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Grape expectations

Whether you’re looking to expand your knowledge of obscure varietals or find the perfect complement to your dinner, here are three places where what’s in your glass is just as important as what’s on your plate.

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Breifmarken Weine. Photos by Francesca Torricelli
Whether you’re looking to expand your knowledge of obscure varietals or find the perfect complement to your dinner, here are three places where what’s in your glass is just as important as what’s on your plate. Briefmarken Weine: Candlelit Campania In a high-ceilinged former stamp collector’s shop exuding the charm of a bygone era on Berlin’s Stalinist Karl-Marx-Allee, Italians Nicola Sessa and Alessandro Vespasiano have created a little candlelit paradise of Italian wine and toothsome delicacies. Open since April 2014, the small restaurant is filled with random yet harmonious details: a chessboard table, a collection of Japanese malt whiskies, literary curiosities like an erotic-archaeological treatise on Forbidden Pompei. Drink some eagerly proffered tap water (a Berlin rarity!) as you flip through Sessa’s winebook, which poetically categorises bottles into four elements based on the wines’ personalities: classical, noble “earth” wines, strong, spirited “fire” ones, lighter “air” bottles. The “water” wines aren’t watery; nor do they convey the serenity of Brandenburg lakes. Rather, they evoke the wildness of the sea, explains the long-bearded, bespectacled Sessa with a passionate earnestness. We enjoyed the long mouthfeel of the red Roche, an earthy Barolo from a small vintner in the northern province of Piedmont. And we were pleasantly surprised by the unusual bouquet of the Sole evento, a Sicilian white subjected, as the name implies, to so much sun and wind that it seems to stock all four elements in one. Most patrons here enjoy their wines over a plate of top-rate house antipasti in vegetarian and meaty combinations, from marinated artichokes and cime di rapa (marinated broccoli rabe) to Parma-region ham, salsiccia and soppressata arranged around a dome of panzanella: a compressed mound of bread soaked with tomato juice, oregano, basil and oil. Every Thursday, they also get a succulent mozzarella di bufala delivered fresh from Sessa’s homeland in Campania. If you’re after something warm, ask for the pasta dish of the day. Our favourite is another Campanian specialty, the very unique anchovy oil pasta, a plate with two coiled heaps of linguine made with Colatura di Alici, a salty, fishy oil produced in a small village south of Naples, blended with olive oil, a touch of garlic and zesty lemon peel. Unusual and exquisite, like most of the wines on offer here. Open wines, spumante and prosecco go for €5-7 a glass; the encyclopedic bottle collection roughly €20-90, also to go! FP Karl-Marx-Allee 99, Friedrichshain, U-Bhf Weberwiese,Mon-Sat 19-24 (May-Oct: 17:30-24)
Maxim: French biodynamic Maxime Boillat, a Swiss man with an archaeologist-to-DJ-to-sommelier backstory that’s pure Berlin, opened this French-leaning wine bar last year. The focus here is on biodynamic, natural wine – organically grown, made without additives – which Boillat favours simply because,he claims, it tastes better. Some 20 kinds make the chalkboard-scrawled list at any given time, mostly from France, although a handful of German producers are always represented. The only non-biodynamic ones are a Swiss table wine fromone of Boillat’s friends and the obligatory Riesling (and yes, you will be judged if you order it). The menu’s meant to complement the wine, not the other way around, but goes above and beyond its call of duty – in addition to cheese and charcuterie, you’ll find a selection of brasserie standards elevated through ingredient sourcing (Boillat makes regular trips to Markthalle IX) and cooking technique. Unapologetic carnivores will enjoy the broiled bone marrow (€8.50), which you scoop out with a little spoon and spread on toast from Soluna Bakery. Its slick fattiness serves as a perfect foil for the bright, nicely acidic Les Dolomies Chardonnay from the Jura region (€7.50). The most popular dish here is the steak tartare – made from specially-ordered Basque beef, served with the usual accoutrements – egg yolk, anchovies, shallots, mustard, etc. plus a splash of cognac. But for something more unique, try the Burgundy dish Oeuf en Meurette (€8.50), a soft-cooked egg on top of a mix of mushrooms in a rich wine-beef stock reduction, which holds its own against the bold, earthy-to-the-point-of-funky Faugères (€9.20), grown from slate in Languedoc. The SoTo location and commensurate price tags mean you’ll most likely dine surrounded by Mitte gentry, but for great quality wines you probably haven’t tried before and service that tows the line between passion and snobbery, it’s worth stopping by at least once. JS Gormannstr.25, Mitte, U-Bhf RosenthalerPlatz, Mon-Sat from 18
Ano Kato: Rustic Greek As coined by ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “Ano Kato” roughly translates as “the upwards-downwards path” and describes, according to sommelier Kiriakos Sarantou, the harmony of opposites. It’s also the name of a cosy taverna in Charlottenburg with checkered tablecloths and walls plastered with concert posters, a place that claims to be Berlin’s oldest Greek restaurant but these days is placing a stronger emphasis on quality Greek wine. Wine to accompany homemade dishes that challenge the typical Berlin idea of “Greek” fare (usually, mounds of cheap grilled meat and chips) with their focus on vegetables and organic ingredients. We tried the Black Rock Kotsifali/Cabernet Sauvignon, a fruity, acidic red from Crete (€5.50/glass, €19.50/bottle). Another of Sarantou’s recommendations: the Psiles Korfes, a dry muscat from his father’s home island of Samos (€7/glass, €22.50/bottle). From traditional tzatziki (€3.60) to nicely garlicky baby calamari (€8.50) to a plate of delicious sheep’s milk feta from Epirus (€6.50), the starters are simple but delicious. And watch out for that organic Cretan olive oil, not to be missed. Mains are well-executed rustic classics: tender grilled octopus tentacles (€12.90), ketfes (moist beefy meatballs) with rice (€8.50) and a respectable homemade moussaka, the traditional potato-aubergine-tomato gratin prepared with ground beef and topped with béchamel sauce. A small shop window on a rather unspectacular patch of concrete off Kantstraße, this is a bit of a locals’ secret that is begging to become an insider tip for anyone longing for great wines and rustic food in a warm, low-key, refreshingly untrendy atmosphere. SG Leibnizstr.70,Charlottenburg, U-Bhf Savignyplatz, Mon-Sun 16-24 Originally posted in issue #137, April 2015