Aleksi Mehtonen: ”Savoy has always aimed to be the best in the country”

Aleksi Mehtonen, head sommelier at Savoy in Helsinki.
Andreas Grube
Published 31-August-2020
Interview

The Helsinki classic Savoy, founded in 1937, won three categories in Star Wine List of the Year Finland 2020: Grand Prix, German Wine List and Austrian Wine List.

”There have been years of hard work done by me, my colleagues and my predecessors so of course, it is nice to get recognition!” says head sommelier Aleksi Mehtonen. 

Savoy is one of the most traditional fine dining restaurants in Helsinki. The restaurant was drawn and designed by Alvar & Aino Aalto and still holds some of their unique interior design.

”Because of this heritage, Savoy is not just a place to enjoy food and wine but also savour architecture and design. Savoy has always aimed to be the best in the country with the most prestigious cuisine and wine cellar,” says Aleksi Mehtonen, who has worked at Savoy for a little more than five years.

Describe the wine philosophy and wine program at Savoy?
”Savoy´s wine program follows our long traditions. Europe is the centre of the focus of course, but we are aware that top wines come from the new world as well. The cellar is, and has always been, filled with a wide selection of Champagne, Bourgogne, Bordeaux and other traditional wines.”

”Our style is classical but our sommelier team is not afraid to present new trends in upcoming regions and producers. All quality wine is welcome to Savoy. Gladly our customers are normally open to new ideas and trust our judgement.”

How has Savoy developed when it comes to wine since you started?
”When I started working here, we had a cellar that any sommelier would be proud of but I think that it is even more impressive now. Our past five-year history has been quite successful and that has enabled us to grow our selection in every single area. My biggest addition to the selection might be the amount of grower champagne houses and our Bordeaux selection. I am also proud that I have been able to add some Bourgogne wineries to the selection that has not been in the Finnish market before.” 

I love acidity in wine and normally you get that in the German and Austrian wines

Are there any gaps you want to fill in the cellar, or any certain regions you find interesting right now?
”When I browse the selection of some Stockholm or Oslo restaurants, I can easily become jealous. All in all, the selection in the Finnish market is good but we are missing some of the best producers, like Roulot, Arnaud Ente, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Coche-Dury, Richard Leroy, Pierre Overnoy, Henri Bonneau, Giacomo Conterno. The list goes on and on...”

How do you work when it comes to food and wine pairings at Savoy?
”We taste the dishes with the staff and try different wine pairings, I think this is the universal way to do it. Of course, it helps that I have a long history in the restaurant and I basically know the style of the kitchen. Our fairly new Chef Patron Helena Puolakka has changed the style of the kitchen towards a more delicate direction and that serves my philosophy even better. I like it light and elegant!”

You have a great selection of Austrian and German wines as well, what is it you like with this style of wine?
”I love acidity in wine and normally you get that in the German and Austrian wines. It is also nice to find good quality with reasonable money. Another major factor is that German and Austrian wines suit the Scandinavian cuisine. Finnish freshwater fishes are in most cases combined with pickled vegetables and the dishes balance between sugar, salt and acidity. German and Austrian Riesling or Grüner Veltliner can easily handle these characteristics in the food.”

”These wines are also easy to like when you are just drinking wine without eating anything because there is the freshness in the acidity structure but also usually high level of fruity aromas. The improvement in the quality of red wine production has also been really noticeable and more than welcome.”  

Savoy, Helsinki.

What do you think about a prize like Star Wine List of the Year, where you reward the wine program rather than the food?
”There have been years of hard work done by me, my colleagues and my predecessors so of course, it is nice to get recognition! Kitchen staff and the top chefs have been in the limelight for a long time and I think that there should be more noise about sommelier work so this kind of awards cannot do any harm to our profession. Even more awards and prizes should be given because I know how good a job the top wine professionals are doing.”  

What’s your opinion about the competition and the general wine scene in Finland?
”When the competition is healthy it drives us all towards a better more wine-filled future. The sommelier circles in Finland are really small and the spirit amongst the ’wine freaks’ is good in general. Our wine scene has developed hugely during my career and a really good example is the attitude towards German and Austrian wine. The biggest current factor driving the scene forward is the availability of information! The upcoming generations will be even better sommeliers than us.”

How has the corona crisis affected Savoy?
”There is uncertainty which overshadows the whole field of the restaurant business and no one can escape that. The sugar and salt of sommelier work is buying and selling wine so it was a huge blow to us when we weren’t able to do so. However, currently, we are going strong and we have to enjoy the fact that we are allowed to be open and that we have customers who want to enjoy our services.”

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