In Vino Päritas: Traveling foodies with a passion for natural wine

Photo: Luna Vassarotti

Rock journalist Elin Unnes and her graphic designer husband Stefan Fält are both confirmed foodies. As a writer Elin has produced award-winning books, including The Secret Gardener and Herbariet. She writes music reviews for Dagens Nyheter and earlier in her career she contributed to Vice, Rodeo and Darling. The duo are side by side in both marriage and work, as Stefan has designed all of Elin’s books and as we speak they are busy with a joint project called Paris för foodisar (Paris for Foodies), a book set to be released by Natur & Kultur later this year. Otherwise, Stefan is mostly known for his work with Cheap Monday, & Other Stories and Back. They spend their time between Stockholm, Paris and their countryside cottage at Mörkö, working on new book projects and sipping natural wine. Sounds like a dream life?

Where and how did your wine interest start?

Elin: It’s safe to say we’ve always been big eaters and drinkers. But the wine stuff never appealed to me. It just seemed too… too easy to make fun of.

Stefan: It must have started with the natural wine. I mean, apart from just realising it gets you drunk. But then Elin introduced this new thing.

E: I’d read a story in The Financial Times about the ‘new’ natural wine. This was around 2009 and the writer – I guess it was Jancis Robinson – obviously had trouble describing it. You know, ‘Beyond organic!’. That piqued my interest. It resonated with the kind of stuff that I was into. We went to Paris to visit a friend, stopped by in Copenhagen, went to Manfreds & Vin [an acclaimed restaurant and wine-bar].

S: We actually took the train, and stopped specifically in Copenhagen so that Elin could go to Manfreds & Vin, where they served natural wine.

E: We had a bottle of Poivre et Sel, and our minds were blown.

How do your professions interact with the world of wine?

S: I’ve designed a couple of wine themed books: among them Alf Tumble and Petter’s Vin: så funkar det. And now me and Elin are doing the guide book Paris för foodisar. I also created the label for fashion designer Ann-Sofie Back’s wine, Back in a Bottle, which was lots of fun. You can still get it at Systembolaget – just look for the bottle with a piece of gaffer tape for a label.

E: Not at all, until now! Maria Nilsson, our publisher at Natur & Kultur, knew we were into both natural wines and Paris, so she asked if we wanted to make a guide to eating and drinking in Paris. It’s all about cheap beer, natural wines and the 11th district.

Do you share an interest in gardening and the natural?

E: I’m way, way into gardening. Biodynamics, moon gardening, all of it. French gardeners are really advanced. Their moon gardening calendars have dates for when to cut your nails and wash your windows too. And of course the vignerons monitor everything so closely, and they can measure the results in actual money – like with the comet vintages, which I remember feeling giddy about when first reading about them. So, the natural wines speak to me. There’s just so much information in them. And I want to taste it all: the fruit, the dirt, the bacteria, the yeast, the labour. All of it. Also, it’s nice with a wine that doesn’t have an aftertaste of neuro-active poisons and neonicotinoids!

S: The natural wine is very Paris to me. It’s all about the five winters we’ve spent there.

Do you share the same sort of passion for wine, and do you have the same tastes or do you prefer different styles?

S: Since discovering natural wine I’ve been getting more into white wine. Lots and lots of white Bourgognes. I think I like… dry wines maybe? I’m still not sure what I like. Not the stuff that Elin likes at least.

E: I think Stefan is more into the tastes, and I’m more interested in the growing of the grapes. It’s all about context for me.

S: You like to read up on things, I just like to drink the stuff.

E: I don’t believe in a ‘true’ taste. Not for me at least. I’m too easily stimulated. I’m all about trying to get things to taste as good as possible – the context, the story of the wine, those ridiculous hand-drawn labels, the colour of the walls, it all feeds into the wine, and the point is to make it taste as good as possible, to get the biggest possible kick out of it.

Who picks what to drink at home and what is your house wine?

E: Uhm, Stefan I think? The stuff I drink needs to be ordered in advance, which I never do. I want to say that our house wine is a Morgon from Marcel Lapierre, or something dignified like that, but it’s probably Petit Jo: super glou-glou and cheap.

S: Me. Elin hates going to Systembolaget. Right now our house wine is a Sancerre called Les Roches. It’s really good, and Elin discovered it’s from a Demeter farm.

E: Stefan also likes a lot of the orange, macerated stuff.

Do you tend to drink differently in the city compared to the countryside, and if so, why?

E: Right now, yes, because the shop by our flat in Stockholm has a great wine selection, and the shop by our cottage doesn’t. But there’s a one-horse village close by, with a Systembolaget, and I want to do that thing where you order a case of wine and then pick it up at the grocery store. Then it’ll be all about wild fermentation and minute amounts of sulphur at the cottage!

S: I drink the same in the countryside. I wouldn’t buy a BIB just because I’m in the cottage. But Stockholm and Paris differs a lot – the selection of natural wine in Paris is just so much wider, it’s total freedom.

Both of you are avid music fans, what do you say about pairing wines with music, are there any great matches out there?

E: It’s been proven, in blind tastings, that music affects the taste of the wine. Enya produces a lighter wine than, say, and I’m only guessing now, Anal Vomit. I like reds with soft, reverb-y stuff like Lambchop, Mogwai and 16 Horsepower. The whites can go a little bit more crisp, like that Depeche Mode live album, 101:Live. It’s from the 80’s, so it has that coldness, but it’s live, so it still sounds organic. They also seem kind of out of it, so it’s like you have company. You know, never drink alone!

S: Jacques Dutronc for Beaujolais Nouveau, as I discovered through Cyril at Cave Le Verre Volé last November. And I hear that red wine with UB40 is supposed to be really good.

Favourite wine spots in Stockholm?

E: Our kitchen, Paname, Combo, the kitchen bar at Paradiso, 19 Glas.
S: Combo, Agnes, Babette, Paname.

You have spent some time travelling, where will we find the best wine bars/and or experiences according to you?

E: Having a BYO bottle of Pause Canon – a very cheap, light red wine – in the mess of the freight ship that recently brought us from Holland to Gothenburg was pretty cool. In Paris, we buy wine at Le Verre Volé. There’s the cave, which is great, but you can buy take-away wine from the restaurant by the same name too. Realising at 20:00 on a Friday night that you want oysters for dinner, jogging over to Verre Volé by the canal, getting a perfectly chilled bottle of La Bohème, jogging back home and then having a dozen oysters with lemon and black pepper, while sitting on the kitchen counter… That’s my ideal night.

S: The 11th arrondissement in Paris is the only place I need to go to – it’s got all my favourite wine bars and people. Specifically, Medusa: it’s not strictly a wine bar, but the wine and the company are still great. Apart from Paris, your tip for us in Amsterdam was great: Glouglou.

Please share with our readers three wines not to be missed this summer.

E: I can never get past the two classical Morgons; Lapierre and Jean Foillard. But the aim this summer will be to drink anything by Julie Balagny – everyone I trust loves her a lot.

S: Domain de La Tour du Bon 2015, the rosé Bandol that Systembolaget starts selling on May 20. Pause Canon, it was the last wine I drank before leaving Paris. And Alexandre Jouveaux’s Combarnier – I was recently served it by mistake at Volt, and loved it. Oh wait, one more: something white from Aci Urbajs! He’s a cool Slovenian vigneron who plays elementary music for his cellars, surrounded by peacocks and cosmograms.

Words: Pär Strömberg