Burgundy That’ll Blow Your Mind (without breaking the bank)

by Hailey

“Burgundian” wines are found across the world, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon to Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. The fact that such a (comparatively) tiny French region has so much global influence isn’t a huge surprise considering the historical weight that Burgundy carries in the wine world. It was one of the first regions of the world to meticulously plot exceptional sites for vines (thank you, Cistercian monks!), and is the country with arguably the most influential legal system for classifying wines and the areas they come from. Not to mention, the term terroir – the buzziest of wine buzz words – is associated with Burgundy more than almost any other wine producing region. Yet the reality of wines from Burgundy is that they aren’t always that accessible to the general public. Thanks to their position as one of the “classic” wine regions of the world, these bottles often go for a pretty penny, and climate change is only exacerbating the problem. So, you might ask (as I have often asked myself), how is the average Joe supposed to explore and enjoy these wines? 

Earlier this month, I had the absolute pleasure of going on a weeklong tour of the five côtes of Burgundy, thanks to Somm Foundation and Bertrand’s Wines. The emphasis of the trip was to highlight producers and sub-appellations that A) are experiencing a bit of a renaissance or are otherwise not fully on the map, and B) are incredible examples of Burgundy wines at a more affordable price. Unfortunately, not everything I tasted is available in the Midwest market, but luckily France 44 has some killer bottlings that can act as perfect substitutes.  

Starting in the northernmost part of Burgundy is Domaine La Croix Montjoie, in the Vézelay AOC within Chablis. If you’ve never heard of Vézelay (I won’t judge you if you haven‘t – it’s not all that well known!), the main thing to know is that it’s a historic region with a rollercoaster history. Prior to Phylloxera in the late 1800’s, Vézelay was an area that was pretty lush with vines, and a fairly regarded one at that. When those damned vine louses bombarded the region, it was almost entirely wiped out – even as late as 1960, only a couple of hectares remained. A decade later, a renaissance began to take hold, with individual producers putting in tireless effort to increase plantings and produce quality bottlings.  

La Croix Montjoie ‘L’Elegante’ Bougogne Vezelay

Winemakers Sophie and Matthieu Woillez are prime examples of how this renaissance is continuing and evolving today. They founded their winery in 2009, converting what was once a cow barn into their production site. Their ‘l’élégante’ bottling is a showcase of their philosophy: minimal intervention winemaking to produce fresh, crisp wines that are true expressions of terroir. Expect menthol and acacia aromatics with lemon, supple pear, and peachy fruitiness. Ageing in old oak adds a quiet touch of spiciness alongside other subtle savory notes of almond and brioche. Perfect for the hot weather we’re experiencing, or alongside fish in papillote, chicken in cream sauce, or goat cheese.  

Baptiste Guyot Bourgogne Rouge

Moving a touch South to the Côte de Beaune, we find one of our best value Burgundies in house – Domaine Baptiste Guyot Bourgogne Rouge. As a ‘Bourgogne’ classified wine, grapes may be sourced from anywhere in Burgundy, but this bottle pulls from plots focused in Northern Beaune. The Domaine was originally founded in the 1800s and was in a state of disrepair by the time Guyot took over, with only 2 hectares of vines remaining. After essentially restarting it in its entirety and making the shift to sustainable practices, the first vintage was put out in 2011. This wine is light, easy, and juicy but with all of the preserving acidity that you want and a nose full of rose petals. Go to town with a glass of this and a plate loaded with snacks and I promise, you’ll be happy as a clam. 

Further South still, within the Côte Challonais, is Rully. Like Vézelay, it was affected particularly badly by both Phylloxera and the World Wars, but Rully is experiencing a lot of growth right now. That means that wines are only increasing in quality, while prices haven’t quite caught up yet. The particular area that this wine is coming from is known for having brown or limey soils with very little clay: if you’re the type of nerd that I am, you might know that wines coming from clay soils tend to carry more weight and power, whereas those from limestone are more mineral driven, fresh, and often have more aromatics. If you’re a normal person who doesn’t spend hours reading about soil types in their free time, now you know! 

Maison Chanzy Rully et Rosey Rouge

Maison Chanzy’s ‘Rully en Rosey’ is more the latter, but with a surprising amount of tannic oomph. Rully en Rosey is the highest elevation site in Rully, so temperatures are cooler here. In the wine, this translates to crisp acidity and a bit of tension, while also preserving a beautiful herbaceous and red blossom profile on the nose. 40-year-old vines lend some concentration of fruit – think ripe strawberry and black cherry, while 10 months aging in large oak barrels helps to soften the tannins a touch and gives a palate full of earth and baking spice. This is a super food friendly wine: grilled duck breast, sweetbreads, and anything umami-rich will be perfect matches the fuller texture and higher acidity of this wine. 

Chateau de la Greffiere Macon La Roche Vineuse

Last but not least is Château de la Greffiére’s Mâcon La Roche Vineuse Vielles Vignes. Located within the Mâconnais (the most Southerly of Burgundy appellations before Beaujolais) and just North of Pouilly Fuisse, this wine starts to hint more towards the style of Southern French wines. The climate here is indeed a bit more Provencal, with warmer sun exposure resulting in plumper fruit flavors and a richer palate. Heavy white marls dominate the soils in La Roche Vineuse, which, you now know, is a contributing factor to some of the weight in the wine. Don’t be fooled though! While you’ll notice a honeyed, buttery brioche quality in this wine, this is no California Chardonnay – it’s still full of bright notes of mango, zesty pear, peach, and a burst of blossoms on the nose. Enjoy this baby as an aperitif, or alongside Jambon de Bayonne, shellfish, or with a hefty charcuterie board. 

