Complicating the Black Relationship to Wine: Part 1

Picture of Kaleigh Swift

Kaleigh Swift

Kaleigh has been working with the France 44 events team since January 2023. She received her WSET 1-3 certifications through France 44. Kaleigh also works in communications at the University of Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys playing and watching volleyball, spending time with her cats, and working on house projects. Kaleigh is an avid vermouth fan and never misses an opportunity to introduce someone to Spanish-style sweet vermouths!

The key to understanding Black people’s historical and modern relationship to wine–grape growing, winemaking, selling, and consumption–is to look at Black people’s relationship to this land, this society, and our ancestors. 

We are well overdue for a confrontation of the harmful stereotypes around Black people’s “preferences” of sweeter wines and assumptions that we have no interest in more complex, robust, full bodied beverages as writer Kimberly Marie Ousley details in her 2017 article “Stop Telling Me to Drink Sweet Wine Just Because I’m a Woman of Color.” 

We won’t get through the entirety of this conversation in this one blog post, but I hope to at least direct you towards some good sources, and of course some good wines! We’ll focus on some broad topics that will help to sketch a more nuanced picture of how we got to today, where less than 1% of the US’s more than 11,000 wineries are Black-owned, and it’s commonly assumed that Black people have had no place in winemaking history.

The intentional fermentation of grape juice into an alcoholic beverage is thought to date back to the early neolithic era with earliest evidence dating back to 6000 BCE from the Gadachrili Gora settlement in Georgia. (Did you make it to our Ancient wines pop up? So cool!) By 2700 BCE, a winemaking industry was well established in ancient Egypt, a civilization that was also actively trading with others in the Mediterranean, North Africa, West Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Near East.

The wine industry in Egypt was likely brought by experts from the Levant. And while grapes and wine didn’t feature prominently in Africa until the time of the Egyptian dynasties, the fermentation of fruit and grain juices was far from uncommon across the entire continent of Africa (and across the whole world). 

Early alcoholic beverages were likely early forms of mead, as honey was a product cultivated as early as 40,000 years ago. Palm wine, a popular beverage made from the sap of certain types of palm trees in west Africa, has also long been important to cultural and social traditions.

In the “modern era” (meaning settler colonialism onward), wine’s importance to Western European culture and ritual necessitated its export to the places they colonized. 

And undoubtedly, where grapes were grown and wine was produced in the new world, slave labor was being used to do so, though written documentation is scarce. The estate of Thomas Jefferson confirmed that enslaved laborers were in fact responsible for cultivating the 193 acres Jefferson had designated for producing wine grapes. The earliest written record of a Black person making wine comes in 1888 when in Orra Langhorne’s book Southern Sketches of Virginia, she recounts a visit to the Charlottesville, VA estate of Robert Scott, a Black man, where she enjoyed, “…an excellent glass of wine made from his own grapes.”

Much of Black people’s historical relationship to wine remains obscure, though anecdotally many families’ histories speak of their ancestors making “jug wine” for consumption by their own families or communities. Sound familiar? This is how much of the wine of the world is produced–locally and at small scales. This method of production undoubtedly made wine more accessible and cost effective for Black people. 

However, over the course of the 20th century, Black land theft likely made any small production that was in existence virtually impossible. The longstanding socio-economic disparities caused by systemic racism, particularly around access to land ownership and capital, has played an outsized role in the lack of diversity in the industry. 

Less obscure is Black peoples’ historical relationship to liquor production, including famous brands such as Jack Daniels. The crops used to produce many types of liquor were more readily available and actively grown in the US for food–unlike grapes–leading to continuous production of liquors even during prohibition.

We got the first Black-owned winery in 1940 in Clarksville, VA, where John June Lewis Sr. opened a small commercial winery that successfully produced a dry red wine and a dessert wine made from dried (raisin) grapes. In the decades leading up to the 21st century we have a small handful of trailblazing Black wine professionals making splashes in the industry, such as Deneen, David and Coral Brown of Brown Estates in Napa, Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars in sonoma, and Iris Rideau of Rideau Vineyards outside of Solvang. These wineries still exist today! In recent years, the presence of Black viticulturists, winemakers with vineyards and estates, and even négociants is actively increasing and becoming more reflective of consumers. 

The conversation continues in part 2 HERE!

We’re highlighting some of the work of fantastic producers this Black History Month. You can learn more about and purchase some select products below!

In Sheep's Clothing Cabernet

Black cherry and dark brooding blackberry balanced by bright lifted notes, this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from both Wahluke Slope and Red Mountain in Washington state. The opulence of fruit is dominant, balanced by smooth tannins and a long finish.

O.P.P. Pinot Noir

An accessible, great value wine that stays true to the character of the vineyards from which it was born. Earthy, spicy, floral, herb-framed flavors of cherry with gingery wood spice tones.

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

A fruit-driven, full-bodied, complex red blend sourced from Southern Oregon and Washington State. The rich, ripe, voluptuous fruit comes from the Syrah out of the Rogue Valley in southwestern Oregon, with just enough Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to give it complexity and structure. Barrel aged for 10 months.

McBride Sisters Red Blend

A hint of toasty mocha carries the robust plum and cherry aromas through to the lush, full palate. Soft, round and full of jammy fruit, this wine finishes with an elegant touch of fine-grained tannins.

