The world loves Sauvignon Blanc. Bright, citrusy flavors, mineral freshness and that wild, herby edge make this zesty wine easy to love. New Zealand has barreled its way onto the international wine scene within the last few decades with its electrifying Savvy B’s (please don’t ever use that term in real life), chock full of grapefruit, passionfruit, and Kiwi sunshine.
And then there’s Sancerre, ready and waiting for the folks who desire a less in-your-face expression of the grape. If “minerally” is your descriptor of choice and you feel you could do with less enamel on your teeth, Sancerre’s screechingly-high acidity, chalky raciness, and barely-there fruit is right up your alley.
We sell a lot of these two wines, and the sales never seem to slow down no matter what season we’re in. But if you’ve been in France 44 (or any wine store) within the past few months, you may have noticed that your favorites haven’t always been there for you.
New Zealand’s woes have been many: there have been aftershock effects from the European wine tariffs a couple years ago and the inability to satiate thirsty countries, the country completely closed their borders to fend off COVID-19 and so shut off a lot of shipping routes, and extreme spring frosts in 2020 resulted in a 30% crop loss… just to name a few challenges.
Sancerre has been battling similar weather wars in recent years, with the devastating 2016 and 2017 vintages being the most horrific. Since then, recovery has been slow but steady, but prices have increased exponentially. When you combine these challenges with those pesky tariffs and an international market that just can’t get enough of that classy “Sancerre” name on the label, it’s easy to understand why a bottle of Sancerre under $30 is now considered a bargain.
But we don’t believe in stories that don’t have happy endings, especially when there’s wine involved. Wine makes people happy, so as long as there’s wine around, the endings are bound to be happy too.
Sancerre and New Zealand have vast, loyal followings, and they will continue to produce as much Sauvignon Blanc as they can squeeze from their vineyards. (France has strict laws about expanding appellations, and New Zealand is an island, after all.) But Sauvignon Blanc is produced in nearly 30 different countries around the world, each with their own unique expression of the grape. The future might be murky for Sancerre and New Zealand, but it’s bright, shiny, and pretty dang delicious for your own palate’s journey.
Here are a few of our personal favorite “alternative” Sauvignon Blancs ripe for exploring:
DOMAINE TEILLER MENETOU-SALON | Loire Valley, France | $23.99 | For those of you Francophiles that are nervous about stepping too far outside your comfort zone, try Domaine Jean Teiller from Menetou-Salon—a literal stone’s throw away from Sancerre. The soils are quite similar with their chalky, marine-fossil stones littering the vineyards (see picture). The plots are slightly farther away from the river and have less elevation than Sancerre, which helps in producing slightly plumper, riper wines with beautiful floral and peach notes. Domaine Teiller is completely hand-harvested and has been certified organic since 2017, assuring excellent quality. And as we all know, good grapes make good wine.
VON WINNING SAUVIGNON BLANC II | Pfalz, Germany | $24.99 | If you’ve never met Amy Waller (or really any of the rest of our wine staff), the first thing to know about her is that she’s a German wine freak. She moonlights for Wines of Germany as a German Wine Ambassador, and she has singlehandedly doubled our German wine section since she first started working for us. This makes for great anguish as we try to jam yet one more German wine into a tiny section, but great delight in carrying world-class producers like Von Winning. This minimalist/perfectionist producer attributes his success to “not doing the wrong thing at the wrong time,” which means: let the grapes do the work and don’t get in the way. The Pfalz is a sunshiny region in western Germany, and this wine is pumped full with bright lemon zest and lemongrass. If we haven’t yet hammered home that Germany isn’t “just Riesling,” this stunning wine will definitely do the trick.
LEAH JORGENSEN SAUVIGNON BLANC | Rogue Valley, Oregon | $24.99 | Really, this blog post was written as another excuse to wax poetic about Leah Jorgensen, the Pirate Princess of Oregon. We love to support Leah for so many reasons: She’s a badass boss lady, living out her Rogue Valley wine dream exactly the way she wants to. She’s funny, used to do standup comedy, and loves pulling pranks. She’s deeply tuned into her heritage and roots, and weaves it all perfectly together with the present. Her single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect expression of this, giving a vision of what the Loire Valley used to be before stainless steel and super-techy wineries were a thing. This Sauvignon Blanc has deep flavors and is more complex than you might expect, and the lees aging and stirring presents a gorgeous richness to counteract the flintiness and bright acidity.
BONUS ALTERNATIVE: LE SOT DE L’ANGE ALZ | France | $29.99 | We couldn’t resist putting in one last oddball for the ultra-adventurous Blankety Blanc drinkers out there. These guys go beyond what is traditional for Loire Valley wines. They don’t merely add new chapters to the canon of classics; sometimes they scribble over what’s already been written. This certified-biodynamic estate (extremely rare in this part of the Loire) is extremely thoughtful in making sure the wines they make are imprinted with the land they come from—the terroir of each individual plot of land. ALZ is an off-the-wall expression of Sauvignon Blanc… and Chardonnay… and Chenin Blanc. The crazy thing about this wine is that you can truly taste all three grapes separately if you focus on them individually, but they meld together in a strangely perfect way, too.