And there you have it! Go forth, rejoice, and drink Burgundy! Because while you can always spend a hundred dollars on a bottle, sometimes it’s a lot nicer to find those that won’t break your bank, but will still blow your mind. 

Summer Ginspiration

by Tom

Looking for some Ginspiration? We have you covered!

The weather is finally warm, the sun is shining, and gin season is in full swing. We’ve all got our stand-bys, go-tos, and classics for gin cocktails, but if you’re looking for something different to spice up your gin game, we’ve got a few fun ideas…

Hakuto Japanese Gin

Japan has emerged as a prominent location for a few of our best selling gins. A few follow very similar botanical builds: yuzu peel, sansho pepper, green tea, and cherry blossom. Two things separate The Hakuto: Japanese Nashi Pears and the intensity of the yuzu peel. The nose has huge citrus zest and the pear comes across afterwards cooling it off a bit. It works great with lime and a splash of tonic or soda but where it really shines is in a negroni. The citrus and fruit show up well wile being accented by a lighter bitter like a Cappelletti or Negroni Aperitivo. Here’s a recipe:

The Hakuto Negroni

  • 1oz Hakuto Gin
  • 1oz Fot-Li Spanish Vermut
  • 1oz Negroni Apertivo (similar to Aperol, but better!)

Stir with ice, strain into a coupe or rocks glass, and add a twist of citrus peel.

Bimini Coconut Gin

Bimini is a gin distillery out of Maine making a fresh take on American gin where they are toning the juniper down while enhancing flavors of grapefruit, coriander, and hops. Bartenders took notice of the gin’s citrus-forward flavors and began substituting it for light rum in tiki drinks, leading the company to make a coconut fat-washed version of their gin (essentially, the gin is combined with coconut oil and strained).  This is not a coconut bomb, no fake flavorings or additives have been added. It is fresh and tropical but still very much gin. It makes killer classic cocktails, gin and tiki alike. Here’s a recipe for an Army Navy, a gin riff on a Mai Tai:

Bimini Army Navy

  • 2oz Bimini Coconut Gin
  • 1oz Lemon Juice
  • ¾oz Liber & Co. Orgeat (basically almond simple syrup)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake with ice, strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with a twist of grapefruit peel.

Cotswold Old Tom Gin

Old Tom Gins have a complicated and storied past, but to boil it down, they date back to the 18th century when England was consuming boatloads of poorly-made gin. Many were sweetened with a pinch with sugar or licorice root just to soften their rough edges, but the sweetener also nicely balanced the citrus and juniper flavors. The name “Old Tom” now can connote a wide range of styles, including some that are barrel-aged, but almost all are richer and slightly sweeter than your typical London Dry. Cotswold is a fresh take on an old classic, using licorice to lend a soft sweetness, a bit of fresh ginger, orange citrus and classic cardamom. It’s perfect on its own but it also makes a stunning gin and tonic and a super refreshing Tom Collins. Our pick is the ultimate old-guy drink, gin and bitters:

Gin-n-Bitters

  • 2oz Cotswold Old Tom Gin
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters

Combine ingredients in a rocks glass with a large ice cube.

Don’t Sleep on Pale Ale

by Bennett

American pale ales are the footing beneath the foundation of American craft beer. And yet, they go mostly uncelebrated. Omnipresent, but lingering in the shadows of a well-focused spotlight on their higher gravity sibling, IPA (India Pale Ale). Pale ale, originally a vague blanket term used by 18th century English brewers, encompassed all top fermented ales that weren’t dark in color. Thankfully, the progress of beer has further delineated this category into distinct styles. 

Craft-brewed pale ales materialized in the ‘70s when American homebrewers and microbreweries combined English brewing knowledge with newfangled, expressive American hops. It was a pivotal era in our country’s history, filled with economic and political uncertainty, social activism and most importantly for brewers, individualism—a tenet of the craft beer ideology—focus on self reliance and the freedom of choice. This zeitgeist inspired early craft brewers to challenge mediocrity.

Sierra Nevada first expanded the minds of beer drinkers in 1980 when they introduced their now iconic Cascade-hopped Pale Ale. During a period of diminished choice for beer drinkers, it was quickly recognized by locals as a beacon of bitter hop flavor in the sea of macro-lager mundanity. A piney citrus aroma and bracing bitterness showcased the exciting potential for the new American hop varieties coming out of Yakima Valley. Along with Centennial and Columbus, Cascade became known as one of the three “C hops” that were so fundamental in the progress of American craft beer. These dual-purpose hops were great for bittering and aroma, and effused more intriguing characteristics than their European counterparts.

Over the years, ballooning interest in these flavorful American-hopped beers has led to a sort-of race to the top of hoppy extremes. Pale ales begat American IPAs, Imperial IPAs, Triple IPAs, and the all-popular hazy New England-style IPAs that we are so captivated by today. Though outnumbered by their bigger siblings, pale ales are making a comeback. The finest examples deliver equally exciting hop character and superior drinkability, perfect for the summer ahead. So let’s raise our glasses to the style that got us here!

One of the newer entries into our Market, Daisy Cutter is brewed in Chicago but west coast by nature. Dank and citrusy hops with a touch of tropical flare balance a light biscuit-y malt profile and dry, bitter finish.

Conveniently dubbed “a pale ale in an IPA world” by the people at Fair State, a perfectly suitable description for the topic of this blog. Brewed in collaboration with Asheville’s Burial Beer, this pale ale features the yet-to-be-named experimental HBC 630 hops, a proper nod to the advancements in hop breeding over the years. Candied fruit aromas with flavors of berry, peach and a snappy clean finish.