McBride Sisters Sauvignon Blanc

Generous tropical fruits pair with white flowers and citrus on the nose. Ripe peach and mango aromas play with more exotic fruits like passion fruit and Fuji apple. In the mouth, key lime flavors hang on a medium full body, which contrasts beautifully with the firm acidity and mineral tone on the finish.

The Wines the World Forgot

Grapes growing on raised trellis
Picture of Karina Roe

Karina Roe

Karina (she/her) as a wine educator and as our Events General Manager. She has her Diploma in WSET Wines & Spirits, and finds that her fridge is constantly occupied by bubbles, Riesling, and non-alcoholic beer. She and her partner share an adorable dog named Ziggy who loves eating sticks as much as she likes drinking bubbles.

We’ve all heard (and used) categorical language like “New World” and “Old World” when it comes to describing the kind of wines we like, with “Old World” largely referring to European wines and “New World” being used for countries like the United States, all of South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. While these terms are extremely fraught, we have a hard time breaking out of using them because they’re comfortable shorthand for the descriptive, esoteric (and exclusive/isolating) wine language we’re maybe less familiar with and less confident in using. 

There are, of course, some “New World” (aka, non-European) regions that have a longer winemaking history than some European regions and frankly, the lines get pretty blurry when it comes to why wines taste different between those two categories. They’re just not the accurate descriptors they may have once been. But honestly, our wine drinking culture today is far less focused on using accurate wine descriptors and categories and much more interested in the story of a wine. We want to taste a little pizzazz, a little romance! Doesn’t your wine taste better when you know the name of the horse that plowed the vineyard rows? 

But if we look beyond that western skyline (both literally and figuratively), there’s a wine story that’s far, far older than any European country. Marc Hochar of Chateau Musar in Lebanon purportedly coined the term “Ancient World” to bring that story back into the conversation. All the wine regions situated east of western Europe (or at least those that became aligned with the East after the fall of the Roman Empire) usually get conveniently forgotten when it comes to classic/traditional wine education. But where Europe’s winemaking began in earnest with the influence of the Roman Empire, these Ancient World regions were making wine thousands of years earlier than that. 

So, what are we actually talking about with Ancient World wines? Greece and Lebanon can absolutely be included in that category, for starters. Greece had a huge viticultural influence on the Roman Empire and helped spread wine all throughout Europe, and modern-day Lebanon was once part of Phoenicia (and we all know how much the Phoenicians loved wine). But equally or more ancient are regions like the Republic of Georgia and Armenia. How old are we talking? There are archaeological records dating back over 8000 years and 6000 years, respectively.  

The modern-day wines of these regions have benefited from the technological innovations of the 21st century, but the farmers and makers of these wines are fierce protectors of their heritage and champion their native varieties and ancient traditions. Use of qvevri and amphora for fermentation and aging vessels is not uncommon, nor are “orange wine” (or white grape skin contact) fermentations. Varieties like Rkatsiteli, Areni and Voskehat are cultural equivalents of what Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are to the western world. 

Our Ancient World Wine Bar Pop-Up on February 16 is the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with these varieties and techniques. These wines are deliciously approachable and thoughtfully made, yet perfectly unfamiliar and will invite you to spend a little more time with them. Join us to learn about their stories while you sip your way through ancient history. 

Sneak Peek of featured Ancient World wines: 

Keush ‘Origins’ Brut 

Lyrarakis ‘Voila’ Assyrtiko 

Orgo Rkatsiteli 

Chateau Musar ‘Levantine’ Red Blend 

And then, mark your calendar for February 20th at Parkway Theater for a screening of the newest of the Somm movies, the highly-anticipated Cup of Salvation, presented by Twin Cities Somms! Click HERE for tickets and more information. 

Mardi Gras Cocktail Recipes

Sazerac cocktail site in front of cocktail shaker

“Laissez les bon temps rouler”, let the good times roll. Mardi Gras is coming up, and just because you’re not in New Orleans doesn’t mean you can’t party this weekend. Check out these new Mardi Gras cocktails crafted by our spirits team!

Polar Vortex

The Minnesota Hurricane

Invented in New Orleans in the 1940’s, the Hurricane is known as a booze-forward party cocktail. We’ve decided to mix it up a bit by swapping the rum for coconut aquavit. The caraway profile of the aquavit helps add complexity, while the coconut fits in with the other tropical elements.

Fruity yellow & red cocktail
  • 2 oz Tattersall Coconut Aquavit
  • ½ oz Lime Juice
  • ½ oz Orange Juice
  • ½ oz Liber & Co Passion Fruit Syrup
  • 1 tsp Grenadine

Add the aquavit, lime juice, orange juice, and passion fruit syrup to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until just chilled. Strain into a rocks glass with crushed ice. Add the teaspoon of grenadine over the top. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Sazerac

A New Orleans staple, this Old Fashioned riff tones down the sweetness by swapping bourbon for rye. Bitters bring some botanical and licorice elements to the party, and the absinthe rinse amplifies those notes. The result is a spicy, botanical forward cocktail that swaps some of the classic Old Fashioned elements for new, interesting flavors.