Barbecues and Up-North getaways are making up a large portion of our August weekends here at France 44, both for staff and customers! With that lazy August energy in the air, we thought it would be more fun to find out what bottles the staff are taking with them on their vacation days, rather than doing an in-depth study of a particular wine or producer. So, without further ado, here’s what the France 44 staff is drinking: Wine Edition!!
I’ve been infatuated with this dry Lambrusco that looks and tastes like a perfectly ripe raspberry. It’s a refreshingly dry take on this traditional wine style, and the effervescent bubbles are a good reminder that Lambrusco really was out there doing the ‘pet-nat’ thing before it was a thing. You really can’t find a better wine to take the edge off these hot August afternoons!!
This gorgeous, unique white from the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains is sort of a “Goldilocks Wine.” Using the indigenous grapes Petit Manseng and Petit Corbu, the winemakers of Illaria manage to create a near-perfect balance of fruit and minerality, resulting in a wine that’s not too austere and not too fruity. Enjoy this “just right” bottle with just about any food you can imagine.
This is a tasty little wine! Sourced from grapes grown in the Camp 4 vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, this is a ripe and rich white made from a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Roussanne. This blend of grapes is more traditional to Southern France than Southern California, but the winemakers at Kita manage to create a rich, ripe white out of them that is unmistakably Californian, with tons of zesty citrus and white peach flavors. It’s also worth noting that Kita Wines is owned by the Santa Barbara Band of Chumash Indians, who are the first Native American tribe to own and operate both a winery and a vineyard.
The Pax North Coast Syrah seems to have everything I want in a Syrah. It has plenty of blackberry, plum, black pepper, and subtle floral notes. It is peppery with an ample amount of fruit yet still somehow refined and elegant. Honestly, all that matters is that it is absolutely delicious. I’m grabbing another bottle of this for the weekend!
What I’m drinking always revolves around what we’re cooking in the kitchen that night. My favorite go-to food wines are German and Italian whites, but here are the most memorable pairings from my summer:
As a beer team member, I don’t always drink wine, but when I do I drink La Nevera Boxed Wine. It’s dry, fresh, delicious and it’s in a box (four bottles of wine fit in one 3L box!). What else can you ask for? Stay thirsty my friends.
What have I been drinking this summer? Rose, bright acidic white wine and lighter body reds. My favorite discovery of the summer hasn’t been a particular wine, but a particular bottle size. I love 1 liter bottles of wine! They are approachable, affordable, and tend to satisfy all palates. They are crowd pleasers for your backyard BBQ, and you get the extra 250ml out of the bottle. What’s not to like?
I love this wine, especially when it’s hot out and I’m still in the mood for a fun red. Pop it in the fridge for 20 minutes and put a slight chill on it, then sit on the patio and enjoy — it’s like having a glass of cool ripe strawberries. The bright red fruits and acid make it perfect for sipping on a warm day, but the structure, minerality and spice are there too, and this can easily stand up to barbecue and burgers.
I recently took Perles Fines sparkling rose to my best friend’s birthday party and it was a total crowd pleaser. It’s dry and paired well with the birthday cake. Plus, the muselet has an adorable unicorn cartoon on the cap which was a fun surprise! This will definitely be my go-to for birthday bubbles.
This wine is an absolute grilling & cabin staple. The Graziano family has been making awesome wine in Mendocino since the early 1900’s and the 3rd and 4th generations of winemaking tradition are being carried on by the family today. It is juicy and rich and goes perfectly with just about anything off the grill! Seriously, try this with cheeseburgers. Needless to say, this wine slaps.
By Melissa, Operations and Systems Queen (and Cider Specialist!)
Author Arnold Bennett was quoted as saying, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accomplished by discomforts.” In the last 16 + months of trials with new sales systems and ordering platforms at France 44, we have all experienced exactly what he was saying 100 years ago.
Let me start by saying THANK YOU to all of you loyal customers who have stayed with us through all the changes that have occurred. Staffing, business hours, technology, and operations have all changed a lot. Some things have gone very well (curbside pickup, virtual classes) while others didn’t go well (new apps). Your feedback has been heard about all of it and we have been working hard to adjust and make things better across the board.
The biggest complaints came about ordering online. The new platform we have been using is great for somethings we do, but not for the online store. For the last several months, we have been redeveloping the online store for a better user experience. For those of you who use the online store, you will see a very different layout. We hope that you find it easier to find the products you are looking for.
As for a new app, we have not been able to find one that meets all our needs. We will continue to look but in the meantime, you can always ask someone at customer service to look up your past purchases and points. If a time comes where the perfect app can be ours, we will let you know!
Once again, thank you for your patience as we navigated all the changes we experienced together. Know that the one thing we will never change is our commitment to providing the best customer service we have the ability to give. We continue to welcome feedback as we work to improve our systems and online shopping experiences. Cheers, and thank you!
My name is TK Mehlhaff. I am WSET Level 2 Certified, I am a LGBTA+ member, proudly deaf, a cancer survivor of 2017, and of course part of the France 44 Family for the past three years. A fun fact about myself is that I can converse in three languages (English, American Sign Language, and Spanish). I absolutely love cooking, traveling, and diving into the world of wine!
