Pairing Wine with Springtime

My name is Mike Schufman. I am not a wine professional, I am a guitar player and drummer with a culinary degree. I graduated from Saint Paul College in 2010, have lived in France, traveled to multiple European countries, and can speak and write in 3 languages. Since studying in the Loire and Rhone regions of France from 2007-2008, I have worked in various settings from full-service restaurants, to corporate dining, to grocery stores, and currently for France 44.

March through April in Minneapolis can feel a bit like getting one’s hopes up; a feeling of cautious optimism. Snow often makes an unwelcome re-visit after a bitter cold but mostly dry February. Meanwhile, moderate to chilly temperatures can create a slushy mess everywhere you look. At the same time, you smell the fresh spring air. You can finally appreciate the crisp breeze accompanied by longer sunshine as you roll down your car windows.

And even crisper than the breeze are the seasonal produce you see at your local market or co-op. There, hipsters flock for the fiddlehead ferns, ramps, spring onions, garlic scapes, peas, asparagus, mint, various other fresh herbs, and hearty, bitter greens. You can see, smell, and taste spring all around you. By May, you’re in heaven! And what is heaven without delicious food and wine?

In my first wine blog, I want to focus on Spring. More specifically, what Spring means for food and wine. Not a sommelier’s take on wine, but rather a culinary angle–my wine picks evoke the flavors and moments of spring. For this blog, I will focus primarily on white wines for their versatility and bright, crisp flavor that lends itself so perfectly to seasonal springtime dishes.

Pretty much, name something green, and it’s probably in season. Many of these fresh, vegetal flavors, in the wine world, are referred to exactly as the foods that offer them appear: “green.” Green is more than a color. It may signify bitterness, freshness, rawness, or unripeness. It can also signify healthfulness; that which is medicinal, refreshing, bright, acidic, youthful, vibrant, and zesty. Now we have a canvas on which to paint a lovely culinary picture.

As I see it, whether you’re combining foods together to create a dish, or combining a dish with wine, you are looking for balance and harmony. This can come from:

1. Complementary or contrasting flavors and textures (sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy, acidic and fatty, funky and fresh) Here, we prevent an overload of one component of food by providing a resolution.

2. Matching flavors (Herbs and goat cheese, Chocolate and chilis, stout-braised short ribs, mint and cucumber) Here we find a common theme between two seemingly different components and play on a particular flavor as an abstract concept that we wish to highlight. And in doing these two things, we also strive to avoid the third scenario:

3. Clashing flavors (Fish and cheese, Umami/Earthy+Gamey, Acidic +Hot and Spicy) Here, we unfortunately combine components that have similar needs of resolution, leaving your tastebuds and stomach feeling very, very sad.

Depending on your preference, you can lean toward #1 or #2, and chances are, your wine pick is going to be great! The most important rule is that there are no absolute rules, and sometimes, you just know what you like. If you like chardonnay with everything, then drink chardonnay with everything!

So, anyway, onto the wine picks! I have chosen 3 different styles to highlight.

Meinklang Burgenland White | Austria | $18.99 | This biodynamic white blend screams springtime with its bright, green, floral notes. An intriguing 50-40-10 blend of grüner veltliner, welschriesling, and muskat (respectively), this white offers a cohesive flavor profile rather than any obvious varietal characteristics. The nose is pleasantly fresh and aromatic, bursting with fresh, floral citrus akin to bergamot, coriander seed, and mint. In a weird but welcome way, childhood memories of opening a fresh box of fruit loops come to mind. Acidity is vibrant and reminiscent of Granny Smith apples or pears tossed with lime zest. This wine is pure excitement on for your tastebuds at under $20 a bottle.  Enjoy with mild stir-frys featuring green vegetables, chicken pizza with ramp and almond pesto, minty lamb meatballs, or a nice falafel sandwich* with lemon tahini, crisp romaine lettuce, and fresh tomato.