Sazerac cocktail site in front of cocktail shaker
  • 2 oz Rye Whiskey
  • ½ oz Simple Syrup
  • 2 – 4 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Optional: La Fee Absinthe to rinse

Add ¼ oz of absinthe to a rocks glass and rotate the glass in hand so that the absinthe coats the walls of the glass. Discard the remaining absinthe. Add the whiskey, simple syrup, and Peychaud’s to a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into the absinthe rinsed glass over fresh ice.

French 44

Our take on the classic French 75

    Though not an invention of the Crescent City, the French 75 become wildly popular in New Orleans. The simple recipe of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and sparkling wine is simple to prepare infinitely riff-able, and astonishingly delicious.

    • 1 oz Citadelle Gin
    • ½ oz Lemon Juice
    • ½ oz Liber & Co Grapefruit Cordial
    • 3 oz Kraemer Blanc de Blancs

    Add the gin, lemon juice, and Grapfruit Cordial to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Double strain with a fine mesh strainer into a champagne flute and top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist or a raspberry.

    The Non-Alcoholic Pineapple Paloma

    Cocktail in a coupe glass sits on a snowy table in front of three bottles

    Welcome to Junuary. Yeah, you read that right. Frankly, it’s going to be COLD this weekend, and we will all need a little pick me up, a little taste of the warm weather to come (hopefully soon!). You don’t need alcohol to create flavorful, interesting cocktails and we’re here with one that emulates summer sun & happiness: The Pineapple Paloma. Pineapple syrup adds a tropical sweetness, which is balanced with the bright acidity of the On The Fly Paloma Mixer. It’ll make you feel like you’re sitting on the beach. So throw on a pair of sunglasses, mix yourself this N/A Paloma, stick a cocktail umbrella in your glass, and enjoy this below zero weekend in style with a summery drink in hand. 

    • 2 oz On The Fly Paloma Mixer: On the Fly elixirs are locally produced by Earl Giles Distillery. The Paloma Mixer, made with juice from ruby red grapefruit and lime, is tart with balanced sweetness and vibrant flavors. 
    • ¼ oz Liber & Co Pineapple Gum Syrup: Cold-pressed pineapple juice makes this syrup a truly tropical delight. The syrup is rich in flavor and sweetness, so even this ¼ oz goes a long way to bring summery flavors to the forefront of this cocktail.
    • ½ oz Lime JuiceBoth the Pineapple Syrup and the Paloma Mixer bring quite a bit of sweetness, and the addition of extra lime juice balances the drink with a bit of extra acidity. Non-Alcoholic cocktails are famously hard to balance and citrus does a great job at leveling the sweetness.
    • 2 oz Topo Chico Mineral WaterLastly, the addition of Topo Chico tops of the cocktail with a bit of texture!
    To a cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice, add Paloma Mixer, Pineapple Syrup, and lime juice. Shake well to chill and combine, then pour into either a rocks glass or a coupe and top with Topo Chico sparkling mineral water. Garnish with a lime wheel. 
    *Optional – if you do wish to add alcohol to this cocktail, add 2 oz tequila or mezcal to the cocktail shaker.

    Thanksgiving Beverage Guide 2023

    Thanksgiving is just a few days away, so we wanted to offer you a few suggestions for the big day. Unlike other holidays, Thanksgiving is a long celebration. For some, it may start as early as 4am when the turkey goes into the oven, and for others, it may last well into the night.

    This year, we’ve categorized our beverage suggestions based on different parts of your day. We have something for the football game, something to pair with appetizers, impressive options for dinner, and even a drink to enjoy while digesting the massive meal.

    Whether you’re hosting a traditional Thanksgiving feast or trying something completely new this year, you’ll find something here to enhance your day.

    Beers for the Football Game

    Uffda, these are dangerous! Brewed with finest select malts, this working man’s Pilsner is lavish with flavor. Crisp, light, sessionable, and perfectly balanced with a trusty dry-hop of Citra. It’s the great outdoors, the call of the wild, and the often fresh and cheerful elder. Available in three distinct nature scenes- Deer, Duck, & Pheasant. Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er!⁣ 

    Castle Cream Ale was created while sitting around the kitchen table during our start-up days, and the need for a sessionable beer became clear. Castle Cream is our version of a Cream Ale. Deep gold in color, it has a soft malty aroma, slightly sweet creamy texture with a balanced bitterness, while finishing smooth and clean. 

    Noshing Hour

    A blend of old and new apples only picked from our organic orchard. Including Liberty, Northern Spy, Nova Spy, Keepsake and more. Bubbled naturally with the Charmat Method. All sugars are from the apple, none added. Just Cider. This sparkling hard cider is the perfect way to start out the Thanksgiving meal – festive & bright. 

    France 44 Pointettia

    This festive cocktail is the best of Thanksgiving flavor. The Cranberry Liqueur by Tattersall (local!) adds the perfect touch of sweetness and the brut champagne balances the sweetness and texture beautifully. Add some sugared cranberries and you’ve got yourself a showstopper. 

    Pour 1oz Tattersall Cranberry Liqueur into a flute. Top with 5oz Kraemer Blanc de Blanc Brut. Garnish with sugared cranberries and a sprig of rosemary or thyme. 