Summertime means I’m craving travel, and recently I’ve loved learning about the wines of Spain. Last year I did my first virtual “mini-class” for France 44 during an Instagram happy hour featuring Spanish wine, and I’m happy to bring it back once again for my first blog! It made me first fall in love with the wine world despite my many identities, and I’m thrilled to share my story on whatever platform I have access to. Plus, drinking the wines and eating the cheeses of a particular country can bring us closer to actually traveling, despite not being able to travel like we used to.
So, why Spain? Fun fact: Did you know that Spain has the largest vineyard surface area in the world? It also has over 4,000 wineries that are divided between 130 official wine regions. It would be nearly impossible to cross any of the 50 Spanish province borders without driving through at least one wine producing region. Wherever you go in Spain, there are good options nearby for enjoying some wine tourism, so why not include it in your next trip?
I can help you with preparation for the trip! Let’s make sure we are prepared. First, do you have your passport? Do you have our eyes, nose, and mouth ready to go on the trip? Join me and taste the wines!
DELICIOSO TEMPRANILLO (La Mancha) – Lively and focused on the nose, displaying spice-accented red and dark berry scents and a subtle floral accent. It’s juicy and vaguely jammy on the palate, and offers black raspberry and cherry flavors that tighten up slowly on the back half. It’s made in an appealing, very easy-to-drink style, displaying no obvious tannins and good closing thrust. Drink this tasty mid-week drinker alongside some Cabriolait goat cheese!
LA FLOR Y LA ABEJA (Ribeiro) – This summery wine is brightly hued with green and yellow. Racy, mineral-accented citrus and orchard fruit aromas pick up chalky mineral and ginger nuances with a little air. It is taut and focused on the palate, offering fresh lemon, green apple and melon flavors, and a hint of fennel. The mineral note drives a long, detailed finish that leaves a citrus rind note and a subtle touch of honey behind. Drink with some delicious L’Amuse Brabander goat cheese.
EMENDIS ‘NU ALLONGE’ BRUT CAVA (Penedes) – The grapes for this fresh sparkling wine are 45% Xarel-lo, 35% Macabeo, and 20% Parellada. Xarel-lo gives body and structure, Macabeo gives elegance and finesse as well as delicately bitter notes, with aromas of sweet white fruit. Parellada completes the blend with a light, refreshing citric acidity. All the grapes were hand-harvested. Nuallonge is a tribute to the Catalan painter Salvador Dali, and to one of his sketches. Have it alongside some creamy cheese like Brillat-Savarin!
Well, the trip eventually had to come to an end. I hope you all enjoyed your wine trip through Spain with me, and I hope it also gave you some passion to travel and drink more! Which stop was your favorite? My favorite is La Flor y la Abeja, because it’s so floral and balanced. It’s a perfectly fresh wine to enjoy anytime of day. I really enjoyed doing this especially for you and for the deaf community to understand and appreciate wine in a different way. If you want to know more, feel free to ask or come into the store! Any of us would be pleased to answer your questions. Don’t forget your passport, and stay safe and healthy!
If we’ve ever met online or irl, there’s a good chance I’ve chatted you up about German wine. Partially because I’m chatty, but mostly because I’m energized by the wines that are coming out of the country!
This month, I’ve harnessed that energy into German Wine Month here at France 44. This partnership between France 44 and Wines of Germany will highlight the dynamic wines, regions, and producers that make German wine so special. You’ll see features online and throughout the store with food pairing suggestions and opportunities for tasting, all leading up to a German Riesling Party on Thursday, August 5th. So, what better way to mark the start of German Wine Month (and my first-ever France 44 blog post) than sharing my path to German wine and a few reasons why you should be drinking more of it. Prost!
My German wine story began when I was hired at The Bachelor Farmer in 2016. Although I’d been working in restaurants for decades, I’d only just begun exploring the depths of the wine world. My past German wine experience was limited up until that time but my early days with the TBF (short for The Bachelor Farmer) wine list were thrilling. There were 20 or so different German selections and most were not Riesling. Yes, that’s right, *not* Riesling. Grape varieties like Silvaner, Scheurebe, Dornfelder and Elbling lit up the menu and my curiosity. I spent a lot of time researching, learning, and tasting as much as I could in those early days. Fast forward to today: I’m an official Wines of Germany ambassador on a mission to teach as many people as possible about German wine!
So, what’s the deal with Germany?
The wines of Germany are exciting, unexpected, and offer an opportunity for exploration. From the fun-to-pronounce and new-to-you grape varieties like Müller-Thurgau, Portugieser, Trollinger, and Schwartzriesling to the diverse 13(!!!) German grape-growing regions, German wine takes you on an adventure with every sip.
Of course, if you think of world-class Riesling when you think of the German wine, you’re not wrong. It’s the most planted grape variety in the country and for good reason. Germany’s most noble grape is produced in a wide range of styles; from bone dry, to delicate and floral, to lusciously sweet, all German Rieslings are characterized by craft.
