Glühwein, Gløgg, Wassail… Cold Weather’s Best Beverage

Despite having been born and raised in Minnesota, I’m a baby when the cold weather hits. It’s not an unusual sight to see me in a turtleneck with a sweater on top (I’ve even been known to layer my jackets…), and I’m a big fan of long johns and wool socks this time of year. No matter how many layers I pile on, though, there’s nothing quite as warming as a steamy mug of mulled wine – and if you’ve ever wandered the Christmas Markets of Europe or elsewhere, you know this to be true.

Mulled wine has been around pretty much as long as wine has, which is to say, almost forever. It started out as a way to avoid waste – Romans and Greeks were recorded as early at the 2nd century for adding spices to bad batches of wine in order to make them more palatable, and in the cooler months, heating it up as a way to keep warm. As the Romans spread and conquered, they brought with them “Conditum Paradoxum,” a mixture of wine, honey, pepper, bay leaf, saffron, and dates.

By the Middle Ages, it had become a wildly popular beverage for two reasons: one, most of the water wasn’t potable, so people were drinking beer and wine in its place. Two, spiced wine was believed to promote health and avoid illness (a big concern in the wake of the Black Plague, rela). Even royalty was known to enjoy a hot cup of wine or two, with King Henry III of England, Count John IV of Germany, and King Gustav I of Sweden all citing it as one of their favorites. When Christmas Markets popped up in the late 1800’s, mulled wine morphed from the more bitter recipes of the past into the warm, spicy ones we know and love now and quickly became a staple. Today, booths at the markets continue to offer their own distinct recipes.

While the most recognized recipes are a blend of red wine, brandy, cinnamon, citrus, and sugar, recipes are pretty variable depending on where you are, with the types of spices, bases, and fortifying spirits changing depending on culture. In Alsace, white wine (usually Riesling or Pinot Blanc) is swapped for red wine, and star aniseed is a key spice. In Scandinavia, vodka, gin, or akvavit are often used in place of brandy, and cardamom joins the spice blend. In Poland, hot beer is used instead of wine. All to say, it’s a pretty forgiving beverage, so as you make your own mulled wine (or beer, or cider!), you can play with the recipe as much or as little as you want to make it your own.

As far as the spices go, we did the work for you and put together a mulled wine kit (wine sold separately) to help get you through the impending doom that is winter in Minnesota. Each kit contains three sachets of our house spice blend, plus a tried-and-true recipe card to make a traditional batch of glühwein. What you use to fortify is entirely up to you, but might we suggest a liter bottle of Gulp Hablo Garnacha to get the base going?

France 44’s Mulled Wine

1. Place mulled wine sachet into a medium sized pot with 1 liter of red wine and ½ cup of brown sugar.

2. Using a sharp knife or peeler, peel half of one orange and half of one lemon, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible. Place in pot.

3. Juice 1 orange and add to pot.

4. Overmedium heat, warm the mixture, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is just steaming, then reduce to a low simmer. Continue heating for 30 minutes, allowing spices to infuse.

5. Stir in 1 cup of spirit of choice, or 2 cups of tawny port.

6. Strain, garnish with orange wheel and/or cinnamon stick, and serve in heat-proof mugs or teacups. 

Yields 6-8 servings.  

*For a more or less sweet mulled wine, simply adjust the amount of sugar added accordingly. Sub agave or honey for an alternative sweetener. 

 

Hold My Milk, Bro: A Dairy-Free Cocktail Guide

by Tashi Johns

No matter your reason for cutting back or ditching dairy, here are some fun cocktail ideas to keep you warm and fuzzy all winter long.  I’ve included remakes of traditional cocktails with my personal recommendations for dairy free alternatives, plus some new festive cocktails to try!  Trust me, you don’t have to feel like you’re missing out, dairy free alternatives have come a long way and the possibilities are endless.

 
Let’s start with some classics…
 

Baileys Almande Almondmilk Liqueur

Irish Coffee

2 oz Bailey’s Almande Liqueur

1 oz Two Stacks Irish Whiskey

6 oz fresh coffee

Grab an oversized mug and combine all ingredients.

 

 

 

 

  

The Minneapolis Dude

2 oz Du Nord Coffee Liqueur

½ oz Vikre Lake Superior Vodka

Vanilla oat milk (I recommend Oatly)

Fill a low ball glass with ice, add coffee liqueur and vodka, top with vanilla oat milk.

 

 

 

 

 

Eggnog Martini

1 oz Wheatley Vodka

1 oz Dapper Barons Amaretto

1 oz Vegan Eggnog (I recommend Silk)

In a cocktail shaker, add the eggnog, vodka, and amaretto. Add 1 cup ice, shake, and strain into a martini glass.  Garnish with fresh nutmeg and dark chocolate shavings.

 
 

 

 

Other Festive Cocktails…
 

Old Overholt 114 Proof

Orange Chai Whiskey

1 oz Old Overholt 114

1 oz fresh squeezed orange juice

8 oz vanilla almond milk (I recommend Califia Farms)

1 Chai Tea bag

Heat almond milk in a small saucepan, but do not boil. Remove from heat and steep chai tea bag for 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, pour whiskey and orange juice into an oversized mug. When tea is steeped, remove the tea bag. Pour almond chai over whiskey and orange juice.  Stir well and top with a tiny dash of cinnamon. Garnish with an orange slice and a cinnamon stick.

 

 

Christian Bros Sacred Bond BrandyBrandy Milk Punch

2 oz Sacred Bond Brandy

1.5 oz plain soy milk (I recommend Silk)

1 oz Prohibition Simple Syrup

½ vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice, and shake until outside of the shaker is frosty (about 30 seconds). Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with fresh grated nutmeg.

 

 

 

 

…Plus a Bonus (vegan!) Hack

Amaretto Sour

2 oz Disaronno*

1 oz lemon juice

¼ oz Prohibition Simple Syrup

2 tbsp aquafaba (the juice from a can of chickpeas!)

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake vigorously for at least a minute or two so that aquafaba produces foam. Strain into a glass and serve immediately with a garnish of lemon twist and a cherry (we recommend Muddle Me Bourbon Cherries).

