Warsaw’s exciting places to drink wine (I) : Ale Wino

With my other half being Polish, I’ve been going to Poland once or twice a year since 2003. Poland might not be a country you spontaneously associate with wine, but just as everything in this country things have evolved fast. Year after year new skyscrapers appear on the Warsaw skyline. Modern infrastructure connects the big cities and you drive from Berlin to Warsaw in under 6 hours nowadays. So it is no surprise that also in terms of gastronomy Poland has not stayed behind. Cities such as Poznan, Krakow and Warsaw boast trendy restaurants in a wide range of cuisines and most restaurants have a decent and diverse choice of wines by the glass. Of course, growing pains exist. During my last visit to a decent restaurant I was served a glass of white wine that was only just put in the fridge and therefore lukewarm. You can also run into unexpected things such as semi-sweet pinot noir, still a remnant of the sweet wine that was imported from other communist countries in the 70s and 80s. But nowadays, you should be able to get a decent glass of wine when eating out in Warsaw. And what’s more, there are are a few wine bars/wine restaurants that are truly exciting.

Sommelier Damian Zakrzewski

Two places in Warsaw have completely won me over and will even cater for the biggest wine freaks : Ale Wino and Kieliszki na Próżnej (more about the latter in the next post), both are restaurant ànd wine bar. I was in Ale Wino for the first time in 2016, three years after the opening of this place that is hardly visible from the street. I remember the food was delicious, very much modern crossover cuisine, but most of all I was impressed to be offered a Bairrada of Dirk van der Niepoort during that visit. These elusive Portuguese reds are still somewhat of a rarity outside Portugal, so the crew at Ale Wino made a great first impression on me by serving this wine.

You have to like their concept, however. There is no wine list, but you can stroll through their wine racks and tell them which wine you want. Or you let the staff suggest a food wine pairing, which is what I normally do. Staff will always inform whether you have certain preferences and you are also given a little pour to taste, so even if you don’t like the wine, you can simply ask for another suggestion! Great wines that I have discovered there are Greywacke’s Sauvignon Blanc, the Hungarian white “Oreg Tõkék Bora” of Kreinbacher in Somlò, the old vine Carignan of Chile’s Garage Wine Co, and most recently a Sauvignon Blanc of Tement, a winery from Steiermark, Austria’s hotspot for Sauvignon. A daring but confident selection of sommelier Damian Zakrzewski, reflecting his will to work mainly with wines from Central European countries next to a number of international references.

Last month I had the pleasure of having lunch again at Ale Wino and I had a chance to chat with Damian. He explained that they like to work with small importers who focus on small producers. The fact that some of these bottles are not available in large quantities means that there is much rotation on the shelves, giving clients the opportunity to discover new wines. The trend of natural wines has not passed unnoticed at Ale Wino so there are natural and biodynamic wines on offer, but not only. Damian wants to make sure that there is something that fits everyone’s taste, so he offers “both schools” of wine making.

Also Polish wines are on offer. “The popularity of Polish wines is increasing. Climate is changing and Polish wines are getting better and better. Especially white wines have a good reputation while reds need a bit more time to be accepted by the guests. They are lighter in texture, rather fruity and not very structured because some of the vines are still really young”, Damian explains. “And we are still learning!” The major downside according to Damian is the price : “Polish wines are not an easy sell because they are quite expensive. They face stiff competition from nearby countries like Austria and Germany who offer excellent value for money. Polish guests are interested in drinking local wines but in restaurants they cost about 30-50€. And those are good quality wines, but nothing outstanding.”

While Polish wine still has a way to go, there is no lack of really good and interesting wines from Central and Eastern Europe and Damian does not hesitate to showcase them whenever he can. So if you are up for a bit of discovery, do not hesitate and go to Ale Wino. The food is at a consistently high level and the wines will not fail to surprise you.

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