The possibilities are endless with German wine–especially when it comes to food pairing! An ideal complement to a vast array of cuisines, German wines are widely considered to be some of the most food compatible wines in the world. The sheer variety of Rieslings from sweet to dry options, light to full-bodied bottles and their remarkable balance between acidity and sugar make them strong pairing partners. The food combinations really become infinite once you bring Spätburgunder (aka German Pinot Noir) or their beloved Sekt (sparkling wine). So no matter what you’re doing this summer –grilling fish, flipping hamburgers, or just solo sipping –I promise you we have just the German wine you need.
But don’t just take my word for it, stop by and we’ll help you find your next favorite German wine! I also hope to see you at the German Riesling Party on Thursday, August 5th to take a tasty deep dive into the Riesling universe. In the meantime, here are a few German faves of my own you can pick up in the shop.
Hild Elbling Sekt Brut NV | $19.99 | Mosel, Germany | Even though this bubbly is German, the region it comes from (the Upper Mosel) has more in common with Champagne and Sancerre than the rest of Germany. These vineyards have swaths of limestone, which contributes to the bright, zingy acidity that is the hallmark of this wine. It has just enough ripe pear and apple flavors to provide delicious balance and a crisp, clean finish. A beautiful pairing for shellfish, alpine-style cheese, summer nights and your patio.
Seehof Rosé of Pinot Noir 2020 | $21.99 | Rheinhessen, Germany | This cool climate Pinot Noir Rosé is grown organically in the Rheinhessen on limestone soils (arguably the best soils for so many wines. See above!) The wine is bone dry with tart, fresh red fruits, floral aromatics, and wet stone. Pairs with sushi, grilled salmon, summer salads, and an afternoon on the boat.
J.B. Becker Wallufer Walkenberg Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2015 | $34.99 | Rheingau, Germany | The legendary Hans Josef Becker has been producing dry German Riesling in the Rheingau region for over 50 years. His organic 11-hectare estate has been cranking out some of the finest, most intensely focused, dry Rieslings in all of Germany. This wine is nervy with racing acidity, tart green apple, wet stones, and lemon zest. IF you like Muscadet or Chablis, you will love this wine. Pairs with oysters and other shellfish for the perfect aperitif on a hot summer day.
Last week, Bill wrote a piece about the sexism that exists within the beer industry, and what our response as a business should be to it. A lot of the questions he posed are not easy ones to answer. What should our criteria be when we’re deciding what products to promote in our store? What should our response be when we learn about makers and producers who harm or cause trauma to others? Are we doing enough in our own business to make sure our employees are safe, respected, and happy?
The pandemic has perhaps allowed us (or forced us) to take stock of a lot of things. We’ve looked at how we spend our time, what we consume, and how we consume it—be it food, alcohol, information, entertainment, etc. Maybe we’ve decided to prioritize things differently now that we’ve experienced “time” in a different way.
And perhaps, while experiencing a different lifestyle this past year, while hearing voices different from our own speak, and coming to see things in a new light, we’ve learned the power behind the word “no.” No more misogyny. No more uncomfortable situations. No more making excuses for others. No more saying, “that’s just the way this industry is.” No more turning a blind eye. No more silence.
We know sexism and misogyny exist in many industries—it’s not specific to the beer, liquor, wine, or hospitality sectors. You’re here on our wines and spirits blog, so you’ve gotten a peek into this particularly male-dominated world. There are a lot of things that need to change, and it can be pretty depressing to realize how deep we need to dig in order to uproot all the rottenness.
True and lasting change is brought about by building a firm foundation of many small, individual efforts of pushing back, saying no, standing alongside and fighting with others for better things, and creating a small corner of the world that functions differently—that is to say: in a respectful, equal, safe, and supportive way. It doesn’t sound like too much to ask for, but these standards can be surprisingly scarce in a world ruled by a bunch of white guys.
We have more gender diversity on our staff than ever before. We’re so lucky—and so proud—to have such a wide array of voices, backgrounds, and perspectives that we can learn from and champion for. Each of the folks below has highlighted a maker/producer within our industry that has helped to inspire, challenge, or create important memories for them. We hope you’ll be equally inspired to try them out, continue the dialogue, and support the larger vision for a better future.
Hailey:El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry combines two things that excite me greatly; unique and delicious wine plus an inspiring story of women doing their damn thing in an industry dominated by machismo. The El Maestro Sierra bodega was established in 1830 by José Antonio Sierra, and is now run entirely by his female ancestors. Dr. Carmen Morrega Pla took over after the death of her mother Doña Pilar Pla Pechovierto in 2021. That might not sound so wild if you aren’t familiar with the context, but it is quite rare to find a winery in Spain (or globally, for that matter) where this is the case. That’s a rabbit hole I’ll spare you from for now. We’re talking about an industry that historically has been, and is still to this day, dominated by aristocratic dudes – so, you can imagine the determination, bad-assery and perseverance these women must have had.
I could go on and on about why sherry is so intriguing and crazy (google “solera system” if you want to get nerdy and have your mind blown into a million pieces), but I’ll leave it with a quick note on this specific wine. Fino sherry is one of the lightest, most delicate styles of sherry made, so expect a bone-dry wine with super high acidity and notes of saline, thyme, cashew, lemon zest and a touch of ripe apple. If you like oysters/shellfish, cheese, risotto, or just food in general, this is for you!