One of our new favorite pale ales at the store. This Citra and Citra Cryo-hopped hazy pale is fluffy soft on the palate with pulpy tropical fruit character and a gently bitter finish.

The progenitor of the style, the beer that made hops famous. It’s always a great beer to come back to. Perfect balance for a recipe that hasn’t changed since its inception 42 years ago. Pine, citrus and a clean pale malt profile for ultimate crushability.

You’re likely familiar with this cooler staple but let me remind you if not. False Pattern is brewed with a whole lotta oats thanks to their nifty mash filter, and hopped with bunches of Mosaic and Simcoe hops. Silky smooth body and juicy hop character have made this a Minnesota favorite.

Summertime, and the Livin’ Is N/A

by Tashi

This past weekend I went camping at a music festival and brought along an entire mocktail bar set up to share with fellow attendees.  I learned a lot about what people are looking for in their N/A options, and came up with some fun and creative recipes I’m going to share with you!  My mocktail bar was a huge hit and I am going to continue to do this for other festivals and camping trips I have planned this year.  I truly believe in the importance of offering NA options at festivals, events, and bars and hope this endeavor brought about more awareness about the need to offer non-alcoholic options to truly be an inclusive space.

I got this idea after seeing store reports recently when we discovered that our non-alcoholic sales have doubled in the past year!  This means more and more customers are either going alcohol free or choosing more non-alcoholic options to cut back on their alcohol intake, and we are here for it!  I’m taking a break from alcohol myself as well, but don’t worry, I’m still tasting our products and can lead you around the liquor aisles no problem.  Sometimes we just need a break to reset and that’s okay!  I’ve been working hard to research new N/A products to carry, and we will be offering some new and exciting options soon.  In the meantime, I’ve remixed the non-alcoholic sampler kit with different products that will satisfy those summertime vibes.  This box will be perfect to bring to your next campfire or BBQ, and of course includes two of each product so you can share with friends.

First we had to have some summer beers.  I’m super excited to have my favorite N/A beer in this kit, Untitled Art’s Florida Weisse – an N/A sour beer that will not disappoint!  We also added Athletic Brewing’s Upside Dawn, a light golden ale easy for drinking.  We’re still obsessed with Töst so we included their other flavor, which is made with white tea, white cranberry, and ginger.  Lyre’s in one of the newest additions to the N/A liquor section that I am absolutely obsessed with so I had to include their Dark ‘N Spicy premixed drink.  Their take on a dark and stormy made with two of their non-alcoholic rums, ginger beer, and lime zest.  This is absolutely delicious and my fridge has been stocked with them since we brought them in!  To round out the kit we’ve included Raspberry Superior Switchel.  Switchel is an apple cider vinegar based drink that’s carbonated, good for your tummy, and incredibly refreshing.  Switchel also makes for a good mixer if you’re not totally alcohol free.  I think you’ll really enjoy the summer remix sampler kit, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for new products in our N/A section over the next few months!

Lastly, as promised, I want to share some of my personal creations for you to use as inspiration over the summer.  These were huge hits at my mocktail bar.  Cheers!

LITTLE HOPPY SHRUB

1 bottle Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher

1 oz Sharab Shrub of your choice

Fill your cup with Hoppy Refresher and add your favorite flavor of Sharab Shrub to taste.  I personally love making this with their Blueberry Poblano or Raspberry flavor.

 

MOCKTAIL MAVEN ORIGINAL

Coconut Aloe Vera Juice

Cranberry Juice

Tonic Water or Club Soda

Put ice in a cup and fill halfway with Coconut Aloe Vera Juice, a fourth with cranberry juice, and top with your choice of tonic water or club soda.  Use this recipe to play around with your favorite juices and flavor combos to come up with a sparkling mocktail of your own!

Trending Now: Enlightened Drinking (And Eating)

by Karina

Disclaimer: This op-ed piece is not about the political correctness of which glassware to use for various types of wine or occasions. The subject of glassware is merely meant to illustrate various attitudes toward the wine world as a whole. 

We’re ruled by fashion. The wine world is just as caught up in it as any other industry. From the color and style of wine we choose to the vessel we drink it out of (to even choosing to drink wine at all), the pendulum is in constant motion from trend to trend. 

Punch Drink Magazine recently put out an article about the rise of the “tavern glass” as opposed to drinking out of fancy, hifalutin (and breakable) Riedel wine stems. My first thought is, “Absolutely.” Spend more time with the wine in your mouth instead of looking at it through expensive crystal. We have no time for the gatekeepers and the rule makers of the wine world who try to sell wine as a status symbol. Wine to me is communal—a catalyst in bringing people together, in a similar (but not identical) way that food does. Wine nourishes; it is not supposed to be exploited and twisted and manipulated just to suit a bank account somewhere.  

But then I consider my role as a wine educator. If wine, glassware, and the general attitude toward wine are all crashing down off their lofted pedestals, will wine education also get the hook offstage? If the world is trending toward a “don’t think, just drink” mantra, is there any sense in learning about maximum vineyard yields, or soil types, or cold soaking, or century-old barrels that outlive the winemaker who uses them? Drink, be merry, and… don’t think too much? 

And yet, I think that perhaps the pendulum isn’t exactly swinging back the way it came—back to the weird post-Prohibition era when all we drank was Thunderbird and Carlo Rossi Hearty Burgundy, which gave way to all the obscene flavors and colors of Boone’s Farm.  