Culinary Note:

*Where did I come up with the idea to pair this with falafel? Not only are falafels crispy and delicious, but they are also jam-packed with fresh parsley and cilantro, with just a hint of zesty green chilis and spices such as cumin and coriander. This, along with the nutty characteristic of fried chickpeas (some versions feature fava beans as well) pairs beautifully with this style of wine. 

 


 

Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy | From the grape garganega, which is scientifically identical to the Sicilian viarietal Grecanico.

Being a culinary graduate, I find a lot of overlap between the jargon between foodies and wine nuts (By the way, you can’t caramelize a steak!). After all, part of the fun is finding the balance between the simpleton and the snob. If you don’t say something slightly pretentious, are you even enjoying it?

Medium bodied, this style gives you complex aromas, vibrant acidity, and nice, oily texture on the palate.

Sometimes, when people describe wine tasting notes, I think to myself “Wow that’s very specific. Toasted almond? Is it really a note of toasted almond? “Nutty” or “almond” isn’t enough of a description? But when I swirl this in a glass, it is clear to me. This is toasted almond. The aromatic compounds are reminiscent of nuts having gone through to transformation of roasting. A raw almond note, by contrast, would read much more subtle on the nose, similar to unripe stone fruit. For this more subtle almond note, lighter body and fruitiness reminiscent of honeydews, reach for a verdicchio or grechetto (try Andrea Felici Verdicchio–$17.99, or Antonelli Grechetto–$16.99).

These wines would be brilliant with anything pesto* fine Italian cheese & charcuterie plates, pan-seared whitefish and green beans amandine with lemon zest, and would also shine alongside a mushroom risotto with asparagus.

Examples:

Inama Soave Classico | $17.99

Pra Staforte Soave Classico | $27.99

*Culinary Note: Since I’ve mentioned pesto twice, I’d like to add a note from the kitchen and mention it a third time. I know–it’s not 1991, but pesto doesn’t need to go out of style and can be revisited anytime. Plus, it tastes like spring. In culinary school, we learned that anything can be classified as a pesto if it features these components:

  1. A nut. In the classic basil pesto, pine nuts are used for their piney aroma and butteriness. But you can swap it out for marcona almonds, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, macadamias, anything that you can call a culinary nut.
  2. A plant tissue. This would be the basil leaves and garlic in the classic green pesto. But this can be interpreted many ways. This could be kale, mint, ramps, roasted bell pepper, fresh peas or mustard greens. Get creative and use whatever you picked up at the farmer’s market that would work for the flavor you want to create!
  3. A cheese. Doesn’t have to be parmigiano reggiano, though always a great choice. Anything nutty and aged is good. But you can also take it in a different direction and go with something creamy and herbaceous like chevre. Get creative!
  4. An oil. This is when you want to break out the extra virgin olive oil. That said, some chefs do like to dilute the mixture with a neutral oil and only add a small amount of extra virgin to finish it, to prevent the overall mix from being too bitter.

 


 

Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Riesling Kabinett Trocken | Pfalz, Germany | $23.99

This riesling achieves a wonderful balance. It delivers the bracing acidity that you would expect from German riesling accompanied by tropical notes of coconut, green apple and citrus zest. There is an underlying hint of green or vegetal flavors and a pleasant minerality. The fact that there is so much going on in this wine is resolved by the ever-so-slight hint of residual sugar, though still well within the category of “dry.” This gives the wine some roundness and a refreshing character that makes you want to come back for another glass. This riesling could be featured with a variety of dishes, from Thai coconut chicken soup, to roasted sweet potatoes with harissa, to pork chops with kohlrabi slaw or braised cabbage.

Other dry, balanced Rieslings to consider:

Donnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling Trocken | Rheinhessen, Germany | $29.99

Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling Clone 239 | Finger Lakes, New York | $14.99

And there you have it! My top 3 white wine picks to go with your creative springtime meals! I hope you enjoyed reading, and just maybe it will inspire you or change the way you think about the food, the flavors, and the moments. Have fun in the kitchen and enjoy the weather!