Kayla:Oberon is my favorite summer beer. It’s clean, refreshing and reminds me of cabin season. Going to the lake, and riding around on a pontoon boat with my family. Beach-towel-model Maddy couldn’t agree more.
Tashi: You might remember reading about Erstwhile Mezcal in my first blog post for France 44 about drinking sustainably. I’m here to talk about it again because my experience writing that blog was incredible! Our distributors were very supportive of my endeavor and linked me with distilleries that fit my criteria. I was able to get in contact with the co-founder of Erstwhile, Yuan Ji. She took time out of her day to have a zoom meeting with me and give me a mezcal 101 lesson and tell me all about the amazing things her company is doing. It was incredibly impactful for me to have so much support from perfect strangers while I was writing this piece to share with my France 44 family. The time and care Yuan took to connect with me is the kind of thing I love to see at work and in my everyday life. We live in a world built by and for men and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or overlooked or just plain tired. Supporting each other in our endeavors, no matter how big or small they might seem, is so important. Yuan did that for me. Not to mention that Erstwhile works directly with small family owned mezcal producers that utilize the skill sets of all family members and give them a voice. Yuan was able to get me some quotes from the daughter of one distiller and the niece of another who are heavily involved in getting their family’s mezcal out into the world. We currently have Erstwhile’s Espadin Mezcal, which is the perfect balance of sweet and smoky. I had never tried mezcal before tasting Erstwhile and while celebrating my blog post with the rest of our liquor team, I found it to be delicious. Even for a beginner! I’ll forever be thankful (and a big fan) of what Yuan and her Erstwhile family are bringing to the liquor world.
Melissa: Seven years ago, I started a journey into cider drinking. It became a hobby/passion for me and I wanted to learn as much about it as I could. Most of the books and articles I read were from well-known cider producers that were men. It was all great information from people I have huge amounts of respect for, but there seemed to be voices of women missing.
In a conversation with other cider enthusiasts, the name Eleanor Leger came up. Eleanor is the founder of Eden Cider in Vermont and took the cider world by storm with her ice cider. Since 2001, she has continuously produced beautiful ciders that pay respect to the apples she uses to make them. More than that, she has given her voice to the cider community and helped throw a spotlight on women in cider.
At CiderCon 2019 (an annual cider convention for makers and enthusiasts to get together), I had an opportunity to meet Eleanor. I was nervous about this because she is a cider superhero of sorts. Turns out, she is a “normal” woman. She is easy to talk to, ready to share experiences, techniques, and ideas with her colleagues, and always encouraging of those around her.
Eleanor is a pioneer in the US Craft Cider industry and a role model for women wanting to be cider producers.
Karina: I first met Leah Jorgensen (pirate princess, owner, and winemaker) when she visited France 44 several years ago. Leah makes Loire-Valley-style wines in the Rogue Valley, located in southern Oregon. Not many people know about the Rogue Valley (the Willamette Valley gets all the fame and glory), and not many people make wine the way Leah does. She draws from her Scandinavian/Italian heritage as well as from her deep-rooted loved for the wines of France’s Loire Valley to form her remarkable winemaking philosophy. As a shy and introverted wine-baby back in 2016, Leah’s charisma and spunk shocked me into believing I could forge my own path in the wine industry. She is an extraordinary, unapologetic, and brilliant force in the wine world.
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.
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!”
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.
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:
How wine tastes in its natural state, before the cooking process. If we know that, we can predict…
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Cheap, relatively. Plan to spend roughly $9-$15 per bottle. One of many factors in the price of wine is the age of the wine. Oak aging makes wine develop new characteristics that make them more complex, sophisticated and enjoyable but also denature much of the fruit characteristics that we want intact for our stews and pan sauces. Oak also adds astringency, vanilla-like flavors, and spice, not all of which lends itself well to cooking. For cooking with red wines especially, I tend to stick to old world wines both for the influence of terroir and for the oak which tends to be less aggressive of a vanilla bomb than American wines, for example.
Now that we’ve broken everything down, let’s answer the question already. Which wines are good for cooking?
For most cooking purposes, I enjoy affordable wines from Southern Europe, especially Mediterranean regions. They tend to offer the right kind of fruit, the right kind of acidity, the right kind of herbiness, and the right kind of savoriness after cooking. There are countless wines that would work great for cooking, so here are some tasty suggestions that are also good enough to drink.
WHITE WINES GREAT FOR COOKING (and drinking)
Cassagnoles Cotes de Gascogne| France | $13.99 | This Southwest French white blend is made from affordable grape varietals that are sort of flavor-cousins with sauvignon blanc. Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), and Columbard, both used in the production of Cognac, impart a zesty citrus quality and notes of gooseberry. This wine is great in any mild dishes such as seafood pasta or pan-roasted chicken. And it’s good enough to drink alongside some pork rillettes from the France 44 Cheese Shop.
Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet | France| $12.99 | Another southern French varietal “Picpoul.” Bright and acidic, this wine is just the right dryness for cooking, with subtle hints of Mediterranean herbs, lemon, and anise. This wine deglazes and reduces beautifully. Use it in any situation where you need to cut the overall fattiness or oiliness of a dish.