I think the pendulum might be finding a third path. Much of the wine world has fallen head-over-heels for things like natural wine and orange wine. We haven’t stopped questioning what went into our wine, who made it, where it came from. We shell out on a new pét nat without blinking an eye, or for the latest Martha Stoumen, or on a Teroldego we’ve been pining after. Institutions like WSET are seeing all-time highs in enrollment numbers around the world for those wanting formalized wine education.  

I love that we’re headed for educated, thoughtful drinking out of Mason jars. But I also love that you spent $90 on a single Zalto glass. If you’ve found pleasure in it, then it was worth it. I love that all your glassware was dirty, so you just drank from the bottle. I love that all your glassware was clean, but you drank from the bottle anyways. 

But most of all, I love that you had your wine atlas open as you drank. I love that you did a bottle share with your work friends and you talked about what you were smelling, tasting, experiencing. I love that you didn’t care about using the “right” wine lingo (is there such a thing?) because you were too invested in experiencing the wine on your own terms. I love that someone brought Heggie’s pizza, someone else brought pork rillettes, and you brought a bag of Doritos to dip in Raclette fondue. I love all of that. 

Wine education is not supposed to be a tool to wield power over others. Just like we do with so much of Nature, humans have squeezed this simple agricultural product into a mysterious, intimidating, intangible thing meant only for certain classes of society. But in the meantime, we also stumbled unwittingly into art, cultural intricacies, history, lore and legends, geological fascinations, and all the complexities Nature lays out for us to discover. 

If the pendulum is swinging, I’m hopeful that it’s pioneering a new direction. This “enlightened drinking for the masses” trend is fascinating, joyful, and so powerfully rewarding. Fill up that red Solo cup, grab your Chex Mix, and crack that nerdy reference book open. Drink with joyful curiosity, and don’t let anybody tell you you’re doing it wrong. 

If you’ve made it this far down the enlightened drinking path, here’s your reward: keep an eye out for exciting things happening in June. If you’ve been to France 44 in the last month or so, you’ll know that we’ve got major construction happening as we build our new Event Space. But in the meantime, we’re bringing our public classes and events out into the world! Subscribe to our Dojour page and you’ll be the first to know what’s on the horizon. 

And don’t forget the cheese. If the wine world thinks it’s hot stuff with all their certifications and pins, it could maybe learn a thing or two from the cheese world. Cheese pros are fanatic. Instead of competing for the most pieces of paper or most letters behind their names, cheese pros are all about relationships and connections (and delightfully bizarre competitions). It’s pretty amazing that we’re able to offer experiences at France 44 like deep-dive classes into funky washed rind cheeses, artisan English cheddars, or meet people like Andy Hatch of Pleasant Ridge or David Lockwood of Neal’s Yard Dairy, right here in Minneapolis. 

The 10th Annual DZTE Cheese Tasting & Silent Auction will be held Sunday, May 10 from 6-8pm.

The Daphne Zepos Teaching Endowment is an incredible non-profit we’re throwing a fundraiser for in a couple weeks. Daphne passed away in 2012, but she was nothing short of a zealot who spread the gospel of cheese everywhere she went, creating thousands of passionate cheese disciples throughout her many years of teaching and selling cheese. Our own France 44 Cheese Shop probably would not exist without her influence, and it’s because of her legacy that the DZTE sets up cheese professionals with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to travel, learn, study, and bring back knowledge to share with the rest of the cheese-crazy world. 

And if you’ve made it this far down this rabbit hole of a blog, you have no choice but to buy a ticket to the Wine & Cheese Tasting event we’re throwing in support of DZTE. You owe it to a future of learning about and eating delicious, unique, incredible cheese. 

 

Beer Style Highlight: The Oak, The Barrel, The Funky

by Kayla

Traditionally, brewers who wanted to make specialty wood aged beers, used oak casks and barrels to take their base beer and put a unique twist on it. Using things like a foeder (pronounced food-er), a larger vertical or horizontal oak barrel that beer can be aged or fermented in. It’s a simple way to infuse a level of oakiness in beer that’s less intense and achieved at a slower rate than barrel aging. Historically in Europe they used french oak, or cypress to make the foeders. Today in the US, they use American white oak with a blend depending on the preferred flavor outcome. Portage Brewing Company from Walker Minnesota collaborated with Bent Paddle Brewing from Duluth Minnesota to make a oak fermented Maibock called Tallest of Trees. They use traditional European Pilsner, Munich, Vienna and Carefa 3 Special malts from Weyermann® Czech Saaz, Hallertau Mittelfruh hops, house lager yeast and American white oak foeder. This combination gives the classic Maibock a unique twist. Tannins from the wood are balanced from the biscuit, toasted bready malts and the earthy, herbal, and slightly spicy notes from the hops, giving this beer a refreshing finish. 6.9% ABV in 16oz 4pks for $13.99

If the brewer wanted to incorporate a charred then, much like roasting malt it depends on the type of wood and how long it’s charred. Flavors of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, coffee, ect will come through and those types of flavors are best used in barrels that contain alcohol, like wine, port, sherry, madeira, bourbon, rum or tequila. These types of barrels benefit from beers with a fuller body and higher alcohol that use malts having chocolate, roasty, coffee, toasted break with the addition of oxidation to enhance the levels of both the base beer and the barrel. Revolution Brewing from Chicago, Illinois makes an Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged for 1 year in American bourbon barrels named Deth’s Tar. The use of English malts in the beer brings flavors of vanilla, toasted coconut, and caramel candy for a full body but silky mouthfeel. At 14.8% this beer is almost too easy to drink during those cold spring days when we’re looking forward to summer coming. 12 oz can for $6.99

