Björnstierne Antonson is a well-known face on the Swedish and international wine scene. At this moment he is the editor for all the social media and blogs for The Champagne Club by Richard Juhlin, filing updates of the websites for The Champagne Club and The Champagne Bar. The Champagne Club is the largest independent Champagne database in the world with over 9400 unique tasting notes – a hell of a job to keep track of, but I guess when you live and breathe Champagne, the task is more than desirable.
With a genuine and solid background in the wining and dining business in both Sweden and abroad, Björnstierne is a true star sommelier with a great reputation. He has worked as sommelier at Hotel du Vin in Winchester and at Manor aux Quat’Saison in Great Milton, proud possessors of two Michelin stars. He was head sommelier at the F12 group between 1999 and 2002 and head sommelier at Vassa Eggen from 2003 to 2005. Back in 1999 he also opened, Baràvin, Sweden’s first premium wine bar. These days you’ll find him at The Champagne Bar by Richard Juhlin in the Mood Galleria in central Stockholm, where he acts as wine bar manager and creative head sommelier. As a lover of Champagne myself, I have visited the Champagne Bar on a few occasions and the level of service and the quality of the wine list is unmatched in Stockholm. The bar is open two days a week, Thursdays and Fridays, and the concept is very simple – they serve great Champagnes from the best growers and houses by the glass (15-18 varieties by the glass every week). The house Champagne changes every two weeks and the location is hosted by Café Egoïste inside Mood. To get a slightly better idea about what’s so great about Champagne I decided to go straight to the source and ask Björnstierne to share some of the secrets.
Who is your average customer at The Champagne Bar and what are the most popular Champagnes by the glass and by the bottle?
”Our average guests are somewhere between young, trendy and knowledgeable wine consumers and ‘the Champagne nerd’ – champagne lovers of all sorts, in other words. The most asked-for Champagne is my choice of the week. Last week it was Egly-Ouriet ’Brut Tradition’”.
As a competing sommelier, you have taken quite a few scalps in your time. What are your greatest memories?
”I won the Swedish championship in Sommellerie in 2003, and I have 13 silver medals in national and international competitions. The most memorable competition must be my first Nordic Championship in Reykjavik in 2001 with a tasting conducted by Sommelier du Monde’98 Markus del Monego at The Blue Lagoon. Stunning scenery.”
You have coined the expression ”vinosofin” (’wineosophy’) – what does it mean and how have you been able to use it in your practice as a sommelier?
”Absolutely, wine is the constant proof that someone ‘up there’ loves us and keeps us in harmony, if we let ourselves be embraced by a glass of great wine. The word ’wineosophy’ is an adaptation of theosophy, which means that a man can only find harmony in art. The sommelier’s new outlook on life is ’wineosophy’ which means that humans can only find experience of the harmony through the wine”.
What would you say a novice should look for when it comes to Champagne?
”Balance and harmony. For great bargains, try out growers from the best villages.”
You also blog, write, lecture and travel in the wine business a lot – what is it about wine that you find so captivating?
”Wine can be seen as a complement to a meal, as an instrument for education, as an instrument for enjoyment, as a quality necessity for life, as the most healthy drink that man can produce, as a religious ritual instrument, as a drug, or as a source of income for the restaurant business. The evolution of the concept of wine is in the eyes of the beholder. All these parameters make me interested in wine and its qualities.”
There has been a lot of talk and in-fighting about the natural wine trend, and not just here in Sweden, but it seems that everyone is starting to get along again at last. Were you ever involved and what is your take on the natural wine discourse?
”I’d rather not get into a complicated discussion on that subject. But I can say this – I don’t care how the wine is made. The only thing is that it has to be good or great!”
Are there any new trends you can predict in the wine world?
”I try not to follow trends when it comes to wine and gastronomy. I only follow my palate and my passion for wine.”
People love hearing about food and wine combinations – what is the most unusual, amazing matching you have ever had? And what is the single best match with Champagne?
”Oscietra caviar and Riesling Eiswine! Champagnes have become dryer and dryer since the 1800s, and the sweet and salty nature of Champagne and caviar is no longer a relevant comparison. Champagnes have simply evolved out of sweetness over 200 years. In an amazing unanimity, the saltiness of caviar simply needed the sweetness of a Riesling ice wine as a best choice. Deep-fried sweet breads with truffle mayonnaise and Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1976. Sashimi of blue-fin tuna and Diebolt-Vallois ’Cuis’ 1964.”
What is the single best Champagne bottle you have ever had? What about vintages and producers?
”Best Champagne; Comtes de Champagne 1976. Best Champagne experience would be the Dom Pérignon Rosé 1982 by the magnum in a roof-top penthouse with the November rain splashing against the windows and Stockholm underneath. Best vintage; 1976. Best producer, that’s a hard one but if you twist my arm, that must be Krug”.
Antonson’s love of Champagne is not limited to his writings or his adventures in the restaurant business; it even extends to body art. Before we part, I ask him to tell me the story of his tattoo.
”I was born in Belgium to a Swedish father and Belgian mother and at an early stage I fell in love with the historic period and style of the Belle Époque (art nouveau). And one of its greatest artists was the Belgian architect Horta.
For me it was natural to ink my body with the beautiful flowers of Champagne Belle Epoque by Emile Gallé.”
Below is an extended top three list of the best Champagnes at the moment on the Swedish market according to Björnstierne Antonson:
Best Non-vintage Cuvées
Charles Heidsieck ’Brut Réserve’ | SBnr 77522, 459 kr
Gosset ’Grande Réserve Brut’ | SBnr 87661, 409 kr
Louis Roederer ’Brut Premier’ | SBnr 7602, 399 kr
Best Blanc de Blancs
Gosset ’Grand Blanc de Blancs’ | SBnr 77477, 549 kr
Jacques Selosse ’Brut Initial’ | Nätvinhandel (internet wine merchant)
Legras & Haas ’Brut Tradition’ | Nätvinhandel (internet wine merchant)
Best Blanc de Noirs
Egly-Ouriet ’Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vignes’ | Restaurangsortiment (restaurants only)
André Clouet ’Cuvée 1911’ | SBnr 74145, 596 kr
Mailly Grand Cru ’Blanc de Noirs’ | SBnr 77539, 322 kr
Best Extra Brut
Jacques Selosse ’V.O.’ | Nätvinhandel (internet wine merchant)
Egly-Outiet ’V.P.’ 78mois, jan’13 | Restaurangsortiment (restaurants only)
Laurent-Perrier ’Ultra Brut’ | SBnr 87340, 499 kr
Best Cuvée Prestige
Krug ’Grande Cuvée’ | SBnr 7494, 1499 kr
Laurent-Perrier ’Grand Siècle La Cuvée’ | SBnr 83897 (no price available)
Jacques Selosse ’Substance’ | Nätvinhandel (internet wine merchant)
Text: Pär Strömberg