Copenhagen for wine lovers

Copenhagen in the summer sun

Oliver Carr urges us to grab someone we love and bring them to post-natural Copenhagen. We're convinced. See below, plus this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.

My partner doesn’t own air-conditioning. Neither do her parents. Coming from New Zealand I thought this was crazy – we sweated our way through the previous Danish summer and it looks like we’ll be doing the same this year. It’s not (as I had thought) the Viking/Spartan mentality that eschews these modern conveniences. They’re just not used to summer. Sandwiched between the Baltic and North Seas, Denmark has a climate defined by grey skies and a cool breeze. A hot day usually gets into the mid-20s Centigrade and, like a tide, the populace flows from the city to the beach before ebbing back six hours later in the long summer twilight. But things have changed. Now we see 30°C with regularity. Copenhagen is a dense mass of concrete. Not a ‘jungle’, more of a hedge, with pockets of manicured parkland. The city bakes on these hot days. Fortunately for us, the wine climate is changing to suit.

Denmark has a great tradition as a wine market. Being historically wealthy, more recently very egalitarian, and with a good dose of Francophilia, Danish merchants took up solid allocations of great Burgundy early on. Now the market feels somewhat awash with wines that would be considered ‘unicorns’ in other countries. It’s expensive, of course, but I’m still astounded by how much appropriately-aged Grand Cru Burgundy pops up on average bistro wine lists. There’s a bar near our apartment that specialises in port, though I feel the wine drinkers have moved on too much to sustain such a conservative offering. It simply demonstrates just how traditional Copenhagen once was, and how drastically different it has recently become.

‘Mecca for natural wine’ is a phrase an old work colleague used to describe Copenhagen. This was before I moved here. I’m cynical of the ability of the wine industry to communicate with consumers informatively about the ‘natural’ movement, so Copenhagen has been a great reprieve for me. Nobody seems to care. Not hung up on semantics, Copenhagen has a wealth of well-stocked wine bars helmed by well-travelled sommeliers who tell the stories of great low-intervention wine producers from around the world. It’s just a part of life now. It doesn’t come with a big green thumb or a dolphin-shaped sticker. These wine sellers understand and respect more conventional styles and have insightful perspective on what they’re trying to sell. I like to think of it as post-natural.

If you’ll join me in disembarking the Metro at Kongens Nytorv station, we’ll take a stroll to the first wine-lover’s borough – the Harbour.

Den Vandrette is an absolute must visit. We’ll find a cobbled piazza by the water adorned with furniture from two or three traditional Danish pubs. Right in the centre, colourful modern wine labels in dewy ice buckets are a beacon guiding us to Den Vandrette. The list focusses on low-intervention wines, but also extremely food friendly wines. They have a penchant for Jura and Comté, which is almost as good a match as this beating sun and the mineral Catalonian orange wine they’re pouring today.

Crossing the Inner Harbour Bridge – Inderhavnsbroen – you’ll get a great view of the modern opera house with the surprisingly aesthetic Waste-to-Energy plant in the distance. On the south-side of the harbour, we’ll pass the old Noma site, now home to the very impressive restaurant Barr, and you’ll see residents from these converted former warehouses sunbathing on a wooden pontoon and diving into the shallow water to cool off.

We arrive at Nærvær, a mashup of Spanish, French and Italian cuisine done so well that I’m enticed to order one of everything. The wine selection is focused on small producers of very high quality, more traditional than some other bars around, but interesting wines nonetheless. An Altesse from Savoie suits the weather today, but a slightly chilled Algueira Mencia from Ribera Sacra has won me over.

Just around the corner we find The Corner, a ‘wine bar x specialist coffee shop’ that abuts its big sister – the Michelin-starred Restaurant 108. The restaurant is at the cutting edge of ‘New Nordic’ cuisine and that enthusiasm flows into a fantastic snack menu at The Corner. The Beaujolais by the glass is sulphur-free and delicious with a bite of raw lamb and ‘last year’s pickles’. The list prides itself on minimal-intervention wines, but it’s the freshness and vibrancy of their selections that align so well with the salty sea air.

A 25-minute walk north through the city (soon to be circumvented by an expanded Metro system) will take us to the trendy and mid-gentrification borough of Nørrebro. There’s a chance to cool off before we arrive, with a stroll through the breezy Assistens Cemetery. A quick visit to the grave of Hans Christian Andersen, and the sight of myriad young mothers jogging with their strollers, will leave us about ready for a glass of wine.

Terroiristen provides a welcome few steps out of the heat down to cellar level. The wine list is ever-changing. They don’t have a glass list, but when you engage sommeliers with some conversation they can open a huge variety of wines to serve by the glass. There is a strong focus on ‘terroirist’ producers – the idea that a sense of place should be transparent in the wine. A great selection from Slovenia, Hungary and Georgia really stands out. The food is simple and Mediterranean. The anchovies are the best in town.

Back to ‘the city’ we cross Queen Louise’s Bridge, students and young drinkers lining the bridge in the afternoon sun. A low thumping sound radiates from a large speaker about halfway across. A DJ is playing music much more energetic than the shirtless boy dozing on the bench to his left. A large group is drinking what looks like Aperol spritz out of plastic cups. Some are dancing, some are sleeping. In the lake to the right dozens of swan-shaped pedal boats loll around the calm water. It feels kitsch and out of place – but everything feels out of place just here. It’s hot. It’s time for a drink.

Bar’Vin is the perfect wine bar. It’s a little more ‘traditional bistro’ than the bars we’ve been to so far. The list has some more conventional wines – we see our first Châteauneuf-du-Pape of the day. The CdP stands out because overall this is not a ‘conventional’ selection of wines. It’s extremely diverse, the exceptionally wide collection of Piemontese classics is across the page from what looks like a homage to Frank Cornelissen of Etna. Excellent Loire and Jura sections add to the delight and excitement. The menu is a mix of classic French and Italian dishes – but it’s the cheese selection that catches my eye. Comté and Brillat Savarin with a glass of Mâcon Blanc as the inferno outside finally begins to subside. If there is a wine list that defines the clash-of-cultures of the Copenhagen wine scene du jour, this is it.

In 2019 Copenhagen sommeliers no longer emphasise winemaking - or lack thereof - but focus on the vibrancy and energy of the wines. These wines are generally lighter, fresher, for early consumption, and delicious. While this seems like something to celebrate, there is a melancholic element to the feeling that these newer, cooler wines are such a great match to our new, warmer climate.

We will finish our tour of Copenhagen with a highlight. Ved Stranden 10 is a forlorn love letter to low-intervention wine drinkers. The atmosphere is pleasant, unassuming, candle-lit and friendly. The list changes often and isn’t dogmatic. The environment swings from pub-like after work, to a bustling bistro, and finally hushed tones and important late-night conversation. The wine is with you all the way.

Just because we could place these bottles into a certain category, doesn’t mean that we need to. The artifice of categorisation is obscuring what this fermented juice is supposed to mean to us. Ved Stranden 10 whispers, ‘while you’ve been arguing about wine, we’ve been waiting.’ At first the feeling is embarrassment. Of course. It’s just wine. The company is far more important.

But it’s also great wine. Which pairs best with great company.

You ought to grab someone you love and bring them to Copenhagen.