 

 

Wine and Winter Bonfire Pairings

written by Karina

Breaking out the Good Glasses 

A few weeks ago, we had a friend over for a socially-distanced bonfire and dinner. We hung up string lights, shoveled out the patio, and brought out every blanket we could find. We’ve done this plenty of times over the winter to assuage our feelings of social starvation.

But this time, we also decided to bring out the good wine glasses. This particular friend knows wine, and we figured that just because we were clutching our glasses with mitted hands and peering out through icicle-laden parka hoods didn’t mean we couldn’t drink well. The pairing of the night was homemade Gochujang-marinated chicken pizza with Donnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling, which was perfectly chilled after hanging out in a snowbank for 20 minutes. The sweet, tangy sauce and gentle red chili heat turned into a flavor explosion with the bright, vibrant flavors of the dry Riesling. The combination of the incredible food, wine, and lawn chairs in the snow resulted in an unexpected delight at the entire situation.

How to Beat the Winter (Pandemic) Blues:

My general expectations during this last year of distancing and isolation have plummeted to an unsurprisingly low level. There has been little reveling in exceptional, awe-inspiring events, whether they be culinary, aesthetic, philosophic, sports-related, et cetera. The feeling of “gray” pervades a lot of life, and it has become alarmingly easy to float from month to month without much notice. “Delight” has become chintzy and sarcastic within the scope of the pandemic.

Look, it’s bitterly cold outside. We only need one hand to count the number of sunny days in 2021. But I’m telling you, it feels really good—powerful, even—to defy the bleakness of winter (and the world at large) and break out the good wine glasses. That Donnhoff Riesling sent a jolt of energy through me and reminded me that I don’t have to succumb to grayness while I wait for the world to reclaim some sense of normalcy. Here’s a simple recipe for creating a little delight in your life:

  1. Buy a bunch of cheap string lights and go to town on your fence, trees, and house. Get decadent with ice lanterns.
  2. Procure a heating device. A roaring bonfire is ideal, but can be replaced by a mini grill or kerosene lamp in a pinch.
  3. Surround your heating device with chairs (set six feet apart, of course). Garnish with thick blankets. Distribute hand and foot warmers if needed.
  4. Serve guests hearty portions of boeuf bourguignon, homemade pizza, chili, creole jambalaya, or a spoonable/eat-with-your-hands dish of your choice.
  5. Make a show of opening The Good Wine. Pour generously into your fancy hand-wash-only glasses. Don’t be afraid—the snow piles will stop them from breaking should they slip out of your mitten.
  6. Don’t forget dessert. S’mores with raspberries smashed between the graham cracker and the chocolate (real chocolate; not Hershey’s) make for a delightful pairing with spiked hot chocolate.

Pairings

Here are a few current favorite bottles to warm your blood for your own socially-distanced evenings of decadence:

Syrah | There’s no better red for a bonfire than Syrah. The smoky, woodsy aromas and flavors of J.L. Chave ‘Offerus’ St-Joseph ($34.99) or the deep, dark fruits of Gramercy Cellars Syrah ($39.99) make you almost forget that it’s zero degrees outside.

Tempranillo | This Spanish superstar grape also has an outdoorsy nature to it and draws you in with spice, leather, and wood smoke. Try Pingus ‘Psi’ Ribera del Duero ($35.99) for its dark, rustic flavors or Remelluri Rioja Reserva ($39.99) for something polished but filling.

Heavy Whites Full-bodied, richly flavored white wines are equally as satisfying (if not more so) than any red. Chave’s ‘Circa’ St-Joseph Blanc ($34.99) is an unctuous, decadent, full-bodied white for those who hate Chardonnay(?!). Chateau Yvonne Saumur Blanc ($53.99) is a full-throttle, creamy Chenin Blanc that will never disappoint. But if you really want to go all out, splurge on a bottle of Remelluri Rioja Alavesa Bianco ($89.99) and sink into its regal, Burgundy-esque character. Best drunk in silence.

