She is sommelier at Michelin-starred Restaurant Esperanto in Sweden and a member of Swesomm, the Swedish national sommelier team – but with captivating modesty the way Ellen Franzen describes herself is as a "competitive wine lover who is constantly delighted to have accidentally stumbled into the world of wine and the best profession."
And yet, one of the most exciting wines she has opened with her Code38 happened to be corked! It was, she tells me, a bottle of Chateau Margaux 1983. "For a long time I had heard of '83", she says, "the difficult year that followed the '82. I had also heard several times that Chateau Margaux had managed to make a better wine in 1983. The tension that was built up in the meantime until I tried the wine..."
Poor Ellen. Because one of her memorable wine experiences almost ended as disastrously. It was a blind tasting but as fate would have it the sommelier at the restaurant had managed to totally destroy the cork of the foil-wrapped bottle. "In my glass", she tells me, "I got a red wine of some age, along with a good amount of sediment, a few pieces of cork and red wax." And yet, incredibly, that did not prevent her from appreciating an extraordinary wine, a 1984 Californian Howell Mountain Cab Sav from Dunn. "It was only to sip between the teeth as the wine itself was a pure, full-fledged, mature but vibrant, powerful yet elegant", she tells me. "Just then and there, in that place, with that company, at that moment, the wine was perfect – despite the cork bits and the dirt in the glasses!"
However, it's Californian Pinot Noir which she is currently championing. "Why not Blooms Field from Domaine de la Cote!" she exclaims. As for whites, she claims that when it comes down to it, her all-time favourite is a rich Meursault – "preferably from Arnaud Ente" (arguably Burgundy's brightest rising star).
Ellen does confess to wine enthusiasms which may change on a daily basis. "For me", she says, " it depends on my mood...In this precise moment I would love to have a glass of Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Reserve Blanco, maybe vintage 2001. Love this!" – of the very rich, intense and very dry Spaniard.
Like Soren Polonius, head somm of the Esperanto group and a colleague of hers, Ellen recommends other Code38 members try the Palo Cortado Encrucijado from Bodegas Cota 45 in Spain's Jerez. "You have the savoury, nutty notes that I love in sherry, but a bit more lighter." She says its intensity goes well with Marcona almonds and pata negra – cured Iberian ham – "but also fits very well with a grilled lobster tail, topped with lard and a jus made of roasted shellfish and pork," – a food-pairing suggestion very similar to Soren's as well. (And the trouble with this cross between sherry and table wine is, outside its provenance, that it's so hard to find!)
Ellen's Code38 makes her work "easier and more elegant every day at Restaurant Esperanto." She adds that the wine knife also makes her feel safe when she is on stage in a competition. "You really feel the quality", she says, "and you know that the knife is sharp!"