*You can use any amaretto you like for these recipes.  I have listed Dapper Barons and Disaronno in these recipes for those who are avoiding animal products entirely.  They are both vegan friendly!

October Cocktail Feature: Spooooooky Cocktails!

Week One 

For October we will be focusing on spoooooky cocktails for all your Halloween shenanigans.  Some might push you to try something a little more complicated, but don’t be scared!  They will be worth the work.  And some will be perfect to share with friends at your next séance or ghoul gathering.  Let those skeletons out of your closet, it’s time to party!

Violet Delights 

Fill a highball glass with ice, add grenadine, lemon juice, gin, top with soda water and a cocktail cherry.


 

Week Two 

We’re going to revisit that bottle of mezcal this week for a spooky smoky cocktail.  This one is a little extra work but will be worth it!  For an extra witchy vibe, repeat a mantra or set some good intentions while you muddle your ingredients.  Or hex someone, we won’t tell.

Kitchen Witch Smash 

In a mixing glass, add blackberries, rosemary, lemon juice and agave nectar. Muddle the ingredients together, squishing everything to release the juices.  Add ice, along with the mezcal and orange bitters.  Stir for 20 seconds and strain over ice into a mason jar. Top with club soda and garnish with fresh rosemary and blackberries.

 


 

Week Three

By now you probably have some apple cider sitting in the fridge ready for a new spin.  Here’s a fun fall take on the classic sidecar.  If you’re feeling adventurous, try this warm during your next chilly evening by the fire.   Or if you’re feeling lazy, simply warm up the apple cider, add cognac, and top with whipped cream for an easy treat.

Phantom Vehicle

Add all liquid ingredients to a cocktail shaker, top with ice, and shake until the shaker starts to frost and feels very cold to the touch (20 to 30 seconds).  Strain into a coupe glass and top with zest and brandied cherries.

 


 

Week Four

Trick or treat!  What’s this new creature at your door?  It’s cachaca, a Brazilian liquor made from distilled sugarcane juice.  This cousin of rum is a little funky and earthy and makes for a great cocktail.  But don’t worry, after a few of these you’ll be the fun kind of zombie not the brain eating kind.

Cachaça Zombie 

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Rinse an oversized whiskey tumbler with absinthe, add crushed ice, and pour in your strained cocktail.  Garnish with a lime wedge and mint sprig.

 


 

EXTRA SPOOKY Week Five 

It’s Halloween weekend, time to get rowdy!  You probably still have some apple cider; we all make the same mistakes every fall, nobody is perfect.  So here’s a great recipe to share with your ghoul and goblin friends at your haunted gatherings.  Use up that cider and that dusty bottle of pinot grigio you never got to in the summer, and bring the shenanigans to the party!

Séance Sangria 

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl, stir, and chill for one hour before serving.

Liquid Necromancy: Old Duff & The Resurrection of Genever

by Sam Weisberg

Gather round, all ye of hardy constitution and eccentric drinking habits! ‘Twas the week before Halloween when Sam wrote a blog post about Genever; that elusive spirit of cocktail-lore, long figured to be lost to history. It’s a tale of an ingredient coming back from the dead, the resurrection of the crown jewel of the Cocktail Renaissance.

Editor’s Note: We’re gonna be nerdy and go through some history here. If you want to just know what the stuff tastes like, skip to the bottom of the article, or come visit us at the store this weekend—we’ll be pouring Old Duff Genever on the tasting bar.

Prologue: Minnesota, 1867

It’s 1867 and you’ve had a long, hard day farming sugar beets in Winona. You head over to your local watering hole, and, perhaps being a somewhat well-to-do farmer, you treat yourself and ask the bartender for a “gin cocktail.”

What you receive in your chilled cocktail glass is not a Martini. It’s not a gin-and-tonic, and, smelling it, it’s not even particularly piney or juniper-forward. You take a sip of the light-amber hued concoction… what you taste is not unlike an Old-Fashioned; there’s definitely sugar, definitely some sort of cocktail bitters, but that base spirit… it ain’t gin.

And that’s because it wasn’t gin. Or, at least, not what we’d consider gin today. The spirit—which you can see advertised here in the Winona Weekly Republican was called “Holland gin”—or, as they called it in Holland, genever.

brown windmill on green grass field under blue sky during daytime

The Long Road to Gin

Genever is old. Really old. Descended from medicinal juniper tonics that were being produced as early as 1269 CE, genever has been taxed as a recreational spirit in Holland since 1497! It is the parent spirit of both whiskey and gin, a fact that quickly becomes apparent after your first sip. Malty and rich, yet lightly flavored , genever is like the love-child of single malt scotch and English gin.

The earliest Irish whiskey recipes, dating from 1611, were for unaged, well-crafted grain distillate with a teensy amount of botanicals added for flavor, including juniper. That’s essentially a description of genever. The real stuff, what the Dutch would have called moutwijn, or, maltwine, is a distillate of grains (traditionally malted barley and rye—more on that in minute) with a small amount of juniper and hops (!) added for flavor.

That traditional style maltwine genever swept the (European-influenced) globe, at times becoming even more fashionable and expensive than Cognac. By the mid-1860s, genever was one of the world’s best-selling spirits—popular enough that it was even being shipped out to the fledgling Northwest Territory of the U.S., which would soon become Minnesota (see the 1855 ad above in the Winona Weekly Express).

clear drinking glass with brown liquid and green leaves

While Americans stuck to imported Dutch Genever (imports to New York in 1850 dwarfed English gin at a ratio of 450:1), the British attempted to make their own version of it. Unfortunately, British distillers couldn’t compete with the technique of the Dutch masters. To cover the harsher base spirit that many distillers produced, merchants would often sweeten the spirit with sugar and add additional juniper flavor. The resulting spirit is a poor facsimile of genever, but it became quite popular with the British public, who dropped the “-ever” and called it “gen,” which quickly transformed into “gin.”

