Warsaw’s exciting wine places (II) : Kieliszki na Próżnej

This post wasn’t supposed to come so late after the previous one. I had a good reason, however : I have a new job. Yay! That has kept me pretty busy lately, and that is why the second leg of my Warsaw stories took a while. But I insist on sharing my experience with Kieliszki na Próżnej with you, not only because I tasted a few great wines there, but also because this is a great little story about passion for wine.

Kieliszki is the Polish word for glasses and Próżna is the name of the street in Warsaw where this wine bar/restaurant is located. From the outside this place does not look extraordinary but on the inside the interior is a nicely done renovation of an old house in an industrial style. My wife and I discovered this place a few years ago when we went there for diner. I remember being very impressed as that was the first (and only) time that I was in a restaurant where all the bottles on the list were to be had by the glass, thanks to Coravin. Wine drinkers’ heaven basically.

When I was there in August, I went for a few kieliszki, or glasses, on the terrace, and had the pleasure of talking to Sommelier Patryk Nowak. He explained that the COVID-19 pandemic obliged them to stop offering everything by the glass. The varying number of clients and the prospect of a potential lockdown made it difficult to continue their by-the-glass policy. Not that it stopped them of having an amazing list of wines by the glass, for that matter. With 22 whites, 11 orange wines, and 26 reds by the glass, you’re spoiled for choice. The wines on offer are an eclectic mix between international references and avant-garde wines. Amongst the Champagnes I saw Krug, Philipponnat, Dom Pérignon, but also Selosse for example.

When I told Patryk that I was in the mood for a refreshing red, he answered : “Sure, but if that’s alright with you, I’d first like to share a white that we discovered recently and that blew us away.” I love it when that happens. When you feel someone’s passion for wine and the willingness to share it with another wine geek. The wine Patryk let me try was The Hermit Ram, a skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc from New-Zealand, a wine with an intriguing nose of tropical fruit and floral aromas, but that lacked a little bit too much acidity for my palate.

Instead of letting me choose one red off the list, Patryk came out with no less than four different bottles I could try before I chose. I first went for the 7 Fuentes, a red wine of Suertes del Marqués, a remarkable winery in the Spanish volcanic island Tenerife. This blend of Listán Negro and Tintilla is part of the winery’s “Village wine” range. Very fragrant, with loads of strawberries and a hint of minerality. The freshness of this wine was just perfect for the hot weather. Great balance also, and perfectly ripe tannins. Right up my alley!

The second red I had was a step up or two in terms of structure. No surprise considering it was a Priorat But not just any Priorat. The Planetes de Nin of Nin-Ortiz is a Garnacha aged in amphorae and with very low levels of sulphite. There was a bit of barnyard in the nose, but also graphite and pure red fruit. The wine had great volume, with tannins that were clearly there but ripe. A luscious red, almost baroque for my standards, and yet elegant at the same time! I would love to re-try this at home, because there was a lot to be found in here.

Just one more thing I really liked about my visit : when Patryk came out with the 7 Fuentes, he noticed the wine was too warm. So he poured a bit in a carafe and put in on ice to chill it before he served it, also letting me try at several moments to see what was my preferred temperature. Bravo! Serving a wine too warm, especially one like the 7 Fuentes, can simply ruin the experience, no matter how good the wine. So it was great to see so much attention being spent on the serving temperature.

Too see so much passion for wine was invigorating and made me decide I definitely want to come back here, corona permitting, for lunch or diner. And a few kieliszki of course.

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.