Cabin Crushin’ Beverages

As the weather heats up and cabin life begins, we find ourselves craving drinks that are refreshing, lighter, and portable! Here is what we will be drinking this holiday weekend and this summer to keep cool! 

Cazadores Canned Margaritas - Hailey

Call me basic if you want, but I’ll drink a margarita any day. Cazadore’s 4-pack Canned Margaritas are perfect whether you’re camping, up at the cabin, or just hanging out at the beach. I’m a big fan of their Spicy Margaritas — they have a delicious jalapeno flavor without too much of a kick. Stick them on ice in the cooler and bring your fav coozie!

Junkyard Grandpa Bill's Pils 4pk Can - Bill

It’s hot!  I want Pilsners to drink. And this all Citra Hopped Pils has been my favorite for the last 2 months. We just stole more from the North Dakota allocation and even that’s almost gone!  
Easily one of my top picks of the year so far.  It’s everything I love about craft beer!

Itxas Harri Canned Rosé - Josh

One of my favorite rosés is now in a can! This dry, light, and fresh Basque rosé is everything I want when sitting near some body of water during this hot MN summers. The demand and availability of really good canned wine has exploded in the past few years and I couldn’t be happier about it! Grab a bottle can today!

Fever Tree Light Cucumber Tonic Water - Ryan

Ever wish someone would bottle the bracing shock of jumping off a rope swing into a cool river on a 95 degree day? They did, and it’s called Fever Tree Refreshingly Light Cucumber Tonic. I drink it on its own with some ice as a rejuvenating afternoon cooldown, but it of course makes a perfect partner to your favorite vodka or gin.

Minneapolis Cider Co. Orchard Blend - Melissa

My go-to Cabin Crusher is Orchard Blend from Minneapolis Cider Company. It is well balanced and refreshing. Its even fun to mix with orange juice for a cidermosa as a lower ABV brunch beverage. 

Ghia Non-alcoholic Aperitif - Karina

I’m riding the NO/LO bandwagon this summer. Balance is key! Ghia was my first love in this popular category. The ginger and bitter botanicals are great for digestion after too many brats and brownies, but it’s equally delicious in a low proof negroni (just add gin)!

Bell's Oberon - Aaron

If you’re looking to combat the hot summer sun, look no further than Bell’s Oberon. This delightful wheat ale is a perfect reward for mowing the lawn on a scorching day, and at 5.8% it’ll pack a punch!

Hi-Neo Chu Hi Yuzu Highball - Tom

YOU NEED TO TRY THIS! It’s seriously insane how declicious this is.

Highballs are a simple concept: base spirit, fruit juice, and sparkling water. This Japanese Highball is made from a shochu rice based spirit, yuzu fruit juice, and bubbly. Its crazy crushable refreshing patio drinker. I’ll have a few on the pontoon this weekend!

Escapada Vinho & Birrificio Tipopils - Stephen

I’m submitting two because I am an overachiever. 

This wine is best chilled! Mildly effervescent, citrus notes with grapefruit in the spotlight, 9.5%, and ridiculously refreshing! Pairs well with patios, docks, and perhaps a even a garden gazebo. 
 
Do ya like Pilsners? Do ya like herby earthy flavors with very mild bitterness? Do ya like Italian goods? You do? Excellent. I have the beer for you.  One of the OG Italian pilsners, you’ll be through your first one before you can say “Ciao Bella”

Heineken 0.0% & Superior Lemon Switchel - Tashi

We took a 12 pack of Heineken 0.0% cans canoeing and camping this past weekend and I was pleasantly surprised at how crushable they were, and the price didn’t disappoint either!  Light, refreshing, and honestly you can’t even tell it’s NA.  Not into beer?  I recommend Superior Lemon Switchel.  It will quench your thirst, keep you feeling refreshed, and has the same bubbly feel as a beer or seltzer.

Hamm's - Rob

Just because my answer to every ‘staff-pick’ blog is the same doesn’t make it any less true. And let’s be honest, there is only one right answer for a crushable cabin beverage, and that answer is Hamm’s. It has been said that Hamm’s is the most refreshing liquid ever. Plus, now that our cases of Hamm’s have the throwback packaging, they taste even better. 