    Dinner Time

    Twisted Cedar is a tribally owned and sustainably farmed winery in California. The brand is wholly owned by the Cedar Band of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. Their Petite-Petit is a perfect choice to celebrate Native American heritage this Thanksgiving. Juicy blackberry and bold blueberry notes show in this wine, with a vibrancy of color, aroma, and flavor. 

    This deep, ruby colored, mineral driven, California Pinot Noir shows deep savory red fruit tones, shitake mushrooms, and wet stones. A very elegant wine at a very competitive price. This Pinot Noir will pair beautifully with your turkey as well as with roasted butternut squash.

    This is the perfect choice for the white wine drinkers at your dinner. Gustave Lorentz Gewurztraminer Reserve has a clear and pale-yellow color, with an expressive floral and spicy nose. On the palate, it is a warm attack, but the acidity gives it its remarkable length. The wine is complex and rich but still elegant and food-friendly due to its freshness. 

    Post-Feast

    We just got this new Single Barrel Bourbon last week and we’re so excited to share it with you. Bring this true one of a kind bourbon to your feast this year. Aged for 8 years, this could be our best Elijah Craig barrel to date. Rich caramel and vanilla dominate the nose, with subtle notes of apple and cherries following. The palate is bold and oily, starting with cedar wood that evolves into sweet toffee and balancing spice.

    Our second Rittenhouse Single Barrel! Sweet baking spices lead on the nose with caramel, subtle herbaceousness, and hints of black pepper following. As is breaths, expect sweeter notes of cinnamon and maple to come through. On the palate, bright baking spices evolve in to deeply savory notes of black pepper, black tea, cardamom, and leather. The finish is surprisingly sweet and develops further as it sits. 

    Exploring Ribera del Duero

    One of the most iconic and prestigious wine regions of Spain is Ribera del Duero. Ribera del Duero is located in Castilla y León, about a 2 hour drive northwest of Madrid (central Spain). Castilla y León is home to more than 300 medieval castles dating to the eighth and ninth centuries and the Duero River runs through the region and winemaking dates back 2,000+ years. The Ribera del Duero region is home to the Spanish king of red wine: Tinto Fino, a local name for the Tempranillo grape. If you’ve wandered down our Spanish wine isle in the store, you’ll know that the vast majority of Spanish wines are red, and the vast majority of those Spanish reds contain some amount of Termpranillo. 

    Ribera del Duero’s soil is made of chalk, stone, and clay. The temperatures shift greatly throughout the day due to elevation, and over a third of the vines in the region are over 45 years old. Most of grapes in the region are hand harvested. These factors lead to wines that are full bodied, intensely flavored, and high in quality. Ribera del Duero wines are known for their strong, dark color and dark fruit, tobacco, and vanilla flavors. Below are some recommendations for a great introduction to the region.

    Protos Winery dates back to 1927, when 11 winegrowers in the Ribera del Duero region came together to establish the wine region. Their Tinto Fino wine is deep ruby in color, with balanced acidity and just the right amount of oak coming through. It’s a great, approachable introduction to the wines of Ribera del Duero.

    Viña Sastre is a family-run winery in the Ribera del Duero region. They’re famous for their old-age vines, ranging from 20-65 years of age. This wine is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes and is fermented with native yeasts. The wine shows aromas of red and black berries, and peppery spice comes through on the palate. It’s a big, rich red, perfect for holiday meals and celebrations. 

      The Psi Ribera del Duero has an inviting and expressive nose of blackberry and spice. Its complex, concentrated fruit flavor is followed by soft tannins and bright acidity. 

      The Cepa Rosado is the only rosé of Ribera del Duero that we carry here at France 44. The rosado has the color of a summer sunset, and aromas of Barlett pear, apricot and Stargazer lily. Floral notes open on the palate and fade as ripe summer peach, cantaloupe, passion fruit and vanilla take hold and sail into a refreshing finish. Pair this with fish or cured meat! 

      The Cepa 21 Tempranillo has some spicy and smoky notes from the élevage in oak, which gives it a showy profile. It’s ripe without excess with a sweetness of fruit that coats the palate and makes it a bit jammy. There are plenty of tannins to stand up to food – the wine would pair beautifully with rich, red meats. 

      Just miles from the Ribera del Duero region is the Rueda region, and we wanted to point out one Rueda wine for all the white wine drinkers out there. In the Vina Sastre Flavus Rueda, Dark berries punctuated with Thai basil and cocoa establish a deep dark core. The wine has a surprisingly refreshing palate, like biting into the juicy red center of a ripe peach, which offsets spice and a medium body & structure. 

      November Spirit of the Month: Rye!

      Picture of Jake Rollin

      Jake Rollin

      Jake (he/him) can be found primarily working in the Beer and Spirits departments, though he occasionally dabbles in Wine. He loves helping customers brainstorm ideas for new and interesting cocktails (ask him about his Caprese Sour cocktail), and talking all things whiskey. His fridge is stocked with a healthy combination of local hazy IPAs, Belgian beers, and Riesling, and he has an ever-growing whiskey collection.

      Like it or not, the holiday season is upon us. With that comes colder weather, and with colder weather comes cold weather cocktails…the Hot Toddy, Irish Coffee, and maybe the most famous of them, the Manhattan. Obviously, vermouth plays a major role in a Manhattan, but the star of the show is whiskey, specifically rye whiskey.  