High-acid Whites & Bubbles | I’m telling you—that Donnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling ($29.99) can light up any cold, dark winter night. Even though it might not be “warming” in the sense that heavier wines can be, its electrifying nature gets your blood pumping just the same. Roger Coulon’s l’Hommee Premier Cru Champagne ($69.99) was my #1 wine last year, and it brought a satisfyingly delicious transition into 2021. There’s no need for a special occasion; simply deciding to open it is all the occasion you need.

Good wine, good glasses, a roaring fire, and well-chosen company: these are our tools of defiance against the doldrums of a wintertime pandemic.

Shifting the Trend: The New American Red Blend

written by Karina

The category of “red blends” has always been a tricky one. Every country in the world makes red blends, and unfortunately there’s no standard recipe for what constitutes a red blend. They can be full-bodied and bursting with ripe, juicy fruit and a silky, ultra-drinkable quality. They can also be earthy and funky with mouth-drying tannins and tart fruit. They can be mind-bendingly complex, or simple and straightforward. 

And while so many regions worldwide are known for their beautiful blends, American drinkers are perhaps more likely to think of Red Blends as, well, distinctly American. These typically big, concentrated blends are packed with ripe, fruity flavors (and might have a few sneaky extra grams of residual sugar).  

But there are two blends we’ve gotten into recently that buck the trend of high alcohol, over-ripe fruit and instead explore the more elegant side of what red blends can be:

 Next Wines Red Blend | $15.99 | Columbia Valley, WashingtonOnce you taste the perfect harmony of fruit, spice, and well-integrated tannins, it makes sense that this Washington State blend was made by an Oregon Pinot Noir producer. King Estate is known for their world-class Pinot Noir and makes their wines with a beautiful freshness and finesse that highlights the best things about the grape. It’s no surprise that they have the same philosophy with their other wines. An almost equal balance of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it’s honest, delicious, and won’t break the bank.

Birichino ‘Scylla’ Red Blend | $21.99 | Santa Cruz, CaliforniaJohn Locke got his winemaking training from one of the most eccentric wine characters in American history: Randall Graham of Bonny Doon. Graham was one of the pioneering “Rhône Rangers” in California in the late 1980s and rose to fame for his against-the-grain winemaking philosophies and for championing little-known grapes. John Locke takes a similar approach with this fresh, incredibly fragrant red blend from Carignane, Grenache, and a splash of Mourvèdre. As with all of John’s wines, the Scylla is fermented with native yeasts, aged in neutral barrels, and was not fined or filtered. “All Scylla, no fylla,” as he says.

Beyond blends, the “new wave” (ie, the last 15-20 years) of California winemakers has adopted an avant garde approach to the identity of Californian wine. The Californian wine ideals of the 1990s and aughts with new oak barrels, overripe grapes, and high-octane Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have fallen by the wayside, and in their place are grapes that were once only found in their indigenous European homelands: 

Forlorn Hope “The Kerrigans” | $21.99 | Mendocino, CaliforniaMatthew Rorick has made a name for himself by way of quotable, head-turning names and niche, hole-in-the-wall grape varieties. He loves bringing the ‘old school’ wine styles back to life—the gritty, of-the-earth types that remind you that wine is food and not a showpiece. “The Kerrigans” is named in homage to what many old grape growers still call Carignan (car-i-nyan) in California—the perfect description of what to expect in this crunchy, no-nonsense, chillable red.

Matthiasson Pinot Meunier | $24.99 | Napa Valley, California | Pinot Meunier’s spiritual home is Champagne, where it’s used to add fruitiness and acidity in blends with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in world-famous bubbly. And while it’s not seen much by itself in France (or really anywhere else in the world for that matter), Steve & Jill Matthiasson decided it would be a hit as a still wine from Napa Valley. Originally planted for Mumm sparkling wine, this single-vineyard Pinot Meunier is earthy and mineral driven, while still retaining those sunshine-kissed pomegranate and blueberry flavors and that fragrant rose petal note that Meunier is so well-known for.

