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.



  • 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.



  • 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: 



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. 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.

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.


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.


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