cabbage soup, but we do have top producers in every category, such as Domaine Prieuré Roch,’ says Savoy head sommelier Aleksi Mehtonen. The café features a small bar that overlooks the bustling kitchen – the perfect spot for an aperitif.

Grape Wine Bar

Uudenmaankatu 13

Seating area at Grape Wine Bar, Helsinki

Credit: Grape Wine Bar

Located in Helsinki’s vibrant Punavuori district, Grape Wine Bar is a welcome breath of fresh air in the Finnish wine scene. The cosy, narrow room creates an intimate setting where wine lovers can explore a range of offerings from the refreshingly uncomplicated, ever-changing selection, which is all about wines that bring pleasure to both the
staff and thirsty visitors alike without delving too deeply into complex philosophies; don’t expect debates on regenerative farming here. The bar menu offers snacking options such as boquerones, charcuterie and scampi, to accompany the wine. Unusually for Helsinki, the bar is open on Sundays, when the menu switches to its Slow Sundays all-day brunch, an invitation to savour both food and wine in a relaxed atmosphere.

Muru Wine Bar

Lönnrotinkatu 14

oft burrata, pesto and cherry tomatoes at Muru Wine Bar

Credit: Muru Wine Bar

A must-visit for both novices and heavy-hitters alike, Muru Wine Bar stands as a testament to Helsinki’s evolving wine culture, thanks in no small part to sommelier Samuil Angelov. With a wine list that runs to more than 750 labels, the bar places an emphasis on education. On Wednesdays, there’s a blind tasting of three different wines for €15 per person; Thursdays are dedicated to Champagne, showcasing a ‘special bottle’; Fridays see the opening of a ‘legendary and iconic’ wine; and on Saturdays, customers can take part in a more immersive, hour-plus-long tutored tasting (in both Finnish and English). A Coravin system grants the rare opportunity to savour wines such as Domaine Taupenot-Merme’s Corton Rognet Grand Cru by the glass. Pair these delights with Muru Wine Bar’s celebrated risotto for sustenance, or venture around the corner to Restaurant Muru for a more comprehensive dining experience.

Viinibaari Apotek

Lapinlahdenkatu 1

Viinibaari Apotek

Credit: Viinibaari Apotek

As its name suggests, Apotek Wine Bar resides within a former pharmacy, now transformed into an enchanting spot to enjoy one of the world’s oldest remedies: wine. The Jugendstil interior (think Art Nouveau), all original wood panelling, drawers and cabinets, exudes a timeless charm and sets the stage for a memorable wine experience. The bar is dedicated to serving mostly organic wines from family-owned producers, with a focus on grower Champagnes, German Rieslings and Burgundies, many of which have been imported by a private agency owned by its parent company. Walk-ins are warmly welcomed and there’s a frequently changing line-up of wines available by the glass, so each visit promises something new to discover.

Vinkkeli

Pieni Roobertinkatu 8

Vinkkeli, a waiter polishing glasses

Credit: Vinkkeli

Vinkkeli skilfully marries the essence of seasonal Nordic cuisine with contemporary French flair. At the helm, renowned sommelier (and owner) Antti Uusitalo has curated an impressive wine list that predominantly features classic selections from France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Whether you’re looking for Castillo Ygay or the opulence of Château d’Yquem, Vinkkeli has you covered. There’s also a weekly changing array of wines tailored to complement its four-course dinner menu. For those seeking a more casual rendezvous, Vinkkeli also boasts a small bar, perfect for savouring something from the daily selection of seasonal wines offered by the glass. The harmonious fusion of culinary traditions and stellar service ensures Vinkkeli’s enduring appeal among Helsinki residents. It’s also a good choice if you’re looking for a vinous lunch on a Monday.

Wino

Fleminginkatu 11

Dishes at Wino, Helsinki

Credit: Ida Syvaniemi / Wino

Located in the heart of Kallio, a former working-class neighbourhood once synonymous with rowdy nightlife and dive bars, Wino stands out – a charming wine bistro that has firmly established itself as a local favourite. The focus is mainly on European natural wines, but the extensive Champagne and Burgundy selection ensures that there’s something for everyone. The wine list features about 200 labels and a rotating selection by the glass. Look out for unusual bottlings such as the 100% Pinot Meunier Arietis from Champagne Alexis in Troissy. The eclectic food menu places a strong emphasis on seasonal, organic produce that effortlessly complements the wine selection. The mood here is cosy and inviting, making Wino equally suitable for long, wine-soaked dinners and casual evenings at the bar.


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