Sallier De La Tour Grillo | Sicily, Italy | $12.99 | This Sicilian grape, Grillo, is one of the varieties used in the production of Marsala wine. It offers medium-high acidity, a distinct savoriness, and wonderful minerality that will make you think of the Mediterranean Sea. This very affordable white would be equally good in and alongside any seafood dish, especially shrimp. Add it to your next jambalaya.
Selection des Cognettes Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie | France | $14.99 | Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, this bone-dry white is ideal for both pairing with and cooking mussels or clams. Sur Lie refers to lie aging, which gives the wine a yeasty, lager-like taste that I personally love in my white wines. Use in dishes that feature briny flavors such as capers, olives, feta cheese, preserved lemons, green peppercorns, or anchovies. And yes, use in a sauce beurre blanc with any white fish and asparagus. If you make this sauce, you’re going to want to get the good stuff, like the Beurre de Baratte available at the France 44 Cheese Shop.
Albamar Sauvignon Blanc | Chile | $10.99 | This lively Sauvignon Blanc has all the intensity of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but with less tropical fruit and therefore more versatile in cooking. Use it to add some ripe fruit to your Ropa Vieja with all that zesty bell pepper and olive brininess, which typically calls for white wine rather than red.
RED WINES GREAT FOR COOKING (and drinking)
Courtois Cote Du Rhone | France | $12.99 | A Classic GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) Rhone blend, this wine gives ripe blackberry and cherry notes and subtle hints of lavender in the background, typical of many CDR’s. This will take your chuck roast to the next level, and just plain tastes…well…pretty freaking good!
Castaño Monastrell | Spain | $12.99 | 100% Monastrell (or Mourvedre), this Southern Spanish red hits you with a distinct black pepper spice on the nose, and delivers juicy plum and blackberry on the palate. It finishes with sweet licorice, allspice, and baking chocolate. Use this when making Spanish-style braised short ribs.
Poggio Anima Belial Sangiovese | Italy | $15.99 | Virtually no oak, just juicy Sangiovese. High acidity. Distinctive sweet cherry notes begging for tomatoes. Cut the funk in a puttanesca, or use this Sangio-vay-zay to de-glaze-ay some Bolognay-zay!
Domaine Roman Pinot Noir | France | $12.99 | Much more affordable than good quality burgundies, this Southern French Pinot Noir is straightforward with bright, red fruit and very subtle oak.
The Classic French recipes Bœuf Bourguignon*** and Coq Au Vin traditionally called for red burgundy in the marinade and during braising. In the old days, pinot noir’s flavor profile of tart, red fruit and forest floor would have played nicely with tough, cheap cuts of beef and capon, the gamy male chicken that was traditionally used in coq au vin. Today, we have access to fresher beef, and capon is not on most people’s grocery lists. Still, modern versions of these recipes live on. Use in any stewed dishes calling for red wine and mushrooms and you’ll be glad you didn’t drop $30 for a “cooking wine.” Oh, and if you’re feeling German, and you used this for sauerbraten, that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
***Pro tip. Bœuf Bourguignonne typically starts with rendering lardons (cubes of fatty pork such as belly or bacon) to add fat and flavor to the dish that traditionally used leaner cuts of beef. If you are ever interested in trying this technique, ask your friendly France 44 Cheese Shop meat-monger to hook you up with a hunk some house cured bacon (the best bacon in the world) for your recipe. They can also recommend the perfect cuts of beef, lamb, pork and chicken for any of your dishes. France 44 Cheese Shop features lots of great meat sourced from local farms such as:
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!
What does time taste like? Any budding wine geek has probably made at least a few attempts to answer that question, squirreling away a bottle or two of something special in a basement or a closet, waiting patiently to see if the liquid inside makes some stunning transformation or subtle evolution in a few months, a year, a decade. Oftentimes we’re disappointed with the result; the changes seemed too miniscule, or we forgot how the wine tasted in its youth, or, worst-case-scenario, the bottle just went straight to vinegar. But every now and again, something magical happens. When you’ve tasted it, you know—the flavor of ‘age’ comes out in a wine, elusive and unique to each particular bottle. It’s a vivid snapshot of the passage of time, a recognition that this stuff that’s branded and labeled in pretty bottles is actually alive, and it’s changing moment-to-moment.
It can be harder and harder these days for the person of modest, or even comfortable, financial means to have this experience. The wines that became known for their longevity in the 20th century—the Bordeauxs and Burgundies of the world—have blown past the average drinker’s budget. Add to that the expense of storage, the waiting-game of aging wines, and the glou-glou zeitgeist that has put a premium on bright, fresh, youthful wines made with little to no intervention, and the chances of getting to taste a wine at the peak of its age seems like a nearly unattainable goal.
But what if you didn’t have to wait? What if there were already wines on the market that had been coaxed into maturity, already expressing all of the richness and complexity that a properly-cellared bottle could? Enter Sotolon Selections, a unique portfolio focusing primarily on historic categories of aged, oxidative wine, some of which can now be found on the shelves at France 44. These wines are not only delicious, they represent some of the oldest (and, today, most endangered) winemaking traditions in the world. And, thanks to their exposure to oxygen, time, and (sometimes) heat, they are also some of the only wines in the world that are shelf-stable—which means that they are amazing additions to your cocktail bar, as well.