Inspired by Belgian wild fruited ales, like Flanders red, Oud Bruin, Gose or Berliner Weisse with fruit addition, modern US craft brewers are making their own interpretations. using wild ale yeasts and microorganisms like Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces. With the addition of fruit, herbs or spices it really helps bring uniqueness to the beer. Funk Factory Geuzeria in Madison Wisconsin makes a Blackberry Meerts fermented in french oak foeders with wild yeast. They take second runnings of a Lambic and use Pilsner malt, raw wheat, Saaz hops, using a turbid mash and a long boil before the foeder fermentation and finally, fermenting it on blackberries for 2 months before bottle conditioning. The beer has a brightness from the fruit, with a clean, dry finish that balances out the beer perfectly. This sour is 4.5% and comes in a 750ml bottle for $17.99

The Ultimate Easter-Passover Pairing Post

Ah, the inevitable Passover/Easter pairing post. What does go with Easter ham? What even is Kosher wine? Does the Pope sip in the woods? These and many more questions we’ll try to answer, while doing some very scientific, highly-researched, definitely not off-the-cuff opinion-based reporting on the best wines, spirits, and beers to pair with your holiday meal. To guide you through the morass, we’ve assembled two experts in everything related to springtime feasting:

Playing for the Jews, it’s Sam Weisberg — wine and spirits specialist, Slivovitz enthusiast, and former theater kid who definitely loved Passover the most out of all of the other holidays because of all the singing he got to do at the dinner table.


On Christ’s team, we’ve got Josh Timmerman — wine specialist, social media mogul, fan of cocktails with less than three ingredients, and that guy from church who built his own deck and always seems really friendly but you can never remember his name.


* A final disclosure; not all of the products we are going to recommend are certified Kosher or Kosher for Passover. If you keep strict kashrut, we do carry a small selection of dry Israeli wines which make that cut, plus the obligatory Manischewitz. Ok, let’s get going!!

ROUND ONE: WINE

Passover

Easter

Georgian wine has always made sense to me for Passover pairings. Maybe it’s the similarities between Georgian cuisine and the traditional Seder table mains (lots of spiced meat?) or maybe it’s just my made up sense of wines from the “Ancient World” being closer to what my ancestors might’ve had on their table. Either way, this savory, apricot-like amber wine is a knockout with a huge range of foods, especially chicken dishes.

This Israeli Cab is a great choice for those keeping strict kashrut, as it is both normal-Kosher and Kosher for Passover, but it also is a delicious wine in its own right. Produced on the slopes above the Sea of Galilee, it’s a fresher, lighter style of Cabernet than California drinkers might be used to. 

Nebbiolo, with its occasionally rusty color and heady aromas, seems like the perfect wine to use for a holiday that does a lot of (metaphorical!) conflating of blood and wine. For a Passover brisket, you’d be hard pressed to find a better pairing than Angelo Negro’s Roero, a killer deal for Piedmont Nebbiolo. If you need a bottle to bring to a religiously-mixed celebration, it’d probably go quite well with Easter ham, too.

This rose of Grenache is plush, ripe, and bursting with strawberry fruit. Its got enough weight to stand up to the heavy-hitters on the Easter table–ham, turkey, and the like–but it’s still fresh and light enough to give a definite summertime-is-here vibe. From an awesome producer in Central California, Cruess, this is a great domestic rose that would be the perfect way to start off your Sunday supper.

This unique white blend from Southern France is made by an organic producer called Maison Ventenac. Located in the middle-ground between Southern and Southwestern France, the winery works with an eclectic mix of grapes that go into highly unique blends. This Colombard-Chenin blend is one such example; yellow apple and subtle chamomile notes mingle here to create an absolutely delicious white that is bright, fresh, and full of simple joy. 

A great wine, from a great winemaker, from a great region, from a great vintage can be exceedingly difficult to find, especially less than $50. The Tondonia is an exceptional wine and has long been one of my favorites, period. Though it is over a decade old, it’s still unbelievably vibrant and vivacious. Its rustic dark cherry and plum notes play well with traditional Easter ham or lamb, but it pairs well with a shockingly wide range of dishes. 

ROUND TWO: SPIRITS

Passover

Easter

If you have any Eastern European heritage whatsoever, Jewish or not, slivovitz probably graced your holiday table at some point in history. A bracing distillate of plums, this clocks in at 50% ABV and makes you feel very well equipped to be “living in unprecedented times.” With its alluringly tasty almond-tinged flavor and surprisingly strong, burns-all-the-way-down texture, it’s straight-up Biblical. Jelinek, based in the Czech Republic, has long been known for its Kosher booze, and makes a sterling example.

I drink slivovitz neat, and recommend you do as well. However, it’s also got potential in a few different martini variations, and makes a nice highball. Most important, however, is that it’s consumed in very small glasses with very beloved people.

Although there isn’t a traditional liquor for Easter, the Empress 1908 Gin embodies the season well. It’s citrus, blossom, and ginger characteristics offer a modern take to the more traditional juniper-driven style of gin. The stunning purple-blue color is naturally derived from the Butterfly Pea Blossom, and when combined with citrus the gin changes color to a lovely lavender-pink. This blend of colors is reminiscent of dying easter eggs as a child (Who am I kidding? I still dye eggs). It’s the perfect ingredient to add a colorful (literally) take to a classic French 75 for your Easter lunch. Try like this:
  • 1 oz Empress 1908 Gin
  • 1/2 oz Lemon Juice 
  • Simple Syrup to taste (couple dashes)
  • 2 oz Sparkling wine (Flora Prosecco would be great)
Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain into Champagne flute and top with sparkling wine and a lemon twist. 