Burgundy That’ll Blow Your Mind (without breaking the bank)

by Hailey

“Burgundian” wines are found across the world, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon to Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. The fact that such a (comparatively) tiny French region has so much global influence isn’t a huge surprise considering the historical weight that Burgundy carries in the wine world. It was one of the first regions of the world to meticulously plot exceptional sites for vines (thank you, Cistercian monks!), and is the country with arguably the most influential legal system for classifying wines and the areas they come from. Not to mention, the term terroir – the buzziest of wine buzz words – is associated with Burgundy more than almost any other wine producing region. Yet the reality of wines from Burgundy is that they aren’t always that accessible to the general public. Thanks to their position as one of the “classic” wine regions of the world, these bottles often go for a pretty penny, and climate change is only exacerbating the problem. So, you might ask (as I have often asked myself), how is the average Joe supposed to explore and enjoy these wines? 

Earlier this month, I had the absolute pleasure of going on a weeklong tour of the five côtes of Burgundy, thanks to Somm Foundation and Bertrand’s Wines. The emphasis of the trip was to highlight producers and sub-appellations that A) are experiencing a bit of a renaissance or are otherwise not fully on the map, and B) are incredible examples of Burgundy wines at a more affordable price. Unfortunately, not everything I tasted is available in the Midwest market, but luckily France 44 has some killer bottlings that can act as perfect substitutes.  

Starting in the northernmost part of Burgundy is Domaine La Croix Montjoie, in the Vézelay AOC within Chablis. If you’ve never heard of Vézelay (I won’t judge you if you haven‘t – it’s not all that well known!), the main thing to know is that it’s a historic region with a rollercoaster history. Prior to Phylloxera in the late 1800’s, Vézelay was an area that was pretty lush with vines, and a fairly regarded one at that. When those damned vine louses bombarded the region, it was almost entirely wiped out – even as late as 1960, only a couple of hectares remained. A decade later, a renaissance began to take hold, with individual producers putting in tireless effort to increase plantings and produce quality bottlings.  

La Croix Montjoie ‘L’Elegante’ Bougogne Vezelay

Winemakers Sophie and Matthieu Woillez are prime examples of how this renaissance is continuing and evolving today. They founded their winery in 2009, converting what was once a cow barn into their production site. Their ‘l’élégante’ bottling is a showcase of their philosophy: minimal intervention winemaking to produce fresh, crisp wines that are true expressions of terroir. Expect menthol and acacia aromatics with lemon, supple pear, and peachy fruitiness. Ageing in old oak adds a quiet touch of spiciness alongside other subtle savory notes of almond and brioche. Perfect for the hot weather we’re experiencing, or alongside fish in papillote, chicken in cream sauce, or goat cheese.  

Baptiste Guyot Bourgogne Rouge

Moving a touch South to the Côte de Beaune, we find one of our best value Burgundies in house – Domaine Baptiste Guyot Bourgogne Rouge. As a ‘Bourgogne’ classified wine, grapes may be sourced from anywhere in Burgundy, but this bottle pulls from plots focused in Northern Beaune. The Domaine was originally founded in the 1800s and was in a state of disrepair by the time Guyot took over, with only 2 hectares of vines remaining. After essentially restarting it in its entirety and making the shift to sustainable practices, the first vintage was put out in 2011. This wine is light, easy, and juicy but with all of the preserving acidity that you want and a nose full of rose petals. Go to town with a glass of this and a plate loaded with snacks and I promise, you’ll be happy as a clam. 

Further South still, within the Côte Challonais, is Rully. Like Vézelay, it was affected particularly badly by both Phylloxera and the World Wars, but Rully is experiencing a lot of growth right now. That means that wines are only increasing in quality, while prices haven’t quite caught up yet. The particular area that this wine is coming from is known for having brown or limey soils with very little clay: if you’re the type of nerd that I am, you might know that wines coming from clay soils tend to carry more weight and power, whereas those from limestone are more mineral driven, fresh, and often have more aromatics. If you’re a normal person who doesn’t spend hours reading about soil types in their free time, now you know! 

Maison Chanzy Rully et Rosey Rouge

Maison Chanzy’s ‘Rully en Rosey’ is more the latter, but with a surprising amount of tannic oomph. Rully en Rosey is the highest elevation site in Rully, so temperatures are cooler here. In the wine, this translates to crisp acidity and a bit of tension, while also preserving a beautiful herbaceous and red blossom profile on the nose. 40-year-old vines lend some concentration of fruit – think ripe strawberry and black cherry, while 10 months aging in large oak barrels helps to soften the tannins a touch and gives a palate full of earth and baking spice. This is a super food friendly wine: grilled duck breast, sweetbreads, and anything umami-rich will be perfect matches the fuller texture and higher acidity of this wine. 