      The word “whiskey” in America has become synonymous with bourbon, but what if I told you that America’s whiskey poster child wasn’t even the first whiskey we produced here? Let’s go back to Pennsylvania in the year 1750. Rye was the major grain being grown due to its propensity for rapid growth in the Mid-Atlantic climate. Farmers and immigrants who had moved to the North American colonies were longing for the whiskey they were familiar with at home and attempted to recreate it using rye as the grain. The result was a whiskey with rich notes of spice, dark red fruits, and black tea. To this day, many American whiskies are produced with varying amounts of rye in the mash bill to add complexity and depth. 

      These days, bourbon has stolen the spotlight for American whiskey, though without rye, there is no bourbon. But what’s the difference between bourbon and rye? Much like bourbon must contain 51% corn in its mash bill, rye must contain at least 51% rye grain. Here at France 44, we often like to swap out bourbon for rye in cocktails, as the flavor profile of rye tends to be a bit more interesting and holds up better to strong cocktail ingredients, like citrus juice and liqueurs. Check out some of our favorite bottles below! 

      With its mash bill of 51% rye, 35% corn, and 14% barley, Elijah Craig Straight Rye sits right on the lower boundary of what qualifies as a rye whiskey. What that means is that this is an ideal rye whiskey for the bourbon drinker who’s looking to get into rye whiskey. It has much softer spice notes than rye whiskies with higher rye content, but still contains enough to create a complex, rich whiskey that would be great on its own or in cocktails. Try it in an Old Fashioned! 

      Where the Elijah Craig is the bourbon drinkers rye, this is a rye drinkers rye. Stellum uses a 95% rye mash bill, which creates a much more spice forward whiskey. Expect notes of baking spices, spiced apples/pears, black pepper, and black tea. This rye is excellent on its own but also makes one of our favorite Manhattans. 

        This rye is a blend of 4-, 6-, and 8-year-old rye whiskies and bottled at barrel strength. The result is a beautiful whiskey with notes of toffee and mint on the nose. As it opens, expect to smell more apples and cherries along with light baking spice notes. The palate is spiced fruit forward, with rich flavors of cinnamon apple and pear, followed by more nuanced flavors of nutmeg, black tea, and cardamom. The finish is long and warming, perfect for the cooler weather. If you enjoy drinking whiskey straight, you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.

        Spooky Halloween Cocktails

        🎃🍹 Get ready to stir up some spine-chilling concoctions and unleash your inner mixologist because Halloween is creeping closer, and it’s time to summon the spirits of delicious, spooky cocktails. As the leaves turn crimson and the nights grow longer, there’s no better way to celebrate this eerie season than by concocting a cauldron of hauntingly good drinks. From vampire-inspired elixirs to ghostly libations, this is your ultimate guide to crafting the most spooktacular Halloween cocktails. So grab your broomstick, light the pumpkin candles, and prepare to be spellbound 👻🍸

        Corpse Reviver 44

        • 0.75oz Aquavit
        • 0.75oz Cap Corse Blanc
        • 0.75oz Dry Curacao
        • 0.75oz Lemon Juice
        • Absinthe, to rinse (optional)
        Optionally, rinse a chilled glass with absinthe (add the absinthe to the glass, swirl, and discard). Add all the other ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Fine strain into the chilled glass, garnish with a lemon twist.

        Blood Moon Margarita

        • 2oz Reposado Tequila 
        • 1oz Lime Juice
        • 0.75oz Tattersall Sour Cherry
        • 0.25o Simple syrup
        Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Fine strain into a chilled glass and serve with a lime wheel.

        Zombie Brain Shot

        • 0.5oz Midori
        • 0.25oz Cream Liqueur (could be bailey’s, bourbon cream, etc.)
        • 1 barspoon grenadine/cherry syrup
        Add the Midori to a shot glass. Carefully pour the cream liqueur over the back of a barspoon so that it rests on top of the Midori. Add the barspoon of grenadine to the middle of the cream liqueur. Take the shot!

        Midnight Manhattan

        • 2oz Rye whiskey
        • 0.5oz – 0.75oz Cynar 
        • 2 dashes Ango bitters
        Stir well over ice. Strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a cherry.

        Fall’s About Warm Spices & Baking… Why Not Make it Boozy?

        Cookies drizzled with glaze

        written by Anna Glassman-Kaufman

        Fall is all about apples, pumpkins, warm spices, and baking. These flavors are screaming for a little bit of liquor, to balance the sweetness and add some depth.

        Before joining the world of France 44, I worked as a baker, and when I think about wines, beers, and spirits, I often think about the ways those flavors can be infused into bakes. Pairing doesn’t have to be as straightforward as drinking a glass of wine alongside a tasty treat; we can pair flavors and textures through cooking and baking. Whether mixing rum or red wine into a cake batter, soaking dried fruit with whiskey, infusing fresh fruit with bubbly wine, or mixing brandy with apples to balance their sweetness.

        Much like all of you, I have a shelf in my dining room stocked with half-empty bottles, initially acquired for various purposes – a specific cocktail, a cooking experiment, or just because they looked interesting. The collection on that shelf seems to keep expanding the longer I spend at France 44, which prompted me to write this blog.