So move aside, natural wine! There’s a new old thing on the market.
OSTINATO MARSALA | $14.99 | The name ‘marsala’ often evokes memories of heavy American-Italian stews, or sickly-sweet boozy desserts. However, the wine from this debased appellation was not always stuck in the kitchen; it used to be a contender on the level of Port or Sherry for enjoyment all by itself. Ostinato Marsala, a collaboration between the winemakers of Baglio Baita Alagna and Sotolon Selections, is an attempt to elevate humble Marsala back to its former glory. Coming in both sweet and dry styles, these nutty, savory wines show tamarind, grilled apricot, and orange peel flavors. They are the best you can possibly use for cooking, and also shine in simple pairings with cured meat, or mixed 50-50 with Gin to make a hybrid Martini.
SAVEIRO MADEIRA| $23.99 | If you’re a whiskey drinker, you are probably at least vaguely familiar with Madeira, a fortified wine from the island of the same name off the coast of Portugal. The barrels used to age Madeira are often shipped to Scotland, where they then can impart a nutty, dark fruit flavor to the whiskeys that are aged in them. In the case of Saveiro Madeira, a project of the producer Henriques & Henriques, that process is reversed, and this mildly sweet Madeira is instead aged in used Four Roses Bourbon barrels. If you’ve ever had even a passing interest in “Bourbon Barrel-Aged” red wines or beers, then this is a must-try: deliciously rich and sweet, with rich oak notes and a caramel-driven finish that just screams for pairing with chocolate or a cigar.
BANYULS & RIVESALTES | Two overlooked appellations of Southern France, Banyuls & Rivesaltes are both known for their sweet, Port-like fortified wines. Although most examples today echo the fresh-jam sweetness of Port, these wines were historically given extended oxidative aging. This allowed them to develop what were called ‘rancio’ flavors: notes of roasted nuts; dried tropical fruit; tobacco, cocoa or coffee; and spices ranging from fenugreek to saffron to curry. This intentional contact with air both evolved the flavors in the wines and made them shelf stable.
Today, very few producers continue this tradition. Domaine du Mas Blanc continues to produce the Hors d’Age Banyuls Sostrera ($27.99) from its sostrera (the French word for the solera system, also used in Sherry production) that was established in 1925. Smoky and rich, with roasted, jammy blackberry notes and a hint of Mediterranean seaside air, this ‘hors d’age’ (literally, ‘beyond age’) wine is a testament to the complexity of true Banyuls.
In the case of Chateau de Saü, history is even more present in the bottles, as the estate stopped producing wines in 2014 with the passing of fourth-generation owner Herve Passama. The remaining wine, a Rivesaltes Rancio 2000 ($35.99) is the one of the last of its kind, a true, oxidative Rivesaltes that shows intensely balanced acidity and sweetness with an almost unending complexity of flavor behind it. Considering that this is truly one of the last bottlings of an extinct wine, the price is astounding.
CARCAVELOS | The story of Carcavelos is almost too unbelievable to write-out, but I’m going to try. Once considered one of the four vinhos generosos (fortified wines) of Portugal, along with Port and Madeira, Carcavelos is now the smallest wine appellation in Portugal, with only 25 hectares of vines and 1 remaining producer. It is one of the rarest wines in the world, and was brought back to market in the U.S. only thanks to the Indiana Jones-style efforts of Sotolon Selections.
Working with Villa Oeiras, the only active producer in the region, Sotolon has brought a 15-Year Carcavelos ($34.99) to market that serves as a wonderful introduction to the style. Bright and fresh (for a fortified wine), this Carcavelos shows notes of roasted pineapple and demerara sugar. Deeply complex, with a rich texture and fascinating nutty undertone, this is one of the most interesting dessert wines we’ve ever carried at France 44.
And, if you are looking for something even more extraordinary, there is the Dos Pesos 1991 Carcavelos ($47.99) a wine that was literally pulled from a forgotten wine cellar on the outskirts of Lisbon. Dos Pesos was once one of the champions of Carcavelos production, but operations ceased in 2005 with the founder’s untimely death. Now, thanks to Sotolon, barrels that had been sitting in the estate for over 18 years are now being bottled and are available to buy at France 44. Come and have a sip of history!
Want to learn more about these incredible wines and their versatility as both stand-alone drinks and cocktail components? Join Sam, along with Jon Olson from Libation Project, on Friday, May 21st for our “Hack Your Cocktail: The Secrets of Oxidative Wines” virtual class! Click HERE for more information and registration.
A full two years into legal-liquor buying, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert. Just kidding! The truth is that I am still at the stage of life where price is the most important variable in choosing my alcohol. After that, I turn to the design of the label, which is a much more interesting way to choose liquor.
A little intro for y’all since I am new to the blog — Hello! My name is Dio and I have been doing graphic design for France 44 and the Cheese Shop for about a year now after getting my start in the wonderful St. Paul Cheese Shop. I’m a designer and illustrator, a Capricorn, and also someone skeptical of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” mentality. You can certainly judge it after you have actually read the book, but up until that point, I believe the cover can give you a valid sense of what lies ahead and whether or not it’s going to be worth it. Same goes for liquor. Even before I knew what kinds of liquors I liked the taste of, I loved looking at the labels.