Chateau de la Greffiere Macon La Roche Vineuse

Last but not least is Château de la Greffiére’s Mâcon La Roche Vineuse Vielles Vignes. Located within the Mâconnais (the most Southerly of Burgundy appellations before Beaujolais) and just North of Pouilly Fuisse, this wine starts to hint more towards the style of Southern French wines. The climate here is indeed a bit more Provencal, with warmer sun exposure resulting in plumper fruit flavors and a richer palate. Heavy white marls dominate the soils in La Roche Vineuse, which, you now know, is a contributing factor to some of the weight in the wine. Don’t be fooled though! While you’ll notice a honeyed, buttery brioche quality in this wine, this is no California Chardonnay – it’s still full of bright notes of mango, zesty pear, peach, and a burst of blossoms on the nose. Enjoy this baby as an aperitif, or alongside Jambon de Bayonne, shellfish, or with a hefty charcuterie board. 

And there you have it! Go forth, rejoice, and drink Burgundy! Because while you can always spend a hundred dollars on a bottle, sometimes it’s a lot nicer to find those that won’t break your bank, but will still blow your mind. 

The “Chillable” Red

by Sam

The dividing line between red and white wine has never been blurrier. Wine color, once relegated to a strict binary that only had space for a fruity rosé as an interloper, has been revealed as a spectrum; red, white and pink have given way to the oscillating splendor of maroon, orange, mauve, cherry, rust, gold, yellow, peach, and just about any other word found on the long line between pale lemon and deep purple (to borrow the official WSET terminology for wine color).

While winemakers’ color fastidiousness has faded, consumer preferences for consumption remain mostly unchanged. Our whites (and oranges, and pinks) still tend to be served colder than our reds. There’s mostly good science behind this; chilling a wine accentuates acidity, increasing our sense of refreshment. And, for a very long time, the wines that were considered “refreshing” were almost exclusively white and pink.

Grab one of these neither-red-nor-white wines off the shelf, though, and you’ll quickly be surprised at just how serious some can be. In some amber wines from Georgia, the tannins are almost as pronounced as a bottle of Cabernet. Technically, this is a white wine made from white grapes–but the science of “refreshment” falls a bit flat; this is a wine for savoring, not for chugging poolside.

All of this is to say that, as our rigid boxes around wine color become more and more permeable, so too should our preferences on wine temperature. Our whites could be served warmer, and our reds could certainly be colder.

So, what makes a red wine fall into this “chillable” category? Stick to a few standards:

The chillable red is low in tannin, high in acid, and medium in alcohol. It can be foreign or domestic, still or sparkling, cheap or expensive, pale or deep in color. It is always, however, very very refreshing. Here, like in white wines, the main textural components being balanced against each other are acid and alcohol, while tannins play a distant third. 

Curious to try one? Here are a few currently in our fridge at France 44:

The wine equivalent of a humble-brag, J Lohr has quietly been making this Valdiguié since 1976, and has never had the price go above $15. Historically known as “California Gamay” before the grape was correctly identified, this is a light, can’t-put-the-glass-down Beaujolais-style red that is loaded with bright cherry and raspberry fruit.

A longtime stalwart of our Italian section, this indigenous Sicilian grape shows bright red berry flavors and an intriguing sweet spice character. It’s ridiculously refreshing, and goes particularly well with antipasto — pack a bottle for your next picnic.

País has a storied history; it is one of the oldest cultivated grapes in the Western Hemisphere, and was said to be the grape that Spanish missionaries planted, hence being known in California as the “mission” grape. This expression from Chile is all strawberry fruit, bursting with juicy acidity and near-impossible to put down.

Springtime in a Bottle: The Wines of Austria

by Karina

 

Fresh. Mineral. Elegant.

 

These are some of the biggest hype words in the wine world today. These are also the words that are largely used to describe the wines produced in Austria. And if you’re a seasonal drinker like I am (zero shame in that—drink what the meteorologist tells you to drink), there are no better wines to scratch your springtime itch than these.