ROUND THREE: BEER?

Passover

Easter

+1 for Easter! Crisp, clean, with a pleasant hoppy bitterness, Fair State hit it out of the park on this one. Why would you need anything else??? 

Single Barrel Season: On the Bourbon Trail with Tashi

by Tashi

Column still at the Angel’s Envy Distillery

In March I took my first France 44 trip to Kentucky with our liquor buyer, Tom, to help pick out two single barrels for the store.  I was super excited for the opportunity to experience the bourbon trail and get some insider knowledge, so I tried to pack in as much as possible (much to Tom’s annoyance, I’m sure).  We started with a vegan lunch in Louisville as soon as we landed, and had what ended up being a private tasting at Old Forester – always gotta love when no one else shows up and you get some one on one time with the experts!  Then we went to Angel’s Envy for a tour and tasting which was the first time I had toured a distillery of that size, and everything I’d studied in my WSET Spirits 2 Certification finally all clicked into place.  Taking my spirits test two weeks before this trip made March quite the month for me!  Then we bopped around for a bit to kill time while we waited to get picked up by the Libation Project crew.  We ended our evening with dinner and drinks with everyone that had traveled from Minnesota with Libation to pick barrels.

Barton Distillery

Day two we started bright and early with a tour of Barton Distillery.  This was my favorite tour because Barton has been around for a long time and their campus is huge and lived in and gives you a real taste of how long whiskey has been around.  We carry 1792 and Very Old Barton from the Barton Distillery, and were able to sample a couple other products that are only available at the distillery, including a Bourbon Ball Chocolate Cream liqueur!  Fun fact, no one knows why the owner named the distillery Barton.  It isn’t a family name, but rumors say he lost a bet to a Barton but this is unconfirmed.  The coolest part about this tour was being able to sample neutral spirit right off the still!  It was sweeter than I expected and a really cool learning experience, but it was a little too early for me to sample more than a little sip.

After a quick lunch we were off to [redacted] to pick out two single barrels.  We got a tour of the distillery and they took some neutral spirit off the still for us to smell.  If you rub your hands together really fast with the neutral spirit on them you can smell all the unique characteristics of the grains, and sanitize your hands!  After the tour we got set up with our samples.  We had three barrels of [redacted] to pick from, and five barrels of [redacted].  I used the tasting techniques I learned in my WSET class and was apparently too slow for Tom because he was always waiting for me to finish and give my opinion!  When I tried the third sample of [redacted] I knew it was the one.  I even told Tom that’s the one but I’ll finish the five samples anyway!  He agreed with my pick so I’m incredibly excited to share that our [redacted] pick was mine! What a cool journey working at France 44 has been! Last stop we had for the day was a tasting at Heaven Hill.  We carry a lot of Heaven Hill which includes Rittenhouse, Elijah Craig, Mellow Corn, Bernheim, Larceny, Pikesville, and Evan Williams.  I wish we could have gotten a tour of the grounds but unfortunately that did not work out, but we did take a little stroll to look at things.  And we were blessed with some good clouds.

Heaven Hill, feat. CLOUDS
Here we are at [REDACTED] distillers!
Barton exterior
The Brough Brothers distillery

Our last day in Kentucky we headed back to Louisville bright and early for a tour of  Brough Brothers Distillery, the first black-owned distillery in Kentucky!  I got us hooked up with a tour during the week when they normally aren’t offered, and we lucked out with a tour from Bryson, one of the brothers himself!  It was really cool to learn about their mission and see what they’ve been working on.  Their goal is to make bourbon more approachable to the younger crowd, and lead their community to show that anything is possible when you set your mind to it.  Bryson had us try their bourbon with lemonade, and said it was his favorite summer drink – especially while mowing the grass.  I fully plan on drinking this all summer myself, it was very refreshing!  Not to ruin any surprises, but we will hopefully have a new product of theirs on the shelf late spring!  So keep your eyes peeled for a funky new addition to the Brough Brothers lineup.

 

 

The Doggos in question

After our tour we had lunch with our Libation Project rep, Jon, and headed to the airport.  Please enjoy this picture of the best doggos hanging out on their stoop a few doors down from our lunch spot.

This trip was an amazing learning opportunity for me.  As I mentioned, the timing of this trip right after I had studied for my WSET Spirits Level 2 Certification was perfect.  I was able to take everything I studied in text form and see it happening in real life.  I was able to retain more information from the tours, use the proper tasting method to learn more about what I was sampling, and help make two really tasty picks for our single barrel selections!  It’s crazy to think we didn’t make it even halfway through bourbon trail even though I filled our itinerary with as much as possible.  I can’t wait for more adventures and learning opportunities on the horizon with France 44!

 

 

 

Stocking Your Bar: New Mixing-Priced Spirits

By Sam

I’m always thrilled to talk about spirits that represent a bang for your buck. After all, most of the hard liquor produced in the world is destined for the bottom-shelf of a liquor store or the well of a bar. Getting a bottle of whiskey down to dive-bar prices requires either a massively efficient distilling operation and/or bargain-basement-priced raw material. Sadly, in either case, the quest for a cheap(er) bottle of booze can lead to subpar quality.

But! Sometimes distillers really make magic happen, crafting a bottle (or bottles) that manages to hit the sweet spot of high-quality booze at a reasonable price. Those bottles are the prize jewels of bartenders everywhere, who rely on them to create craft cocktails that are not horribly overpriced. Bottles like these have a place on the home bar too: they’re perfect for the Daiquiris, Manhattans, and whiskey-sodas that make up so many simple, at-home happy hours; ready to be deployed when you don’t really need to splurge, you just need a good drink.