That sweetened style of gin was known as “Old Tom” gin—and you can still purchase it today from a select few producers. For a time, true Dutch genever and Old Tom gin were interchangeable in the bartender’s arsenal, with the former taking the name “Hollands” in many recipe books. Up until Prohibition in the U.S., if you asked for gin in a bar, you’d probably be getting either genever or Old Tom.

It wasn’t until the invention of the column still in the early-1800s that anything resembling the “dry gin” we know now began to come onto the scene. The spirit produced by a column still was lighter and crisper than the malty, fuller-bodied stuff that came off the old-school pot stills used to make genever. Column-stills also produced spirits with fewer impurities, allowing producers to bottle it with less and less sugar to cover up “off” flavors.

Real Dutch genever began a slow decline in popularity due to the dual tragedies of American Prohibition and World War I, but after the devastation of World War II, Dutch producers had to decisively pivot away from it to survive. The techniques of genever production were labor-intensive and the raw materials were expensive. Sensing a changing marketplace and a need for fast cash, Dutch producers went all-in on liqueurs and vodka for their export markets. Some distillers continued producing a bit of genever for local tastes, but the marketplace had changed—today, only a dozen or so distilleries remain in Schiedam, the historic home of genever production—down from the industry’s peak of about 250 distilleries in its heyday.

clear cocktail glass with pink liquid inside

Enter the Duff

The revitalization of pre-Prohibition cocktail recipes and techniques that has swept the U.S. over the past twenty to thirty years has been called the “Cocktail Renaissance.” History buffs, academics, professional bartenders, and at-home tipplers have all contributed to a wealth of information that has allowed bars to slowly but surely shift drinking culture in the U.S. back towards spirit-forward cocktails with high-quality ingredients. In other words: Negronis are in, Sour Mix is out.

Key to this transition has been the resurrection of (formerly) archaic ingredients like absinthe, rye whiskey, vermouth, and, now, genever, which were called for frequently in pre-Prohibition cocktail recipes, but, until recently, were mostly unavailable in the United States. Enter Philip Duff, a cocktail soothsayer who was on a single-minded mission to bring back genever. And not just any genever, but a true, 100% Maltwine.

courtesy of the Old Duff Genever Distillery

See, genever production hadn’t exactly stopped cold in Holland following the post-WW2 market crash; a few Dutch producers like Bols had continued to keep it in their product lines. But the product they were making, sometimes called jonge genever or “young” genever,  was a column-still product that didn’t really resemble the old-school stuff. It was lighter in flavor, more juniper forward, and, critically, the base spirit was not the traditional moutwijn blend of malt and rye, but a neutral grain spirit—more like a vodka.

Philip Duff set out to rectify this. Approaching a historic distillery in Schiedam with a historic genever recipe in hand, he contracted them to produce Old Duff Genever: a true Dutch genever with the historic seal of Schiedam (they’ve got a seal for everything over there) on the bottle, certifying it as the real-deal thing.

What the Heck Does it Taste Like

Old Duff comes in two varieties:

The green bottle Old Duff Genever ($36.99) is a modern-style genever. 53% pot-still Maltwine, 46% column-still wheat distillate. The column-still spirit lends a lighter touch to this bottling, which, combined with a broader botanical base that includes juniper, citrus, coriander, star anise, and licorice, creates a sip that tastes like a fuller-bodied, maltier style of London Dry gin.

This is the stuff to pull out for a party. Make long drinks like a John Collins (John for jenever!) with it, or sub it out for gin in a cold-weather G&T. Bottled at 40% ABV, it’s meant as an approachable first sip into the world of genever.

Old Duff’s black-label, 100% Maltwine ($49.99) on the other hand, is the real-deal genever experience. This is what genever would have tasted like in the 1800s. Made from 2/3rds rye and 1/3rd malted barley, and flavored with only juniper and English bramling hops, this authentic moutwijn is the missing ingredient in dozens upon dozens of classic American cocktails. It’s the missing link between scotch and gin, the middle-ground when you don’t know if you want whiskey on the rocks or a Martini.

Mix yourself up a Martinez, the predecessor of the Martini, with Old Duff instead of gin and sit back in bliss. Or try an Improved Gin Cocktail—essentially a genever old-fashioned—and learn what contentment is. The stuff is magic, and its ability to bring lost cocktails back from the dead is truly a Halloween miracle.

Our friends at Libation Project will be mixing up genever cocktails on the bar this weekend at France 44. Swing by to have a little taste of history, and then pick up a bottle or two for yourself so you can take your own crack at a little liquid necromancy this Halloween season. Proost!

September Spirit of the Month: Aquavit

Aquavit is a Scandinavian spirit that is traditionally flavored with ingredients such as caraway, cardamon, fennel, or dill.  You can easily substitute aquavit into your favorite whiskey, gin, or vodka drinks for a tasty new variation.  Through September we will feature some of our favorite aquavits and show you how versatile it can be!  Let’s leave the lutefisk to the Nordics and broaden our savory cocktail arsenal with that dusty bottle of aquavit instead.

Week 1:

Aquavit Mule, aka Dala Horse

In a copper mule mug filled with ice, combine:

Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.


Week 2:  Local pairing 

Aquavit can also be enjoyed chilled or over ice. This week we recommend trying Skaalvenn Aquavit with Northern Lights Blue Cheese from the Cheese Shop.  Each batch of Northern Lights Blue is hand crafted in small batches with fresh ingredients and milk from local Brown Swiss cows who are allowed to graze on pasture all year long, which helps create a rich creamy texture and delicious flavor.  The cheese is aged for a minimum of four months, longer than most blue cheese, which adds to its creamy texture and peppery taste.  This cheese will pair nicely with Skaalvenn’s Aquavit, which is distilled from wheat and flavored with caraway, fennel, orange peel, and aged in oak barrels.


Week 3: Nordic Summer Cocktail 

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill ¾ with ice, shake until chilled, strain, and serve with an orange twist.

 

 


 

 

Week 4: 

AkvaCran & Tonic 

Fill a tall glass with ice; add aquavit, cranberry juice, and lime juice; top with tonic water and garnish with a lime and sprig of mint. 

