It doesn’t take long to feel at home in Vínstúkan Tíu Sopar. Five minutes after arriving, I find myself perched on a stool with three tasting glasses on the go, snacking on crunchy asparagus stems with parsley sauce, roaring with laughter with two of the owners. “There’s nothing serious about this place,” says Ragnar Eiríksson, the former chef of Dill, as he casually torches some chilli peppers for our next snack.
Ólafur Örn Ólafsson, Ragnar’s bushily mustachioed colleague, looks on. “I’m willing to say, on the record, that 90% of the wine lists in Reykjavík are the same,” he proclaims. “And that’s fine, but we want to do things a little differently.” He smiles, with a gleam in his eye. “We want people to have a nice glass here for the same price as they would have a shitty glass somewhere else.”
“Tíu Sopar” translates as “Ten Sips”—a play on the space’s former life as popular café Tíu Dropar (“Ten Drops”). The wine enthusiasts had been scouting around for a space for their bar, and were overjoyed when this charming basement came up. “We didn’t do much,” says Ólafur. “New floors, painted the walls, and these new benches. Bragi Skaftason, our CEO, knows a little about building stuff.” It was all the place needed. Tíu Sopar feels like it’s been there forever, in the best possible way.
The drinks menu, however, is completely up to date. “We have an emphasis on natural wine, and interesting wines from smaller producers and lesser-known regions,” says Ólafur. “That’s our concept. If you look at the wine list, you won’t know many wines. We always have at least 12 bottles open, and the selection changes every day. Whatever we feel like opening, we open it.”
Natural wine is a trend that has arrived in force in Reykjavík over the past two years. Eschewing industrial processes meant to deliver a smooth, familiar taste, natural wine goes back to basics. It’s a much less predictable proposition altogether, and it’s been a divisive development in the wine world.
“It’s not pressed, and not filtered, and it only uses the yeast from the grape,” says Ragnar. “Natural wines aren’t a fad or a fashion—conventional wines are. People have been making natural wine for 10,000 years. And we’ve been doing wine with chemical filtering and so on for just 100.”
Ten year process
Natural wine has also brought about a whole new vocabulary. “People talk about animals and funk,” says Ragnar, pouring a glass of red with a pungent, earthy taste. “And acidity,” adds Ólafur. “People would use balsamic vinegar as a comparison, which they would never say about a conventional wine.”
“We introduced wines like this when I was at Dill ten years ago, and nobody understood what the hell it was,” Ólafur continues. “It’s taken these ten years, and now there’s a moment for it. The reason we opened this bar is because we wanted a bar where we would like to drink.” He smiles. “But we didn’t think it through—because now we’re always working.”
Despite their jocular demeanour, the two are full of enthusiasm and curiosity about all the developments in the wine world. “In the whole of Scandinavia, wine is not in our culture,” says Ólafur. “It’s only in the last 25 years that we’ve started to study wine. Nordic sommeliers are good at their job because they have a broad horizon. It’s so young to us that we search the whole world.”
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