Here are a couple great-value bottles that have recently landed in our spirits section.

 

 

Etesia Spirits

Produced by Don Ciccio & Figli, a Washington, D.C.-based operation known for their riffs on classic Italian liqueurs, this line of affordably priced whiskey, gin, and vodka is going to be my new go-to when making cocktails for a crowd. The rye whiskey and vodka are particularly good, both showing fabulous value for their category. The whiskey has clear spicy, rye character (albeit on the sweeter, softer side of things) and would certainly stand up well in a Manhattan. The vodka is maybe even more impressive, a wheat-based, neutral style that has surprisingly clean, smooth character for being in the sub-$20 range.

 

 

Clairin Communal

Clairin is the most popular spirit of Haiti, made from raw sugarcane juice that is left to ferment over a long period, then distilled on rustic pot-stills. It is still very much an artisanal product, made village-by-village by individual distillers whose production is mostly sold locally. In some way, you could think of it as the mezcal of the rum world—a highly culturally-specific distilling tradition that is just now becoming popular outside of its area of origin. For the past few year, La Maison & Velier has been importing a selection of single-producer clairins to the U.S. market, and their latest feature is Clairin Communal—a blend made by combining multiple producers. It’s less funky and intense than some of its single-producer cousins, and it’s bottled at slightly lower proof. All in all, it’s a more affordable, mixable version of an incredibly unique spirit, and would be absolute fire in a Daiquiri.

 

 

Brandy Saint Louise

I’m always skeptical of a cocktail that calls for Cognac in the recipe. I’m not an English aristocrat; why should I splurge for fancy-brandy in my Sidecar when I’m just going to be drowning it in lemon juice? Of course, cocktail fiends everywhere will disagree with me, claiming that Cognac lends an oh-so-subtle dried fruit and spice character that simply can’t be matched by the swill brandies produced elsewhere. Fine. Whatever! I’ll get myself a bottle of Brandy Saint-Louise, a new product—formulated by and for bartenders—that has bravely sallied forth into this morass to deliver *not quite Cognac* to the masses. What is it? Well, it’s French, it’s made near Cognac, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a difference in the production process between the two. I thought it was lovely, delicate, and stood up just dandy in a Sidecar.

 

 

Drapo 50ML Vermouths

I love Vermouth. A lot. I have absolutely no problem getting through a full bottle of the stuff before it spoils. (And it does spoil! Put it in the fridge, now!!) My Achilles’ Heel, however, is dry vermouth. I have no less love for it, but I don’t move through it quite as fast. And, when my hankering for a murderously-cold Martini comes around about once a month, I don’t want to pretend that I’m going to go through even a half-bottle of dry vermouth—I just want the one cocktail. Luckily, Drapo—an Italian vermouth brand—has begun producing adorably-tiny 50ML bottles of their sweet and dry vermouths. They are perfectly delicious, and ideal for satisfying that dry Martini cravin’.

At the Foot of the Mountain: Piemonte’s Nebbiolo

by Hailey

More so than almost anywhere else in the world, Italian wines are hard to understand. With over 355 grape varieties grown in the country, and some of the oldest wine regions in the world, it doesn’t take long to become overwhelmed with information. Yet when we think of Italian wine, Piedmont is one of the first words to come to mind. 

The region holds a special place in Italian history as having played a leading role in the Italian unification process throughout the 18th century, as well as being the origin of the Italian Industrial Revolution that began at the tail end of the 1800s.  It’s also one of the most well-known and renowned regions within Italy: not only does it hold vinous supremacy thanks to its vast number of fine and prestigious wines (a whopping 17 DOCGs and 42 DOCs), but also in its diversity and quantity of wines produced. Nebbiolo takes the crown here, at least in the number of high-quality wines produced – but wines made from this grape vary quite significantly throughout Piedmont. 

The word Piedmont roughly translates to “foot of the mountain,” a nod to the topography of the region. It’s surrounded on all three sides by mountains: the Alps form the boundary with France on the West, and Switzerland and Vallee d’Aosta to the North; in the Southern part of the region, the Ligurian and Maritime Alps separate Piedmont from France and the Ligurian region within Italy. All of these mountains and hills make up a series three concentric rings (predominantly on the Western side of the region, with the Po Valley nestled in the East), and these mountains and hills are not only a defining characteristic of Piedmont itself, but also play a key role in which grapes are grown where, and how wines from each area of Piedmont present themselves in our glass. It’s the middle band, though, where most vines live. Planted between 500 – 1300 feet in elevation with sun exposure coming in all directions, it’s kind of like heaven on earth for Piedmont’s grapes, with each variety planted in the precise spots in the hills that will suit it best. The last, and most inner band, is the plain, which you can find along the Eastern side of Piedmont. Here, the principal crop is rice, not grapes, as the soil is too flat and fertile to suit quality vine growth. 

Okay, here’s where things start to get more convoluted… Piedmont is organized into four major sub-regions, and within these subregions are clusters of hills. The most important in relation to Nebbiolo are the Monferrato hills, the Langhe hills, the Roero hills, and the Novara and Vercelli hills. To make things even more confusing, the hills are further divided into provinces, which are divided into districts and DOC(G)s.  

The most Northerly of these provinces are the Navara and Vercelli Hills. Here, Nebbiolo goes by a different name: Spanna. The climate is milder, thanks to Lake Maggiore’s and Lake Orta’s moderating influences, and cool air from the alps swoops down to create super austere, high acid wines, while a wide diurnal range allows grapes to fully ripen. In relation to Nebbiolo, there’s two DOCGs to look out for from Northern Piedmont: Gattinara and Ghemme.  

