The buildings are each their own hue of yellow, orange, or red as we walk up the narrow stone streets into Gamla Stan, Stockholm's old town on a small island in the heart of the Swedish capital. It is eight o'clock in the evening, but the rooftops throw shadows upon the ground from the nearly-midnight sun overhead in late May as we turn the corner down from the cathedral and step through the door at Stora Nygatan 19, the aptly named -- and quite delicious -- 19 Glas restaurant and wine bar.
"Vi har en bökning, fyra personer," mustering the slightest bit of Swedish as the fellow inside laughs and says "right this way". The trouble with practicing the language is that everyone here speaks far better English than I will ever speak Swedish. Oh well. Into the cozy back of the restaurant we go. It's small. Make a reservation.
NV Sébastien Brunet Vouvray Le Naturel (Vouvray, France)
We perused the menu over a single glass of this sparkling Vouvray that proved a worthy prelude to a fantastic dinner. The nose of pineapple and toasted brioche gave way to an effervescent palate of candied ginger and honey, but not sweet honey. It's a really compelling way to open a meal around the table with good company, when the anticipation of what's about to be served demands a fun alternative to stodgy bubbly. The Sébastian Brunet is up for the task.
The menu for middag, dinner, is happily limited to each of our choice between three starters, three main courses, and three desserts. I love this format, for it allows the chef to focus on specific food that pairs masterfully with well-chosen wine, and for the diner to cut through the proverbial fat of the typical menu to focus on the art of plate and glass upon the table.
Lättrökt makrill, gurka, verjus was the unanimous choice of starter. That's house smoked mackerel, cucumber and green grape juice. We might also have considered the rödbeta, dragon, torkad äggula (beetroot, tarragon and dried egg yolk) or the tartar på kossa, braänd lökmajonnäs och fermenterad dinkel (cow tartar, almost burned onion mayonnaise and spelt)... but for the mackerel, paired of course with a Garnacha Blanc from very southern France.
2015 Clos du Rouge Gorge Côtes Catalanes Blanc (Côtes Catalanes, France)
White and rosé wine made from grapes normally reserved for dark juicy reds are always a unique look into the hidden side of winemaking. This Garnacha Blanc from Côtes Catalanes, a region on France's Mediterranean coast so far south and west that it is practically in Spain, was a great competitor. Deep gold in color, you'll pick up the ever slightest hint of oak from the neutral barrels in which the wine was aged (i.e. barrels that had already been used prior to this vintage, often resulting in much less pronounced oak notes), mixing in unique fashion with notes of mango, apricot, and apple juice.
We were split on main course, ultimately ordering both the Norsk torsk, cimi di rapa, libbsticka (baked cod, rapini, lovage) and bjärekychkling, färsk vitloök, kål, syrad grädde (chicken, green garlic, cabbage) between us, with apologies to the sparris, ramsloök, mangold (asparagus, ramson, and Swiss chard). Both were out-of-this-world delicious, but we'd give the food and wine pairing edge to the chicken and Weissburgunder vice the cod and Chablis (we are suckers for Austrian wine).
2014 Bioweingut Johannes Zillinger Weissburgunder Reflexion (Niederösterreich, Austria)
We had much to say about this Weissburgunder (that's the Austrian name for the Pinot Blanc, a white varietal) that appeared almost cloudy on the glass. The nose is quite dynamic, featuring notes of mustard seeds, salt, sea water at the lowest tide, and seashells like a crushed shell driveway in New England. We wondered if the grapes had been grown in a limestone-rich soil. That distinct smell of cutting into an apple? That was there, too, with lemon juice weaved into the palate and sufficient acidity to pair particularly well with the chicken.
2015 Domaine de Bois D'yver Chablis (Burgundy, France)
I'll break this down for those to whom French wine is not an area of expertise, and first explain that Chablis is a region in northern Burgundy, France, that grows exclusively Chardonnay. Thus, when we're talking "Chablis", we're talking about a very distinct region and style of "Chardonnay". Onward… I admit that I would not have instinctively paired this to the baked cod dish with which it was served, but found the combination to be worthy. Apple juice in the nose mingles with gardenia, a flower, and some nice acidity on the palate to create something that almost begs to be drunk with light food.
To pretend that there was any competition between the rabarber, créme fraichesorbet, maräng (rhubarb, sour cream sorbet and meringue) and the other two dessert options would be farcical. To be sure, we tried to sirapskaka, bovete, Järnagrädde, älgörts granité (syrup cake, roasted buckweat, cream and meadowsweet granita) and kicked the tires on the (delicious, we are sure) löfstalund, frusen vassle, rågbrödsflarn (local cheese with frozen whey and rye bread flan)... but the rhubarb et al easily stole the show as one of the absolutely most delicious desserts any of the four of us at the table had ever eaten. Magnificent, and a divine pairing with the sparkling rosé selected by our hosts to serve alongside.
2011 Pascal Potaire Touraine Les Capriades Sparkling Rosé (Loire Valley, France)
Oh my. It is unclear if this sparkling rosé is as good as it seemed, or if its pairing with the rhubarb, sour cream sorbet, and meringue dessert was what pushed it over the top. In either case… the nose reminded us very much of the fantastic Bugey-Cerdon we serve as our preferred house sparkler at home, say with some (almost) Sherry-like qualities that place it further down the dessert spectrum. Interesting. Thin strawberry -- we described it at the table as "strawberry on a cloud" adds delicacy that paired stunningly well with meringue.
The thrust of this piece has been a focus on wine, understandable given that we were wine writers dining in a wine bar. But to put a cork in that for just a moment, it would be wrong for me to conclude here without reflecting on the really extraordinary warmth and care with which the staff at the cozy 19 Glas seem to treat their craft and their customers. We had so much fun here trying the wines, exploring the food, and chatting with the staff and fellow-patrons alike. There was nothing stuffy about it. While these bottles of wine can be found elsewhere, this is a special place, made special by the flattering of your senses in the color, tastes, and smells that come from fusing these Swedish dishes with selections of Europe's great wine to make 19 Glas -- in our estimation -- essential dining when in Stockholm.