 

Maybe it’s because of its geographic proximity to Germany or its phonetic proximity to Australia, but poor Austria never gets the spotlight it deserves. There is no other wine-producing country that has undergone a bigger transformation in the last few decades than Austria. From scandalous adulterations of bulk wine in the 80s to adopting green farming and winemaking practices, Austria’s modus operandi today looks completely different than the lifeless, mechanized systems of the past.

 

Austria is a curious wine region. For being about the size of Maine, it still clocks in at 60-70 million gallons of wine produced each year—no small feat for such a small country. But what makes Austrian wine really interesting are its geographic connections and historic roots. This landlocked country shares borders with 7 other countries, and each one of those neighboring countries has influence on what wine is grown and made in the adjoining Austrian subregions. That’s why you’ll see Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other international grapes grown alongside regional specialties like Grüner Veltliner, Sankt Laurent, and Blaufränkisch.

 

Austria has so many ties to various cultures and chapters in history, and they celebrate each one. From the crisp, clean white wines of the north to the unctuous dessert wines of the east and everything between, there’s an Austrian wine to fit every palate. We’re celebrating All Things Austrian this summer, and we’ve got some fun things happening to get you properly introduced to these exciting wines.

 

Here’s your homework (it’s fun, don’t worry):

 

  1. Buy a bottle or two (or more!) of a new Austrian wine you haven’t tried. We’re offering 10% off all Austrian wine both online and in-store this weekend, and this weekend only!
  2. Pick up one of the Austrian recipe cards at the Service Desk, swing by the France 44 Meat Counter for your protein, and put together a delicious Austrian dinner.
  3. Sign up for our newly-announced Austrian Wine class at The Bakken Museum on June 14th! We’ll be tasting through a big lineup of Austrian wines in the Bakken’s beautiful outdoor garden. There’s no better way to get acquainted with the styles, grapes, history, and traditions of this fantastic wine region.
  4. Extra credit: purchase an Austrian wine map to kick off your Austrian wine nerd fest, designed in-house by the fabulous Dio Cramer! Purchase in-store only.

 

Not sure what wine direction to go first? Check out a few of our current favorites in the wine shop:

LOIMER ‘LOIS’ GRÜNER VELTLINER

BIOHOF PRATSCH ROSÉ

ZANTHO ZWEIGELT

This is a picture-perfect example of what good, zesty Grüner Veltliner is all about. The Loimer ‘Lois’ comes from a small northern region called Kamptal, which is situated on the river Kamp and northwest of Vienna. This region is well-known for Grüner with its volcanic, mineral-laden soils, steep terraces, and cool growing temperatures. Expect some springy green herbal notes, ripe orchard fruits, a good burst of acidity, and just a whisper of spritzy carbonation.

A perennial favorite pink of the France 44 wine staff, this delicious rosé is made from 100% Zweigelt and has just enough juicy fruit to keep you reaching for your glass. It comes from the ridiculously-long-named region Niederösterreich, translating to “lower Austria,” which is actually located in the north—not confusing at all. Chill this down for your next patio party… or just keep it to yourself in a hammock by the lake. No glass required.

We love this Burgenland producer! Burgenland sits on the edge of southeast Austria and flows right into Hungary. This is one of the most fascinating regions of Austria politically and culturally, and it doesn’t hurt that its wines are delicious too. This easy-going red is a silky-smooth rendition of Zweigelt, an important red grape in Austria that was created in the 1920s by crossing two other important Austrian red grapes: Sankt Laurent and Blaufränkisch.

Trending Now: Enlightened Drinking (And Eating)

by Karina

Disclaimer: This op-ed piece is not about the political correctness of which glassware to use for various types of wine or occasions. The subject of glassware is merely meant to illustrate various attitudes toward the wine world as a whole. 

We’re ruled by fashion. The wine world is just as caught up in it as any other industry. From the color and style of wine we choose to the vessel we drink it out of (to even choosing to drink wine at all), the pendulum is in constant motion from trend to trend. 

Punch Drink Magazine recently put out an article about the rise of the “tavern glass” as opposed to drinking out of fancy, hifalutin (and breakable) Riedel wine stems. My first thought is, “Absolutely.” Spend more time with the wine in your mouth instead of looking at it through expensive crystal. We have no time for the gatekeepers and the rule makers of the wine world who try to sell wine as a status symbol. Wine to me is communal—a catalyst in bringing people together, in a similar (but not identical) way that food does. Wine nourishes; it is not supposed to be exploited and twisted and manipulated just to suit a bank account somewhere.  