August Spirit of the Month: Mezcal

Each week for the month of August we’ll bring you a different cocktail recipe or food pairing featuring Mezcal (tequila’s smokier cousin). Mezcal comes from 9 different regions in Mexico, the most common being Oaxaca. Similar to tequila, it is distilled from the heart of the Agave plant. Unlike Tequila, any type of Agave can be used. It is also most commonly pit roasted prior to fermentation, giving the final product its distinct, smoky flavor. If you haven’t tried mezcal before, this might be just the nudge you need to get a bottle to experiment with!

Week 1:

Smoke on the Water
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine:

Shake until well chilled and strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.


Week 2:

Smoky Negroni 

In a mixing glass with ice, combine:

Stir until well chilled and strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.


Week 3: Mezcal Food Pairing! 

This week we are going to pair mezcal with a fun snack from the Cheese Shop! We recommend trying Xicaru Silver Mezcal with Jamon Serrano and goat cheese (Order online HERE). Jamon Serrano is a dry cured Spanish ham sliced thin and one of the most iconic Spanish food products. While mezcal is from Mexico, the smokiness will highlight this meat well, and the goat cheese adds a nice creamy finish. Xicaru is available in 375 ML bottles so it’s a less intimidating purchase if you want to try mezcal for the first time. This is the perfect pairing to take along to a happy hour or picnic gathering to introduce your friends to the amazing world of mezcal (and the fun things you can find at our Cheese Shop)!


 

Week 4: The Final Week! 

This week we’re going to make the easiest cocktail pairing ever.  Last weekend at the cabin?  Quick pairing to wind down after a busy week?  We’ve got you covered.  This week’s mezcal is going into Summer Lakes Bootleg mix, which will create a very tasty twist on a mojito.  We recommend trying Derrumbes San Louis Potosi, which uses above ground roasting methods for a less smoky mezcal.  You’ll get hints of bell pepper, minerals, and a little funkiness that’s going to pair great with pimento dip and some crackers from the cheese shop.  Quickest shopping trip ever, and you’ve got an easy but delicious cocktail and snack covered for wherever life takes you.

It’s Cap Corse Time!

by Tom Schneideker

Alright everyone, gather ’round: I need to introduce you to something very special to me. Its name is Cap Corse Quinquina Blanc, and you need to do yourself a favor and stick a bottle in the fridge. Cap Corse is a quininated aperitif wine that lives in our vermouth section. Is it vermouth? Well, no, not really; its bittering agent is quinine instead of wormwood. That same quinine is in the tonic in your G&Ts. It is technically part of the tonic wine family, which is very similar to Lillet. So similar, in fact, that both Lillet and Cap Corse date back to the same year, from the same country. These products use different grape varieties from their respective regions, different citrus, and different bittering recipes. While Lillet went mainstream and shied away from the Quina title (or ‘Kina’ as they dubbed it), Cap Corse stayed much closer to its original roots.

 

Cap Corse hails from the northern peninsula of Corsica off the French coast named, well, Cap Corse. It has been in production since 1872 and is still a family run operation on the island. Cap Corse is bright, fresh, and somehow perfectly sweet and bitter. It is made with an ancient thick-skinned relative of the leman named cedrat to add bring citrus and balance out the quinine bitterness. See, back in the day, quinine was imported from Africa and South America in the form of cinchona bark. It was used as a blood thinner and became the cure for malaria. Everything in a gin and tonic has a purpose, from the alcohol killing anything in the water, the tonic with malaria, and the lime for scurvy.

 

Now for the $18 question: how do you use Quinquina? First and foremost, the answer is 2 oz quinquina to 4-6oz soda or tonic water, to your taste. This is a refreshing low alcohol, sessionable cocktail. You can also toss a drizzle on top of a G&T for more of that bitter and citrus.

 

My favorite, however, is using quinquina in a white negroni. Use equal parts of a bone-dry gin (the new favorite is Greenhook), Cap Corse Quinquina, and Luxardo Bianco–a beautiful gentian liqueur akin to a more natural Campari. But here’s the kicker: you need to walk 100(ish) feet across the street to the co-op and buy a fresh grapefruit–an onerous task indeed. Once you add a half part of freshly squeezed grapefruit, stir, strain, and serve in a coupe or Nick and Nora glass. Its fresh, zingy citrus plays with the dry gin and bitter botanical perfectly. This is the only drink you need for these hot summer evenings.

I repeat:

Stir and strain into a coupe or Nick and Nora glass, and enjoy. 

Try it out and let us know what you think!


Interested in knowing more about quinquina, vermouth, and spritzes? Check out our summer class offerings!

 

GET SPRITZED! | Wednesday, August 11th, 6pm | Join Sam for a hands-on dive into the Spritz; from its origins as a soldier’s drink in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to its modern-day, Aperol-branded incarnation. Along the way, we’ll mix up a smörgasbord of Spritzes, Spritz-relatives, and other aperitivo-inspired drinks in the France 44 Classroom.

 

HOMEMADE VERMOUTH: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE | Thursday, August 19th, 6pm | We bet you didn’t know you could make vermouth yourself! We’ll go into the history behind vermouth and learn the classic components and steps for batching your own aromatized, fortified wine – we’ll supply the ingredients, and you’ll leave with a small batch of a hand-crafted vermouth of your own.

What Should Your Sauce Be Drinking?

A Culinary Take on “Cooking Wines”

by Mike Schufman

Google searches are like calculators. Using them in a pinch relieves some anxiety, but as my math teacher always said, they prevent us from thinking.  If you type in “What wine is good for cooking?” chances are you will come up with something like this:

  • (White wine) “You want to use a dry, acidic white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc and avoid Chardonnay.”
  • (Red Wine) “You want to use a dry, bold red wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.”

Wow, big help!  Where to start?  Not only are these results incredibly vague, they are potentially misleading and don’t break down what makes a wine suitable for cooking.  First of all, if you throw a dart at a wine in the store, chances are, you’ll hit it a dry one, meaning that there is little to no residual sugar.  This term is often casually used in combination with the true definition to mean “not fruity.” Such phrasing could possibly be even more misleading when assessing the appropriate wine for cooking, which I will explain more later in this blog.