Labels, bottle shapes, and general marketing is incredibly important in the world of liquor. These elements form a personality that draws targeted demographics towards (or away from) a specific bottle and often guide them in choosing one bottle over another. This is especially influential when you can’t taste the very thing that you’re buying. Designers use visual aids to tell a story that we internalize, either consciously or subconsciously, and help us form opinions about the bottle before popping the cork.
With liquor labels, I’ve found that the great designs seem to fit into two main categories: nostalgia and novelty. Some brands stick with the same design that they have been using for years, and other newer brands try to emulate that same classic or nostalgic vibe. This feels right for liquor that is aged or brands aiming for a sophisticated look. On the flip side, many brands use novel designs to try and get customers to pay attention to their bottle and buy their product. This latter category of novel designs is what I focus on in this piece, but perhaps there is another blog post in the future that dives more into the history of liquor labels and explores the nostalgic and classic designs.
A liquor store is a fantastic place to explore the contours of your design tastes and expand your design terminology. To begin, I spent some time comparing the Gin section to the Whiskey section. The difference is stark. Obviously, whiskey is a much darker liquid than the clear gin, so right away the two aisles feel emotionally different. Many of the whiskey labels had dark caps and labels with contrasting white text. The serif and script fonts combined with dainty flourishes create a vintage and old-timey feeling. Age is an important factor in whiskey so many of these bottles have large numbers incorporated into the design, advertising how many years the whiskey aged. Most of the classic whiskey brands are aiming for that classic, dated look.
The gin aisle, on the other hand, has a much lighter and more modern feeling. It seems that the goal here is timelessness. Many labels have thin text with light decorative elements, and blues and greens seem to be the primary colors of choice. One of my favorite label designs is Future Gin, followed by the “Blue” from Forthave Spirits. These two designs are eye catching, but for different reasons. Forthave Spirits is emulating old homemade concoctions with their handwritten script label. A bottle like this would fit into the apothecary vibe, which I’ll admit I am a sucker for. The Future Gin is immediately eye catching with colorful (yet pastel) abstract art. It looks modern but in a kind of timeless way.
Moving on to the rest of the store, I chose bottles that stood out to me, and then tried to sort them into distinguishable sub-categories. I came up with: bold graphic, hand-drawn, geometric, tarot card, and new-wave psychedelic.
The tactic here is obvious – designing a beautiful bottle that sticks out among the rest. Some of these have only illustrations and minimal text, some use the text as the graphic to draw your eye, but all of them will capture your attention as you scan the aisles.
I am particularly drawn towards hand-drawn art, partly because that is what I do and partly because it adds a human element to design. These bottles have character–they feel more alive than their neighbors. These can feel modern like the pen and highlighter design of Secsy Mbole, or elegant and nostalgic like the Branco de Sta. Cruz. If I were to design a liquor label, it would probably fit amongst these hand-drawn labels.
Geometric style of graphic design has far deeper roots than I can explore in a single blog post, but these bottles sure are eye-catching. In particular, these stand out from the nostalgic-style of many liquor labels. These designs are decidedly modern, which gives them a classy feeling. I might choose one of these as a gift. Elegant and lively, a good visual addition to any house (Of course, I’d hope the contents were appreciated too.)
This sub-category is specifically for beer labels. If any wine or spirit bottles in our shop fit into this category, I certainly missed them. Craft beers are all the rage these days. They are popping up left and right, and the makers have turned to wild, out-there marketing in an attempt to distinguish their products from the rest. Many of these labels are designed to appeal to counter culture stoner types, much like the psychedelic phase of the 60’s. To that point, I am currently drinking Prairie’s Vape Tricks, which is not only delicious, but visually a piece of pure stoner art with green and yellow mouths blowing trippy shapes out of smoke. Craft beer is certainly the most graphically out-there of the liquor world, and these labels do not disappoint.
TAROT CARD INSPIRED
Last, and perhaps most interestingly, is the theme of the Tarot cards. The other subcategories I found are general design categories, but this is thematic and much more specific. These bottles are characterized by mythological figures, magical themes, and hand-drawn illustrations that emulate the design and feeling of tarot cards. Some feature biblical-like scenes of destruction and devils like Rabble and Chamucos, and some are more mystical and whimsical like Alter, Kind Stranger, and Il Mostro. Perhaps it’s the long history of witchcraft and alcohol-like concoctions that make these bottles so appealing — or perhaps it’s the figures that give them so much character — but these are the bottles I am most intrigued by. Each of these designs contain a story, and the intrigue into that story is what makes me curious about the liquor inside.
What are the labels you are drawn to? Are they nostalgic or novel? Crisp geometric shapes or hand-drawn mystical? Does the personality of the label match the contents?
Personally, I plan on taking home Il Mostro, Kind Stranger, and Future Gin, where I can promise you these bottles will live on in my home as vases and other vessels once the alcohol is long gone, as I am unable to get rid of beautiful bottles or jars of any kind. Maybe then I can report back on the full sensory experiences of these liquors, contents included.
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.
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.