But then I consider my role as a wine educator. If wine, glassware, and the general attitude toward wine are all crashing down off their lofted pedestals, will wine education also get the hook offstage? If the world is trending toward a “don’t think, just drink” mantra, is there any sense in learning about maximum vineyard yields, or soil types, or cold soaking, or century-old barrels that outlive the winemaker who uses them? Drink, be merry, and… don’t think too much? 

And yet, I think that perhaps the pendulum isn’t exactly swinging back the way it came—back to the weird post-Prohibition era when all we drank was Thunderbird and Carlo Rossi Hearty Burgundy, which gave way to all the obscene flavors and colors of Boone’s Farm.  

I think the pendulum might be finding a third path. Much of the wine world has fallen head-over-heels for things like natural wine and orange wine. We haven’t stopped questioning what went into our wine, who made it, where it came from. We shell out on a new pét nat without blinking an eye, or for the latest Martha Stoumen, or on a Teroldego we’ve been pining after. Institutions like WSET are seeing all-time highs in enrollment numbers around the world for those wanting formalized wine education.  

I love that we’re headed for educated, thoughtful drinking out of Mason jars. But I also love that you spent $90 on a single Zalto glass. If you’ve found pleasure in it, then it was worth it. I love that all your glassware was dirty, so you just drank from the bottle. I love that all your glassware was clean, but you drank from the bottle anyways. 

But most of all, I love that you had your wine atlas open as you drank. I love that you did a bottle share with your work friends and you talked about what you were smelling, tasting, experiencing. I love that you didn’t care about using the “right” wine lingo (is there such a thing?) because you were too invested in experiencing the wine on your own terms. I love that someone brought Heggie’s pizza, someone else brought pork rillettes, and you brought a bag of Doritos to dip in Raclette fondue. I love all of that. 

Wine education is not supposed to be a tool to wield power over others. Just like we do with so much of Nature, humans have squeezed this simple agricultural product into a mysterious, intimidating, intangible thing meant only for certain classes of society. But in the meantime, we also stumbled unwittingly into art, cultural intricacies, history, lore and legends, geological fascinations, and all the complexities Nature lays out for us to discover. 

If the pendulum is swinging, I’m hopeful that it’s pioneering a new direction. This “enlightened drinking for the masses” trend is fascinating, joyful, and so powerfully rewarding. Fill up that red Solo cup, grab your Chex Mix, and crack that nerdy reference book open. Drink with joyful curiosity, and don’t let anybody tell you you’re doing it wrong. 

If you’ve made it this far down the enlightened drinking path, here’s your reward: keep an eye out for exciting things happening in June. If you’ve been to France 44 in the last month or so, you’ll know that we’ve got major construction happening as we build our new Event Space. But in the meantime, we’re bringing our public classes and events out into the world! Subscribe to our Dojour page and you’ll be the first to know what’s on the horizon. 

And don’t forget the cheese. If the wine world thinks it’s hot stuff with all their certifications and pins, it could maybe learn a thing or two from the cheese world. Cheese pros are fanatic. Instead of competing for the most pieces of paper or most letters behind their names, cheese pros are all about relationships and connections (and delightfully bizarre competitions). It’s pretty amazing that we’re able to offer experiences at France 44 like deep-dive classes into funky washed rind cheeses, artisan English cheddars, or meet people like Andy Hatch of Pleasant Ridge or David Lockwood of Neal’s Yard Dairy, right here in Minneapolis. 

The 10th Annual DZTE Cheese Tasting & Silent Auction will be held Sunday, May 10 from 6-8pm.

The Daphne Zepos Teaching Endowment is an incredible non-profit we’re throwing a fundraiser for in a couple weeks. Daphne passed away in 2012, but she was nothing short of a zealot who spread the gospel of cheese everywhere she went, creating thousands of passionate cheese disciples throughout her many years of teaching and selling cheese. Our own France 44 Cheese Shop probably would not exist without her influence, and it’s because of her legacy that the DZTE sets up cheese professionals with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to travel, learn, study, and bring back knowledge to share with the rest of the cheese-crazy world. 