Sauvignon Blanc, for example, varies a great deal depending on where it’s grown, and some varieties may not work well in your cooking applications.  As far as reds go, I have worked in several restaurants where cheap Cabernet Sauvignon is used.  Whereas Cab is very commonly used to add body and richness to everything from beef stock to lamb stew or any braised red meat dishes, I have never understood why anyone would want to bring so much tannin into the culinary picture- certainly not in the dish itself (more on that later).  So, before I make some suggestions, let’s break it down!

In cooking, wine is generally added to deglaze* hot, crusty pans, to balance the flavor profile of a soup, or to give complexity to sauces.  Sometimes it is reduced heavily and essentially becomes the entire foundation of the sauce.  In other words, it accomplishes fancy flavors while also being functional. Here are the purposes for some of these functions.

Randy Marsh, in South Park’s 2010 episode “Crème Fraiche,” enthusiastic about the importance of deglazing.
  1. When used to deglaze*, wine’s acidity aids in un-sticking or releasing the fond, a French term for the browned bits of sautéed vegetables, fats, juices, and browned pieces of meat that get stuck to the bottom of the pan (No nonstick cookware for this, please). In doing this, we unleash tons of new, complex, savory flavors into the dish that distribute themselves evenly throughout the dish.  As Guy Fieri might say, “It’s like strikin’ oil in Flavortown.  You’re gonna be rich!”
  2. When used to balance the flavor of a soup, we want to provide a contrast. Soups often have a lot of savory, browned, nutty, oniony, umami** flavors. We want to introduce some delicate sweetness, subtle fruitiness, and gentle acidity. Using wine accomplishes this with one ingredient rather than using, say, vinegar, honey, and apple juice.  White wine (or sherry) also simply tastes good in soups, particularly poultry-based ones, so it is the most logical ingredient with which to achieve this balance.  No one asks, for example, “Why do we put onions in soup?” It just works.

**Note from the kitchen– Umami is not saltiness.  It is the 5th basic taste.  A loanword from Japanese, it does not perfectly translate to any English words, but most closely translates to “savoriness” or “deliciousness” and refers to the taste of glutamates.  These flavors are found in meats, vegetables, soy sauce or miso, cheeses, tomatoes, and mushrooms.  The taste is often described as “brothy” or “mouth-watering.” Umami flavors increase in foods with roasting, aging, and fermentation and usually hang out wherever amino acids are present.  It is a difficult taste to put into words, but you know it when you taste it.  I find umami to be unusual in that it seems to hide or fade when not in the presence of sweetness and saltiness.

  1. When used in pan sauces (sauces that are literally built in the pan off of the fond typically created by the seared protein with which the sauce is being served), we deglaze with wine, cognac, or a fortified wine such as marsala or sherry, and then we reduce the wine to intensify the flavors, create viscosity, and cook out the majority of the alcohol, thus tempering the booziness. Often we add fresh herbs, a knob of butter or a splash of cream to make the sauce creamy and rich and to balance the sharp acidity and delicate fruitiness of the wine reduction.

All this considered, selecting the right wine for cooking comes down to:

  1. How wine tastes in its natural state, before the cooking process. If we know that, we can predict…
  2. How wine will taste after the cooking process-the end result. Keep in mind that every  flavor component, except water and alcohol, will intensify with cooking.

Understanding that sweetness, fruitiness, aroma, and acidity intensify with cooking, we want to give some room for this increase in intensity when selecting a wine for cooking. As I see it, in most cases, we want a wine that is relatively:

 

  1. Aromatically neutral. Sure, we want to impart some aroma. However, if the wine has considerable oak influence (lending toasty, nutmeg/baking spice, vanilla or buttery flavors, and astringency), and/or it is a naturally aromatic grape varietal (Such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling, hot-climate Chardonnay, Viognier,), this will result in an overly aromatic dish for most applications. Many aromatic whites also tend to have slightly too much, and often far too much residual sugar for cooking. As far as the oaky Chardonnays go, I have experimented with using them in butter sauces. In such sauces I have found it is better to compliment the butter with contrasting wine rather than double-down on the richness. These “buttery flavors” taste different in a glass as a component of the wine than they do after cooking. That which is perceived as butteriness in a wine tends to turn bitter and overpowering when cooked.  Big-bodied, hot-climate Chardonnays also tend to have a cloying fruitiness of ripe mangoes or pineapple that is far too intense for cooking. If you do wish to feature this grape, go for something cooler climate and unoaked. Chablis is not uncommon, but can be expensive, so go for a cooler climate, more affordable, unoaked Chardonnay. Here are two examples from the US.

A to Z Chardonnay – Oregon | $17.99

Lone Birch Chardonnay – Washington | $11.99

  1. Moderate to high acidity. It is logical to recommend bone dry, extremely acidic wines for cooking. One our goals, after all, are to bring some acidity to the party. But remember, we want a balanced flavor profile after the wine has been cooked out, so we need to leave some headroom. Moderate acidity is usually enough. The fattier the dish, the more demand for acidity.  For hot and spicy dishes, go for less acidic varietals, but, to nod to Alton Brown, “that’s another blog.”
  2. Slightly less fruit-driven for whites, slightly more fruit-driven for reds. This may be somewhat in contrast to the rapid google search. The reason is fairly simple.  Dishes that benefit from white wine, such as any poultry dishes, risottos, paellas, soups, or any seafood dishes, demand a subtle fruitiness, hints of fresh herbs, and a pleasant minerality. They benefit from some ripe fruit, but nothing too honeyed or floral. I would avoid styles such as the sweeter varieties from Alsace or the aromatic blends from Cote Du Rhone.  Dishes that benefit from red wine, on the other hand, such as braised beef and lamb dishes, are bold, have more robust depth of flavor, more gaminess, and more earthiness.  With all of that going on, there is room for slightly richer fruit notes that come from warmer climate, medium to full-bodied reds. That said, we don’t want to use overly jammy reds. Every component of the wine intensifies with cooking, so if it’s noticeably jammy when you drink it, it will go overboard after cooking.