Gattinara and Ghemme are the two most Northerly DOCG’s for Nebbiolo, and the former boasts incredible natural grape growing conditions. The combination of perfect sun exposure, ideal altitudes, and soil mix create deliciously bright and aromatic wines, and thanks to these conditions, Nebbiolo (a very finicky grape!) does well here. Gattinara wines contain a higher percentage of Nebbiolo, a minimum of 90% with the other 10% of the blend being either Vespolina or Uva Rara. The combo of full tannins and high acid means that these babies are a bit crunchy and can take a while to mature. They’re full of all of the classic Nebbiolo notes of tart cherry, strawberry, tar, spice and violet, and are incredibly bright and a bit lighter in color than Piedmonts from more southerly areas of Piedmont, with a lighter body and slightly lower alcohol levels as well. 

The Langhe and Roero hills, within the subregion of Alba, are found in the Southern part of Piedmont. This is where the bulk of France 44’s Piedmont section hails from, so if you frequently scan those shelves these words are probably ringing a bell for you. Besides wine, this part of Piedmont is also well regarded for hazlenuts, white truffles, and chocolate (this is where Nutella was invented!). The Ligurian Sea flanks the Southern part of Piedmont, so the conditions aren’t as brutal here and as a result the wines are much more consistent from year to year, with a fuller body and more alcohol than the wines of Northern Piedmont. Temperatures swing quite a bit between day and night in Alba, meaning the Nebbiolos of these parts are able to retain their signature acidity and are especially aromatic with notes of rose petal and violet bursting from the glass.  

Within the Langhe Hills are the two appellations that are most closely associated with Piedmont: Barolo and Barbaresco. The winemaking philosophy of these regions is often compared to that of Burgundy: these are single varietal wines, with huge importance placed on the village origin of each wine. Most of the time, they are single-vineyard wines that are estate bottled. Vineyards are divided into tiny parcels, and these itty bitty lots of land are generally owned by multiple growers. For all of these parallels, Burgundy wine is nothing like that of Barolo or Barbaresco in character.  

Barolo is known and loved for big, brooding power, but it actually wasn’t until the 1850’s that Paolo Francesco Staglieno created a dry style of Barolo. Prior to this, the area was known for sweet wines. As the drier style became more commonplace, they established themselves as the favorites of aristocrats throughout the area, earning the nickname “king of wines and wine of kings.” These wines do vary from bottle to bottle, though, and it’s mainly due to the type of soil they’re grown on (younger and more fertile Tartonian soils of Western Barolo, producing highly aromatic, elegant, fruitier, and more immediately drinkable wine; or the older, poorer Serravallian soils of the East, which produce way more powerful, robust, structured wines) or the style they’re made in (modern, with more fruity characters and more noticeable oak usage; or traditional, with more austerity and neutral, Slavonian oak usage). The Fantino family’s 2013 Barolo Bussia Cascina Dardi is a great example of a Barolo with both power and fruit, with hints of tobacco, leather, and a distinct richness added into the mix. Decant it and it’ll wow you with a surprisingly medium body and beautifully integrated tannins, or let it rest in your cellar and let the flavors morph more into dried fig, dried rose and violet, nutmeg, leather, game and meat.  

Like Barolo, Barbaresco wines are 100% Nebbiolo. Elevation is lower here, and the Tanaro River is also closer, so the climate is a bit warmer than Barolo and grapes ripen fully with more ease and consistency. Beyond that, the terrain itself is more homogenous, so wines from commune to commune don’t vary as significantly as in Barolo. While both Barolo and Barbaresco are full of power and have lots of ageing potential, Barbaresco tends to be just a touch lighter, less austere, and more immediately approachable than many Barolos. If you’re looking for something immediately drinkable that still has some persuasive tannic body, Barbaresco is a great direction to go. The 2018 Luigi Giordano Barbaresco ‘Cavanna’ in particular is a staff favorite, so if we haven’t tried to sell you on it yet, you ought to give it a try! This is another one that you could drink now or cellar for half a decade or so, but drink it now and you’ll find a deliciously herbaceous dried sage quality alongside crushed red flowers and spicy, tart red fruit.  

Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC wines are also varietal wines, pulling from over 30 communes on either side of the Tanaro River, excluding Barolo and Barbaresco. They’re full of wild strawberry, floral aromatics, and a bit of tar or bitter earth, but think of these are the baby sibling to Barolo and Barbaresco. These are lighter, less austere, and much less structured versions of Nebbiolo — perfect for you to get your Nebbiolo fix without breaking the bank too badly. Try the 2018 Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d’Alba and you’ll find an elegant, subtle wine with surprisingly fine tannins and notes of fresh black currant, raspberry, and cranberry. 

Last but certainly not least, the Langhe Nebbiolo DOC is used by Barbaresco and Barolo producers looking to release more approachable expressions of Nebbiolo, with less restrictive rules than would be required in their respective DOCGs. The DOC requires only 85% of the stated varietal to be included in the bottle, so there’s more versatility in blending, with less ageing in oak and bottle. These are some of the most budget friendly bottlings of Nebbiolo, and are great for everyday drinking! My go-to weeknight Nebbiolo is the 2019 Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo — it shows the perfume and aromatics that I love so much about this grape, and while it’s easy-drinking and definitely a fruitier style of Nebbiolo, it still has a decent amount of complexity. Black currant, wild mountain berry, lavender and rose petal are the shining notes here, with hints of blood orange and macerating strawberry on the finish.  

Drink on, friends!