And if you’ve made it this far down this rabbit hole of a blog, you have no choice but to buy a ticket to the Wine & Cheese Tasting event we’re throwing in support of DZTE. You owe it to a future of learning about and eating delicious, unique, incredible cheese. 

 

Wines for Spring

By Amy

Every year around this time, we Minnesotans go wild for spring.  We’re out in shorts, polar plunging, hitting any patio that has chairs and braving Twins games at frigid temperatures.   We’re starved for warmth and sunshine and it’s gone to our heads.  And, despite the fact that ‘spring has sprung’, our weather has a mind of its own.  Ice, snow, thunderstorms and wind leave us in a constant state of flux, unable to let go of the ice scraper for fear that spring might not make it.

Fortunately, the sun is shining today and I’m going to call it.  The time has come.  Time to finally put away your winter coat and while you’re at it, put away those winter wines.  Let the fresh flavors of spring emerge and carry us through to warmer days.  

My tastes have started to shift and I’m craving the light, vibrant flavors of spring more than ever.  The flavors of a farmer’s market trip with asparagus, spring greens, ramps, watercress, morels and fresh herbs.  The freshness of spring cheeses and the scent of tulips just burst from the ground.  The zingy, refreshing wines of Sauvignon Blanc, Silvaner, Gruner Veltliner, rosé (although I enjoy the pink stuff year round) and light fresh reds.

Drink these 4 fresh wines to shift your mindset to spring, no matter what our Minnesota spring throws your way:

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Schplïnk! Gruner Veltliner | Austria

Yes, you can LOVE a boxed Gruner Veltliner called Schplïnk! How can you not love the bright yellow box, crazy graphic and 80’s block font. This chuggable white wine is organically grown by 11th generation winemakers in the Weinvertal region of Austria. Austria is Gruner Veltliner’s homeland and here, the grape shines its brightest. Green apple, citrus and herbal notes abound from this zesty wine making it the patio pounder (no patio required). // $37.99

Pfefingen_-_Scheurebe__74459.1617216422

Pfeffingen Dry Scheurebe | Pfalz, Germany

Spring is right time to explore the lesser known (and much-loved) aromatic, white grape variety of Scheurebe! Pronounced Shoy-ray-bah. This zippy example from Weingut Pfeffingen is reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc in all the right ways. Bright notes of pink grapefruit, guava and papaya accented with tarragon and sweet chervil on the finish. Pfeffingen has been producing wine for hundreds of years and is well loved for their wines AND the unicorn on their label. Everyone should have their own unicorn wine. A perfect pairing for spring salads, grilled peaches, and freshwater fish. // $21.99

g-d--vajra--rosabella--rosato

2021 G.D. Vajra ‘Rosa Bella’ Rosé | Piedmont, Italy

New to the France 44 shelf, this rosé is a staff favorite and one of the first to sell out each year. Vajra’s lip smacking ‘Rosa Bella’ is lifted and tart with floral aromatics and notes of rhubarb, blood orange and juicy strawberry. Refreshing on its own or as a spritz (with the addition of a grapefruit sparkling soda water), this rosé will have you ready for your first garden party of the season. // $19.99

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Hammerling ‘The Wild One’ Cabernet Pfeffer | California

Recently, there’s been some buzz around the obscure grape variety, Cabernet Pfeffer. Nearly extinct and also known as Mourtaou, there are just a few acres of this long lost grape planted in the world. Thank goodness that our friends at New France Wines were on the lookout and connected with Josh Hammerling at Hammerling Wines to bring us this Califonian grown babe. ‘The Wild One’ is a refreshing, medium-bodied red wine with a bit of tannic grip, ripe cherry and spice. New to the market and just the thing for your spring grilling adventures. // $32.99

The Ultimate Easter-Passover Pairing Post

Ah, the inevitable Passover/Easter pairing post. What does go with Easter ham? What even is Kosher wine? Does the Pope sip in the woods? These and many more questions we’ll try to answer, while doing some very scientific, highly-researched, definitely not off-the-cuff opinion-based reporting on the best wines, spirits, and beers to pair with your holiday meal. To guide you through the morass, we’ve assembled two experts in everything related to springtime feasting:

Playing for the Jews, it’s Sam Weisberg — wine and spirits specialist, Slivovitz enthusiast, and former theater kid who definitely loved Passover the most out of all of the other holidays because of all the singing he got to do at the dinner table.