For reds, medium tannins will do. While some tannins are welcome, they play a more important role in the wine you serve alongside the meal than they do in any sauce or stew itself.  This is one reason I personally stay away from highly tannic, aggressive cabs in my food, though some would disagree.  Inside the dish, too much tannin can be counterproductive to the well-rounded sweetness that you have achieved from cooking something low and slow. Alongside the dish, a wine with good, firm tannin structure can cut the fattiness of the meal between bites.  This raises the question: do you have to serve the same type of wine as the one you cooked with in the dish? The answer is, no. That is not to say that some wines couldn’t play both roles. While some wines that would be good inside your dish would also be good for drinking, many wines that are suitable to serve with the meal would not be suitable incorporated in the dish.

  1. Dry, like the Google search said. We don’t necessarily need bone-dry here in most cases. A few grams per liter of sugar would be not only okay, but desirable. We do want a gentle sweetness post-cook and some potential for caramelization, but we really don’t want anything off-dry or sweet.  Earlier, I mentioned that cream or butter sauces demanded a little more acidity from the wine. Due to the caloric density of these sauces, they also have less demand for sweetness and fruitiness. High-calorie sauces can create a sensation on the palate similar to sweetness, and fat needs some more acidity to cut through it.  In a sauce beurre-blanc (sauce from Nantes, France commonly served with various white fishes, composed almost entirely of butter and wine reduction), the traditional white wine used is a Muscadet, a bone-dry white wine from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, often featuring a distinct salinity reminiscent of oyster shells, and very little fruit if not the faintest note of star fruit.
  2. Cheap, relatively. Plan to spend roughly $9-$15 per bottle. One of many factors in the price of wine is the age of the wine.  Oak aging makes wine develop new characteristics that make them more complex, sophisticated and enjoyable but also denature much of the fruit characteristics that we want intact for our stews and pan sauces.  Oak also adds astringency, vanilla-like flavors, and spice, not all of which lends itself well to cooking.  For cooking with red wines especially, I tend to stick to old world wines both for the influence of terroir and for the oak which tends to be less aggressive of a vanilla bomb than American wines, for example.

Now that we’ve broken everything down, let’s answer the question already. Which wines are good for cooking?

For most cooking purposes, I enjoy affordable wines from Southern Europe, especially Mediterranean regions. They tend to offer the right kind of fruit, the right kind of acidity, the right kind of herbiness, and the right kind of savoriness after cooking. There are countless wines that would work great for cooking, so here are some tasty suggestions that are also good enough to drink.

 

WHITE WINES GREAT FOR COOKING (and drinking)

  • Cassagnoles Cotes de Gascogne | France | $13.99 |  This Southwest French white blend is made from affordable grape varietals that are sort of flavor-cousins with sauvignon blanc. Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), and Columbard, both used in the production of Cognac, impart a zesty citrus quality and notes of gooseberry.  This wine is great in any mild dishes such as seafood pasta or pan-roasted chicken. And it’s good enough to drink alongside some pork rillettes from the France 44 Cheese Shop.
  • Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet | France | $12.99 | Another southern French varietal “Picpoul.” Bright and acidic, this wine is just the right dryness for cooking, with subtle hints of Mediterranean herbs, lemon, and anise. This wine deglazes and reduces beautifully.  Use it in any situation where you need to cut the overall fattiness or oiliness of a dish.
  • Sallier De La Tour Grillo | Sicily, Italy | $12.99 | This Sicilian grape, Grillo, is one of the varieties used in the production of Marsala wine.  It offers medium-high acidity, a distinct savoriness, and wonderful minerality that will make you think of the Mediterranean Sea. This very affordable white would be equally good in and alongside any seafood dish, especially shrimp. Add it to your next jambalaya.
  • Selection des Cognettes Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie | France | $14.99 | Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, this bone-dry white is ideal for both pairing with and cooking mussels or clams. Sur Lie refers to lie aging, which gives the wine a yeasty, lager-like taste that I personally love in my white wines. Use in dishes that feature briny flavors such as capers, olives, feta cheese, preserved lemons, green peppercorns, or anchovies. And yes, use in a sauce beurre blanc with any white fish and asparagus. If you make this sauce, you’re going to want to get the good stuff, like the Beurre de Baratte available at the France 44 Cheese Shop.
  • Albamar Sauvignon Blanc | Chile | $10.99 | This lively Sauvignon Blanc has all the intensity of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but with less tropical fruit and therefore more versatile in cooking. Use it to add some ripe fruit to your Ropa Vieja with all that zesty bell pepper and olive brininess, which typically calls for white wine rather than red.

 

RED WINES GREAT FOR COOKING (and drinking)

  • Courtois Cote Du Rhone | France | $12.99 |  A Classic GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) Rhone blend, this wine gives ripe blackberry and cherry notes and subtle hints of lavender in the background, typical of many CDR’s. This will take your chuck roast to the next level, and just plain tastes…well…pretty freaking good!
  • Castaño Monastrell | Spain | $12.99 | 100% Monastrell (or Mourvedre), this Southern Spanish red hits you with a distinct black pepper spice on the nose, and delivers juicy plum and blackberry on the palate. It finishes with sweet licorice, allspice, and baking chocolate. Use this when making Spanish-style braised short ribs.
  • Poggio Anima Belial Sangiovese | Italy | $15.99 | Virtually no oak, just juicy Sangiovese. High acidity. Distinctive sweet cherry notes begging for tomatoes. Cut the funk in a puttanesca, or use this Sangio-vay-zay to de-glaze-ay some Bolognay-zay!
  • Domaine Roman Pinot Noir | France | $12.99 | Much more affordable than good quality burgundies, this Southern French Pinot Noir is straightforward with bright, red fruit and very subtle oak.