More New Grapes To Try:

Forlorn Hope “Queen of the Sierra” Red Blend | $21.99 | Calaveras County, California

Cruse Wine Co. Tannat | $27.99 | Mendocino, California

Stolpman “Love You Bunches” Sangiovese | $27.99 | Santa Barbara, California

Martha Stoumen Nero d’Avola | $44.99 | Sonoma, California

Grilling + Wine: Part 1

lovingly written by Eric the Meat Guy and Adam the Wine Guy

This is a topic that needs no introduction (but here we go anyways).

A grill is a Minnesotan’s best friend. It doesn’t matter what you throw on it–burgers, pizza, kebabs, salmon, peaches, corn, watermelon–a grill elevates all food to the next level. Sure, beer goes along with grilled goods just fine if you just want something simple to wash down all your carefully charred-to-perfection masterpieces. But if you really want to give the fruits of your labor the strong supporting role they deserve, we’ve got a few killer bottles of wine that need a spot on your picnic table. What follows are a few of our France 44 grilling essentials, tips for preparation, and a perfect wine pairing for each.

CARDAMOM CHICKEN | One hand butchered boneless, skin on half chicken from the Green Circle family of farms, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, parsley and coarse ground cardamom. A good hard sear on each side and 15-20 minutes of indirect heat at 400F is all this lovingly prepared bundle of chicken requires. 

Birichino Chenin Blanc | $24.99 | Bright crisp acidity and flavors of peach, pear, and honeysuckle make this a natural pairing with the herbaceous and savory qualities of the Cardamom Chicken. 

BERBERE LAMB SKEWER | Thin cuts of unctuous lamb belly and shoulder off our locally raised lamb from the Lamb Shoppe in Hutchinson, Minnesota are seasoned with Ethiopian style Berbere seasoning and skewered with fresh slices of red onion. Five minutes of direct medium high heat on each side and five minutes of indirect heat at 400F produces a perfectly done juicy skewer every time.  

Commanderie de la Bargemone Rosé | $21.99 | One of the most consistent rosés year in and year out. Light and easy with fresh strawberry and citrus on the pallet, pairs well with the unique flavor profile of the Berbebe seasoning.   

FRANCE 44 JUICY LUCY | A Minnesotan classic, with a France 44 flair. Hand butchered, hand ground beef from Peterson Farms in Osceola, Wisconsin stuffed with caramelized onions and perfectly melty Marcel Petite Comte Fleur. Five minutes of a hard sear on each side, and 8 minutes of gentle, indirect heat at 400F gives you an ideal medium doneness and decadently gooey Comte.  

Valravn Zinfandel | $21.99 | Rich and bold flavors of red and blue berry fruits, combine with silky texture that will go hand and hand with the Juicy Lucy from France 44.

 

 

The France-4-4 on Thanksgiving, Drink Choices, and the In-Laws

by Chaz Fenske

As the end of November comes, people begin reflecting on their New Year’s Resolutions, how sweet and fulfilling the year has been, the growth, the joys…

Just kidding. The end of the year is filled with holiday shopping, party planning, school schedules, conferences, decorating for Halloween, (and Thanksgiving) and of course Christmas. Thanksgiving should be a nice break to take a breath, but of course… the in-laws are coming over this year.

Now, this may be your first Thanksgiving with the in-laws, and you’re excited! Or after 10 years of marriage, you’re convinced Robert de Niro in Meet the Parents studied his role under your own father-in-law, not Robert de Niro. While we can’t help with this, we can help prepare the perfect pairing for each part of Turkey Day, and each family member you will encounter.

 

Wednesday Night Arrival: A few beers with the brother and sister

Mom, dad, your partner’s 2 siblings, and Uncle Rico have arrived. After a quick hello and hug goodnight, the parents are in bed (Uncle Rico is watching sports recap). This is a great time to bring out the beers to celebrate Thanksgiving Eve at home and catch up with some more unfiltered conversation. (Note: all these beers can and should be consumed throughout the day and pair well with the big meal).