        Cocktails are great, but they’re not the only creative way to use some of the bottles on your shelves. Below are some of my favorite recipes to infuse wine and spirits into your baking. Hopefully they’ll even inspire you to pick up a bottle or two of something new. And in the depths of this blog, we have cocktail recipes for pretty much every spirit you can imagine!

        Here are some ways you can incorporate wines & spirits into your bakes this fall. And of course, recipes and bottle recommendations to go along. 

        Berries soaked in Champagne & St. Germain

        In college, I spent a summer working at a restaurant in Boston called L’espalier on their pastry team. It was a Boston fine dining establishment and the job was intimidating; we used techniques and ingredients I had never heard of and plated desserts with tweezers.

        There was one technique I learned in this job that I still think about. It’s nothing fancy, nothing crazy, but adds a bright burst of flavor and texture to the top of any cake or tart. Strawberries soaked in St. Germain and sparkling wine.

        Purple plated pastry with ice creamAt the restaurant, we used the tiniest fruit baller you’ve ever seen to ball strawberries (you can DEFINITELY use whole or halved berries instead), then soaked them for 8-12 hours in a combination of sparkling wine and St. Germain until they’d taken on some of the floral notes of the elderflower liqueur and the bubbles from the wine. I included a picture here of the dessert with these little berries. I plated that one, my proudest accomplishment. When you bite into one of these tiny strawberries, you first feel the bubbles, then the sweet berry and floral liqueur come to the front of your palate. It’s a perfect bite.

        All you need:

        1 lb fresh strawberries

        ¼ cup St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

        1 ½ cups champagne or prosecco (we recommend Kraemer Blanc de Blancs Brut France NV)

        Wash strawberries well. Halve, quarter, or leave whole and place them in a deep baking dish, Tupperware, or wide bowl. Add the St. Germain and champagne. Let it sit in the refrigerator at least 8 hours or overnight. Use bubbly strawberries to top cakes or tarts!

        Tiramisu

        Next up is a classic Italian dessert: tiramisu. I wish this was something I grew up enjoying, but the truth is, Italian baking didn’t become a part of my life until I enrolled in a pastry school in Florence. We learned all the basics of Italian baking and pastry, and I soon learned that Italians LOVE to use booze in their baking. In school we learned how to make Florenine Fedora Cakes, pictured to the left here, soaked in Alchermes liqueur, and how to make the perfect Cantuccini to dip in Vin Santo wine. But the star of the show was surely the tirimisu. Light savoiardi (lady fingers) dipped in liquor and coffee, layered with a light mascarpone cream make the most decadent, flavorful dessert. And it’s honestly quite easy to make, especially if you need to prep a dessert in advance! There’s a lot of debate about the perfect liquor to use for tirimisu. I’ve used dark rum, whiskey, marsala, it really depends on the flavor you’re looking for. Marsala adds a bit more sweetness to the dessert while rum, brandy, or cognac add a bit more depth and certainly make the dessert a bit boozy. Try it a few ways, and decide for yourself which is best! Now the recipe:

        Lady Fingers: You’re welcome to buy these pre-made, but they’re actually quite simple to do yourself!

        • 3 eggs, separated
        • ½ cup sugar
        • 1 cup all purpose flour
        • 4 tsp cornstarch
        • 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste
        • ½ tsp salt

        Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment. Using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or large bowl and whisk, beat the egg yolks, ¼ cups of sugar, vanilla and salt until pale and light.

        In another bowl and with a clean whisk, beat the egg whites (get ready for a workout if you’re doing this by hand). Once the egg white get a bit frothy, begin to add the remaining ¼ cup sugar one spoonful at a time. Beat until the whites are light and shiny.

        Gently fold the yolk mixture into the whites mixtures. Then sift the flour into your bowl and gently fold that in as well. Do your best to avoid deflating any air in the egg through this process.

        Using a piping bag with a large open tip or a ziplock bag, pipe your batter into logs on your lined sheet trays, about 5 inches long. Give them an inch or two of space between, they will spread a bit in the oven.

        Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden and somewhat firm. Let them cool completely before moving on.

        Mascarpone Cream:

        • 4 egg yolks
        • ½ cups sugar
        • ¾ cups heavy cream
        • 1 cup mascarpone cheese

        Using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or bowl and whisk, whip together the egg yolks and ¼ cups of the sugar until light and airy, and pale yellow in color.

        In a separate bowl, whip the cream and remaining sugar until you achieve soft peaks. Add the mascarpone and keep whipping until just before stiff peaks. At this point, gently fold the two mixtures together.

        Assembly:

        • Lady fingers
        • Mascarpone Cream
        • 1 ½ cups strong coffee or espresso
        • ¼ cup liquor of choice (we recommend Myers’s Dark Rum)
        • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

        Dust the bottom of your serving dish (9×9 or similar works well) with cocoa powder.

        Combine the coffee and liquor in a shallow dish. One at a time, dip your lady fingers into the coffee/rum mixture. Line the bottom of your dish with the dipped lady fingers. When your base layer is finished, spread ⅓ to ½ of the mascarpone cream on top. Then repeat. You want to end with a thin layer of the mascarpone cream, and dust it with more cocoa powder to finish the dessert.

        For another take on this classic dessert, check out Austin’s recipe here on our Cook Like a Cheesemonger blog!