 

The Classic French recipes Bœuf Bourguignon*** and Coq Au Vin traditionally called for red burgundy in the marinade and during braising. In the old days, pinot noir’s flavor profile of tart, red fruit and forest floor would have played nicely with tough, cheap cuts of beef and capon, the gamy male chicken that was traditionally used in coq au vin. Today, we have access to fresher beef, and capon is not on most people’s grocery lists.  Still, modern versions of these recipes live on. Use in any stewed dishes calling for red wine and mushrooms and you’ll be glad you didn’t drop $30 for a “cooking wine.” Oh, and if you’re feeling German, and you used this for sauerbraten, that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

***Pro tip. Bœuf Bourguignonne typically starts with rendering lardons (cubes of fatty pork such as belly or bacon) to add fat and flavor to the dish that traditionally used leaner cuts of beef.  If you are ever interested in trying this technique, ask your friendly France 44 Cheese Shop meat-monger to hook you up with a hunk some house cured bacon (the best bacon in the world) for your recipe.  They can also recommend the perfect cuts of beef, lamb, pork and chicken for any of your dishes. France 44 Cheese Shop features lots of great meat sourced from local farms such as: 

 

DRY SHERRIES GREAT FOR COOKING

With its natural aromatics, sherry plays well with briny flavors such as olives and sweet citrus notes such as orange zest. It can enhance the nuttiness and depth of caramelized onions or toasted almonds while also providing acidity and complexity. Sherry also seems to have a way of bringing out the “golden brown & delicious” flavor in cooking. Though used frequently in Spanish cuisine in dishes such as Paella or Picadillo, sherry can also be used to add dimension to Chinese-inspired stir-fry dishes and marinades. I never make chicken stock without it, and it can also give some extra punch to a French onion soup (any dry fortified wine works beautifully here).

So, there you have it—one guitar-playing drum-smacking culinary grad’s breakdown of what makes certain wines give your dishes a little something extra!  Some of these ideas are traditional, and some are my own personal take on flavors and why we balance flavors the way we do.  Whatever wines you choose, I hope you have enjoyed taking this little journey with me through the delicious world of food and wine.  And just maybe, this blog has given you new perspectives on cooking with wine, or even inspired you to try some new recipes and do some experimenting of your own.  Have fun in the kitchen, and enjoy the weather!

Heat, Protein, Time, and Beer: Grilling Tips from Bill

by Bill Nosan

When the Twins start playing baseball, it’s officially grilling season in Minnesota. So if you haven’t already, it’s time to clean off the winter residue from your grill and heat that thing up.  At its roots, grilling is pretty simple. It really only requires  four basic things:  Heat, Protein, Time & Beer. I’ve heard a distant, crazy rumor that beer isn’t actually necessary for grilling, but as member of the beer department, I can say without certain, that rumor is completely false.

So grab a beer and join me. Maybe you’re like me and feel that making a meal for your friends & family is one of the things you enjoy most. It’s something that I truly love–it brings me joy.  Preparing the meal outside on the grill is even better, maybe because being outside grilling doesn’t feel like a task. It feels more like fun–fresh air, talking to your neighbor, watching your dog dig a hole in your newly seeded lawn… It’s probably just buried deep down in our DNA that we just enjoy being outside cooking over a fire. But I think the real reason is that grilling just makes your food tastes better (and you get to be outside drinking a beer).

Either using propane, charcoal or wood as a heat source, we basically grill the same way.  Indirect heat (slow & low), direct heat (fast) or a combo of both. It doesn’t take much time to learn what proteins & veggies do best using what method.  There are about 1001 ways you can learn all the different grilling techniques for all the different types of food, so I won’t dive deep into that for this simple blog post (see below for how you can learn more).

One of my go-to, quick grilling favorites, is preparing flat cuts of beef (Flank, Skirt, Bavette, etc). These cuts are great with direct heat and they cook up fast. Depending on the grill, give the beef roughly 5-6 minutes on each side on high heat for medium rare, then let it rest for 10 minutes. We want to use high heat to brown & sear that piece of meat. Remember, searing does not lock in juices. We sear to create browning (the Maillard reaction). Those sear (grill) marks are what help your food taste great. The more surface area you can brown, the better the outcome. Careful to just sear, not char (burn) your food. I love these flat cuts because you can have beef & veggies off the grill and on the dinner table in half an hour or so.

Another quick tip is for fish. I use direct heat while using a griddle or a carbon steel/cast iron pan. The fish will hold its shape & release better off the solid, flat surface as opposed to the individual grill grates.  Learn how to control your grill temperature and the rest is pretty easy.

So besides a grill and a heat source, what do you actually need?  The Neanderthals basically had a few rocks & a sharp stick to grill, so you really don’t need much for grilling your dinner.  But if you want to up your game just a bit, you’ll need a few helpful tools:

  • A good thermometer is key—The Cheese Shop sells the Thermoworks brand and I use their ProNeedle. It’s small and incredible useful.
  • A good pair of tongs (make sure you check if they work every few minutes). Get one long enough so you can keep the heat away from your hands.

Amazon.com: Barbecue Funny Grill Sergeant BBQ Apron with Pockets and Beer Holder 12 x 1 x 12 inches 6.6 Ounces: Home & Kitchen

  • I use a good apron because I’m sick of food stains on my clothes. Plus, an apron has pockets to hold all your tools as well as a backup can of beer or two.
  • Speaking of beer: I prefer clean & crisp while grilling. We have amazing, locally made options. I prefer to have a beer while I’m grilling and a glass of wine already poured waiting at the table for the actual meal.
  • But here’s the best “tool” you need: good, quality ingredients. Much like making a world class cocktail at home, preparing restaurant quality food at home starts with quality ingredients.

Do you want to learn more? Lots more? Join Thomas from the Meat Shop & Adam from the Wine Shop next week for our virtual Grilling & Wine class, filmed on the outdoor terrace of the Lorient building (kitty-corner from the store). They will showcase some of France 44’s incredible house-made sausages, charcuterie products, and fresh meat cuts. You’ll also learn which wines pair best with them when you get to the dinner table. They’ll cover prep and cooking tips to elevate your grilling game this spring and summer, and give you the inside scoop on classic wines and some new, unique favorites. Attendees will get charcuterie and cured meat on their cheese plate, and receive a special event discount for France 44 meat products purchase post-event. It’s going be fun so I hope you join them.