Fair State Pils | $9.49/4pk | An award winning Pilsner from Minneapolis, this is a perfect start to the weekend, and something you can drink all weekend throughout the meal and into football. Hoppy, grassy, and crispy, this will rival the other craft beers put out for the weekend while being just as refreshing as a domestic light beer.

Bad Weather Ominous Double Brown Ale | $9.99/6pk | A fun dark beer for the colder weather that will be great for Uncle Rico who doesn’t know the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sauvignon Blanc. Malty and dark with some nutty flavors and a slight tinge of roasty flavor, this thick and full beer is incredibly drinkable at 7.5% ABV.

Saison Dupont | $14.99/4pk or $11.99/750ml | Maybe save this one to go with the wine coming out during the meal. This is the Saison to end all Saison. Dry, minerally, and spicy, the clove and banana esters will pair swimmingly while trying to figure out which boy is the new boyfriend for your partner’s sister, as well as the “When we won state” stories from 10 years ago.

 

Thanksgiving Morning Cocktails for Grandma and Grandpa

It’s a holiday, which means cracking a cold one at 9 AM is socially acceptable. But we have some fun spirit suggestions for you to fancy up the holiday. You can only be thankful once a year!

Pancake Old Fashioned | A nice twist on the Old Fashioned. Take 3 oz 1792 Bottled in Bond Bourbon ($44.99), ⅓ oz maple syrup, and 3 dashes of Bittercube Trinity Bitters ($19.99), and you will have the perfect mixed drink to sub in for breakfast as you prepare for the big feast. Maybe Grandpa will even mention his Papi Van Winkle he’ll break out “from one bourbon fan to another” for Christmas this year.

Raspberry Royale |  Start in a flute glass with ⅓ oz St. George Raspberry Liqueur (200ml, $16.99), and then top the drink with 5 oz of Dibon Cava ($9.99). A fun twist on the overdone mimosas, the Raspberry Royale is fruity, flirty, and fun. Even Grandma will want 2.

The Main Feast with your partner’s mother and father

This is the true test, especially because your partner’s parents did a week vacation in Napa Valley this past summer. If nothing else works out this weekend, bringing these three wines will win you favor and fortune all the way until Christmas in less than 30 days. We have a red, white, and bubbles so everybody has something for the meal.

White: 2018 Kaapzicht Kliprug Chenin Blanc | $19.99 | A two-layered white from South Africa, Kaapzicht Chenin Blanc brings out crunchy apples, pineapple, and stone fruit. An oaky finish follows the fruit cornucopia from a little time in oak barrels. This dual threat will be favorable and approachable for everyone.

Red: 2017 North Valley Pinot Noir by Soter Vineyards | $34.99 | A light red berry fruit starts this wine, with gentle undertones of forest floor and green earth, and a pinch of smoky breakfast tea. Silky tannins adds depth, but it stays agile enough that even Uncle Rico will put down his Budweiser to try a glass.

Bubbles: Tissot Bugey Blanc | $24.99 | These bubbles will be perfect throughout the day. Dry, savory, toasty flavors are well-rounded by the sweet floral aromas. The perfect choice for cooking up stuffing in the crockpot or skirting out of the “Why didn’t you go back for your Master’s yet like you said last year?” conversation.

 

The After Dinner Digestive: St. Agrestis Amaro

After the feast, everyone will feel sluggish, bloated, and nap happy, but you are definitely going to need to clean all the dishes by yourself. St. Agrestis Amaro ($39.99), an Italian liqueur, is the perfect weapon to combat the tempting post-meal nap. Sassafras, clove, and mint are the main flavors from this digestif to help settle the stomach and enjoy a good 45 minutes of alone-time while everyone else falls asleep watching the football game.

We can’t help you get out of those awkward conversations, passive Minnesotan remarks about your new cardigan, or talking about who did what that one time 20 years ago with someone you never met. But family is family, we love them all, and these liquors will be the perfect drinks to spend (survive) the holiday weekend.

The Mac & Cheese Events

Macallan has created a program to create cheese and scotch pairings and share them with customers, and when they invited us to join in, we jumped at the opportunity.

Continue reading