        Brandy Apples

        These brandy apples are adapted from the cookbook Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. In the book, they use the apples to top a gingerbread bundt cake (my attempt at their cake pictured below), but I think they’re just as good on top of vanilla ice cream. Use them for whatever you like.

        • 1 lb apples (Gala or Pink Lady are great)
        • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
        • ½ cup sugar
        • 1 tbsp lemon zest
        • 3 tbsp lemon juice
        • 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste
        • 4 tbsp brandy (We’d recommend Laird’s Applejack)
        • ¼ tsp salt

        Peel and core apples, then slice into thick slices (½ inch). Heat a large skillet over high heat on the stove and add half the apples. Sear for a couple of minutes until they start to get a little color, then remove from the skillet into a bowl and repeat with the second half. Remove the rest of the apples from the pan.

        Over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the apples back into the pan. Cook for a few minutes to fully coat the apples and cook them to soften, but retain their shape. Then add the lemon juice, salt, and brandy. Cook for another few minutes to reduce the sauce, stirring regularly.

        Serve right away to top a cake, ice cream, alongside a nice piece of brie.

        Butter Cookies with Whiskey Soaked Dried Fruit

        Cookies drizzled with glaze

        In school we learned the perfect formula for butter cookies, or Paté Sablee. The formula in weight is 1:1:2 for sugar:butter:flour. Then 10% of the total weight in egg. It’s perfect every time. I’ve translated this into cups for you, but encourage anyone who bakes regularly to buy a kitchen scale and weigh their ingredients.

        When working at a bakery one winter, we had way too much whisky soaked dried fruit at the end of a long season of making Stollen. I mixed the remaining whisky soaked fruit into this cookie dough and made a simple whisky glaze for the finished cookies. Perfection. Might not be the most beautiful cookies, but I guarantee you they’re packed full of boozy holiday flavor.

        Cookies

        • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
        • ½ cup sugar
        • 1 egg, beaten
        • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
        • 1 tsp salt

        Fruit

        • ¼ cup dried cranberries
        • ¼ cup raisins
        • ¼ cup dried cherries
        • ¾ cup Whisky (we recommend Very Old Barton)

        Glaze

        • 1 cup powdered sugar
        • 3 tbsp Whisky
        • 1 tsp vanilla extract

        To prepare the fruit: simply cover the dried fruit in the whisky in an airtight container and allow it to soak at least 12 hours. I typically make the fruit the night before I plan to make my cookies.

        To make the cookie dough: using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Slowly begin to add the beaten egg, mixing well between each addition. Then add all the flour and salt at once, and mix until just incorporated. Lastly, drain the remaining whiskey from your dried fruit and add fruit into your dough. Mix ot incorporate into the dough. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until completely chilled (2-3 hours, or overnight).

        Once chilled, break off half the dough flatted it a bit into a round disk shape. Begin to roll your dough, using flour as sparingly as possible, but enough that the dough doesn’t stick to the counter or your pin. The dough may be a little crumbly, but try not to overwork it as that will make your cookies tough. Roll to about ¼ inch thick, and cut into any shape you like. I like to just cut into squares to avoid any wasted dough.

        Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet, with about 1 inch of space between cookies. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely.

        Once cookies are fully cooled, make the glaze by sifting powdered sugar into a small bowl and mixing well with the whiskey and vanilla until smooth. Use a spoon or piping bag to drizzle the glaze over your cookies, and enjoy!

        Pears Poached in Red Wine

        There’s a little restaurant called Trattoria da Rocco inside of the Mercato di Sant’Ambrosio in Florence. During my time in school there, I lived right nearby and did most of my shopping in the market. Every time, I would see these stunning poached pears in their display case, which they served with a house made caramel. 

        This take on the poached pear is a little bit different than the one I finally savored at the trattoria, but brings out warm, rich, spicy flavors of cinnamon, clove and red wine. These are a perfect dessert to prepare in advance of a dinner party. They’re gluten free, dairy free (unless you serve with whipped cream, which you really should if you can). They’re sure to please.

        • 4 ripe pears
        • 1 bottle of red wine (we recommend Pavette Pinot Noir)
        • 1 cup sugar
        • 1 cinnamon stick
        • 4-6 cloves
        • 1 orange peel
        • 1 vanilla bean, split (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
        • Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional, for serving)

        Start by peeling the pears, leaving the stems intact. Slice a small portion off the bottom of each pear so that they can stand upright without tipping over.

        In a large saucepan, combine the red wine, sugar, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, orange peel, and the split vanilla bean (or vanilla extract).

        Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir until the sugar dissolves completely.

        Once the wine mixture is simmering, reduce the heat to low. Add the peeled pears to the saucepan, ensuring they are fully submerged in the liquid. If necessary, add a little more wine or water to cover the pears.

        Simmer the pears gently for about 25-30 minutes, or until they are tender when pierced with a fork. The cooking time may vary depending on the ripeness of the pears, so check them periodically.

        Once the pears are tender, remove them from the poaching liquid and set them aside.

        Continue to simmer the poaching liquid over low heat, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes, or until it has reduced by half and thickened slightly.

        Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the poaching liquid to remove the spices, orange peel, and vanilla bean (if used).

        To serve, place each poached pear in a serving dish and drizzle the reduced red wine sauce over them.

        Optionally, you can serve the poached pears with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for an extra treat.