Finally, here are some of my go-to drinking options for grilling:

Utepils Helles 4pk Cans | $8.99 | Helles, the bright golden beer style, made Bavaria’s Beer Gardens world renowned for hundreds of years. This Helles is brewed with MN artesian spring waters and authentic Bavarian malt and hops.

Fair State Pils 4pk Cans | $9.49 |  A German-style pilsner, dry and crisp with a grassy aroma from a large kettle addition of Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops. One hop, one malt, lager yeast. Simple and delicious.

Oberto Barbera D’Alba | $19.99 | This quality Barbera hails from three small vineyards, all located in the village of La Morra, where the world’s finest Barbera comes from. It is a deep purplish red color, and shows subtle oak notes and fruity overtones on the nose; very elegant, with acidity, tannin and fruit blending perfectly on the palate.

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel | $23.99 | A blend from sites in Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. Flavors of dark ripe cherries and sweet raspberries emerge on the palate, followed by a rich velvety finish.

A Love Letter to Cabernet Franc

by Tasha Poehler

If you’re currently reading this blog, or any wine blog for that matter, chances are you’ve heard of a little grape called Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s tough to get this far without knowing at least a little bit about it – but what if I were to tell you that its lesser-known family member was a favorite among wine professionals and wine lovers alike and a really great bottle won’t break the bank.

We’re talking about Cabernet Franc, the parent to both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s a bit wild compared to its more civilized children, and that’s what makes it so unique. Whether or not you’ve tried it, I’d like to tell you why this versatile grape is absolutely worth your time and why it’s a staple in my own collection.

Cabernet Franc is a light to medium bodied red that likely originated in the Basque region of southern France. It is commonly used as a blending grape in Bordeaux and some Southern Rhône blends where it adds herbaceous notes of tobacco and spice. Although it’s most common in a blend, it absolutely shines as a soloist because of its insane versatility. It has found a home in nearly every major wine region.

Where you’re buying from can dramatically shift the essence of the wine itself. Some of the best and most renowned Cab Francs come out of the Loire Valley (Touraine, Bourgueil, Anjou, Samur-Champigny, Chinon). These cooler climate wines tend to be leaner and more herb-driven with a sharper acidity. Think bell pepper, bramble, black pepper & tart cherry.

But that’s not to say that you can’t find an amazing bottle from elsewhere in the world.

While cooler climate wines tend to show a greener and leaner wine, the warmer climates will show something a lot richer. From California to Argentina to Australia, the heat and sun produce a fuller and juicier wine. There’s tons of strawberry, raspberry, chocolate, and peppercorn in the glass. No matter where you’re getting this wine from, its peppery nature will always shine through in some form or fashion.

This type of wine is one of my favorites to pull out at a dinner party. A light bodied red with a little funk and fruit is almost always a crowd pleaser. I’ll stick it in the fridge for 20 minutes to get a slight chill and let it do its thing at the table. Because of its versatility it pairs well with a wide variety of dishes. The lighter styles are great match with goat cheese or grilled salmon, while the fuller and richer styles are complex enough to stand strong against grilled steaks and pork chops.  A tomato-based dish would also wow whoever you’re entertaining once this pandemic decides it’s had enough.

Like any wine, it’s easy to do a deep dive and figure out which styles you like best, but for simplicity’s sake here are four different Cab Francs we carry at France 44 that all show off the unique characteristics of this grape in a fun and comparative way.

  1. Leah Jorgenson Cabernet Franc | Southern Oregon | $27.99 | Leah Jorgenson is among a group of relatively new badass winemakers who are shifting their focus to sustainable farming and biodynamic winemaking in Oregon. She’s also credited as the first in the country to make a still white wine from Cab Franc. I’m a huge fan of women leading the charge in innovation within the wine world and have yet to find a wine of hers that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. Super aromatic and a little bit funky, this wine shows a ton of red fruit, bitter herbs, and bright acidity. A little smoky and a little earthy, this wine has it all. It might not be for everyone, but its complexity makes it a fun one to test out if you’re looking for something uniquely its own.

2. Domaine de Pallus ‘Messanges Rouge’ | Chinon, Loire Valley, France | $18.99 | Fifth generation winemaker Bertrand Sourdais has run Domaine de Pallus in the appellation of Chinon in the Loire Valley since 2005. After 2009 the winery committed to biodynamic cultivation and all manual harvest. The grapes used for this particular batch of wine are aged in stainless steel for a little over 6 months which results in a simple and soft wine with bright red berry notes, a little spice and that signature Loire Valley green bell pepper. At a super affordable price, this wine is sure to be a favorite.

3. Waterkloof ‘Circumstance’ Cabernet Franc | Stellenbosch, South Africa | $23.99 | In the 90s Paul Boutinot set out to find the perfect vineyard site and it wasn’t until 2004 that he settled on the south-facing slopes of Schapenberg Hill in the coastal region of Stellenbosch. By 2008 the decision was made to turn Waterkloof into a lean, mean, biodynamic machine and is one of only a small handful of wineries in the Cape to hold that distinction. Waterkloof was actually awarded Champion Status by the WWF’s Biodiversity & Wine initiative after making the choice to preserve half of their farm for the indigenous wild and plant life of the region. In this day and age it feels good to be supporting viticulture that aims to help protect our planet. This wine has a ton of blackberry and cherry. A little bit of oak, and a little bit of green pepper, this wine is well balanced and tasty as hell.

4. Fabre Montmayou Reserva Cabernet Franc | Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina | $18.99 | Hervé Joyaux Fabre moved to Argentina from Bordeaux to explore the region and its potential for great winemaking. While Argentina is mostly well known for growing Malbec, this Cab Franc is a testament to this winemaker’s drive and passion to create something unique and beautiful given the local terroir. 60% of the wine is aged in French Oak for 12 months. It’s fresh and elegant on the nose, with warm graphite and subtle black cherry. It’s well balanced with a long finish and perfect for lamb or even chocolate.