        Chocolate Orange Mousse

        Alright, we’ve reached the end. But before we’re done, I have to give you something chocolatey. Chocolate and orange are a classic pair and fit especially well in the cold weather. I bet you all have a bottle of some time of orange liqueur on your shelf from that one time you made margaritas. Here’s a great way to use it! If you don’t already have any, we recommend Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao.

        • 6 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
        • 3 large eggs, separated
        • 2 tablespoons sugar
        • 1/4 cup orange liqueur
        • 1 cup heavy cream
        • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
        • Zest of one orange (optional, for garnish)
        • Fresh orange slices or segments (optional, for garnish)

        Start by melting the chocolate: Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. You can either melt it in the microwave using 30-second intervals or use a double boiler. If you use a double boiler, fill a saucepan with an inch of water and place the bowl of chocolate over it. Heat gently until the chocolate is completely melted. Stir occasionally. Once melted, remove from heat and let it cool slightly.

        In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 1 tablespoon of sugar together until they become pale and slightly thickened.

        Slowly add the melted chocolate to the egg yolks and mix until well combined. Stir in the orange liqueur and vanilla extract.

        In another bowl, whip the heavy cream until it reaches stiff peaks. Be careful not to over-whip; you want it to be smooth and creamy.

        In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until they start to foam. Gradually add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

        Gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. Then, fold in the beaten egg whites, being careful not to deflate the mixture. This will create a light and airy mousse.

        Spoon the mousse into serving glasses or ramekins. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours or until the mousse is set. Garnish with the orange slices and/or zest to serve.

        The Leaves are Changing – Our Wines Don’t Have to Follow Suit

        four bottles of wine sit on a coffee table

        written by Ty Robinson

        There’s no denying it, Minnesotans love fall. The leaves have started to change, there’s a crispness in the air in the early morning hours, the kids have all gone back to school, and the Vikings are on TV. Fall is generally when people unconsciously switch their wine brains into red wine mode. As our dinner plans change from salads and barbeques to braises and roasts, we don’t have to give up our beloved white wines. Strolling through the store there are choices left and right. I’ve got three white wines that are awesome for fall and one bonus item that just landedso let’s take off and taste some great wines. 

        To kick off our fall white journey we’ll take a short flight to California. Brand new to the store is the Alexander Valley Vineyards Gewürztraminer. My grandmother’s favorite grape and the name of one of my dogs, it’s a house favorite, and very fall friendly. The AVV Gewürz has a nose that at first blush takes us to summer. Loaded with apple, citrus lychee and pears, there’s a nervy undercurrent that evokes the spices that we love about fall. Nutmeg, cinnamon and candied lemon peel pop through and on the palate, we get much of the same. This wine is a perfect pairing with the apples that you pick up from your local orchard, be it in salad, on grilled cheese or in an apple pie. The wine is balanced by a solid hit of acid and minerality that helps cut through our favorite fall foods.  

        Our next flight from California we head south, way south, to South Africa. South African wine is a historic wine region that is often underappreciated due to the mass-produced Chenin Blanc (aka “Steen”) of the early 1990’s.  The Zevenwacht Chenin Blanc is a world away from those early South African work horse wines. Made from vines that are 40 years old and unirrigated, we get a wine that is laser focused and complex. On the nose the wine leads with a flinty almost gun smoke quality that is reminiscent of some German Rieslings, followed by white flowers, honeycomb and stone fruit. The wine is aged on the lees and uses a combination of oak, concrete and stainless steel for aging. Wonderfully complex, lots of acid, but a touch of sweetness and the roundness from the lees aging temper the acid. A great alternative to some of our Chardonnays, pair this with your roasted chicken and vegetables with a cream sauce.  

        To round out our three pack of fall whites let’s hop a plane to Northern Italy, specifically Alto Adige and sip on some of the Alois Lageder “Gaun” Chardonnay. This wine comes from one of the finest and most thoughtful producers in the region. This chardonnay sees about 9 months in a combination of stainless-steel tanks and oak barrels to produce a complex wine that everyone will enjoy. Classic Chardonnay on the nose with apple, stone fruit, flowers and a touch of a beeswax quality. The first sip, is light and crisp, like the first bite of that handpicked Honeycrisp apple. A medium body balances both the fruit and the buttery pastry that is hiding underneath. This would be an excellent pairing for a pork loin roast with apples and cognac sauce, or your Iron Range porchetta.  

        For our bonus bottle, we fly to Japan. Sake is a section that is often overlooked, especially when it comes to pairing with food, but it actually is brilliant with most food. Brand new to the store is the MantenseiKinoko” Junmai Ginjo, just look for the bottle with the psychedelic mushrooms on it. Savory and bursting with umami character, the brewer is obsessed with mushrooms and wanted to make a food friendly sake that can be enjoyed both warm and cold. Medium in body with a tannic dryness that red wine drinkers will love. This is his homage to mushrooms: the seasons we hunt for them, the dishes we make with them, their beautiful flavors and aromas and would be fabulous with your grandma’s coq au vin.  

        Just because the leaves are changing doesn’t mean the color of wine in our glass needs to follow suit. So, grab a fluffy sweater, your favorite wine glass, let the oven do the work and enjoy some wonderful white wines that you can fall in love with.