On Christ’s team, we’ve got Josh Timmerman — wine specialist, social media mogul, fan of cocktails with less than three ingredients, and that guy from church who built his own deck and always seems really friendly but you can never remember his name.


* A final disclosure; not all of the products we are going to recommend are certified Kosher or Kosher for Passover. If you keep strict kashrut, we do carry a small selection of dry Israeli wines which make that cut, plus the obligatory Manischewitz. Ok, let’s get going!!

ROUND ONE: WINE

Passover

Easter

Georgian wine has always made sense to me for Passover pairings. Maybe it’s the similarities between Georgian cuisine and the traditional Seder table mains (lots of spiced meat?) or maybe it’s just my made up sense of wines from the “Ancient World” being closer to what my ancestors might’ve had on their table. Either way, this savory, apricot-like amber wine is a knockout with a huge range of foods, especially chicken dishes.

This Israeli Cab is a great choice for those keeping strict kashrut, as it is both normal-Kosher and Kosher for Passover, but it also is a delicious wine in its own right. Produced on the slopes above the Sea of Galilee, it’s a fresher, lighter style of Cabernet than California drinkers might be used to. 

Nebbiolo, with its occasionally rusty color and heady aromas, seems like the perfect wine to use for a holiday that does a lot of (metaphorical!) conflating of blood and wine. For a Passover brisket, you’d be hard pressed to find a better pairing than Angelo Negro’s Roero, a killer deal for Piedmont Nebbiolo. If you need a bottle to bring to a religiously-mixed celebration, it’d probably go quite well with Easter ham, too.

This rose of Grenache is plush, ripe, and bursting with strawberry fruit. Its got enough weight to stand up to the heavy-hitters on the Easter table–ham, turkey, and the like–but it’s still fresh and light enough to give a definite summertime-is-here vibe. From an awesome producer in Central California, Cruess, this is a great domestic rose that would be the perfect way to start off your Sunday supper.

This unique white blend from Southern France is made by an organic producer called Maison Ventenac. Located in the middle-ground between Southern and Southwestern France, the winery works with an eclectic mix of grapes that go into highly unique blends. This Colombard-Chenin blend is one such example; yellow apple and subtle chamomile notes mingle here to create an absolutely delicious white that is bright, fresh, and full of simple joy. 

A great wine, from a great winemaker, from a great region, from a great vintage can be exceedingly difficult to find, especially less than $50. The Tondonia is an exceptional wine and has long been one of my favorites, period. Though it is over a decade old, it’s still unbelievably vibrant and vivacious. Its rustic dark cherry and plum notes play well with traditional Easter ham or lamb, but it pairs well with a shockingly wide range of dishes. 

ROUND TWO: SPIRITS

Passover

Easter

If you have any Eastern European heritage whatsoever, Jewish or not, slivovitz probably graced your holiday table at some point in history. A bracing distillate of plums, this clocks in at 50% ABV and makes you feel very well equipped to be “living in unprecedented times.” With its alluringly tasty almond-tinged flavor and surprisingly strong, burns-all-the-way-down texture, it’s straight-up Biblical. Jelinek, based in the Czech Republic, has long been known for its Kosher booze, and makes a sterling example.

I drink slivovitz neat, and recommend you do as well. However, it’s also got potential in a few different martini variations, and makes a nice highball. Most important, however, is that it’s consumed in very small glasses with very beloved people.

Although there isn’t a traditional liquor for Easter, the Empress 1908 Gin embodies the season well. It’s citrus, blossom, and ginger characteristics offer a modern take to the more traditional juniper-driven style of gin. The stunning purple-blue color is naturally derived from the Butterfly Pea Blossom, and when combined with citrus the gin changes color to a lovely lavender-pink. This blend of colors is reminiscent of dying easter eggs as a child (Who am I kidding? I still dye eggs). It’s the perfect ingredient to add a colorful (literally) take to a classic French 75 for your Easter lunch. Try like this:
  • 1 oz Empress 1908 Gin
  • 1/2 oz Lemon Juice 
  • Simple Syrup to taste (couple dashes)
  • 2 oz Sparkling wine (Flora Prosecco would be great)
Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain into Champagne flute and top with sparkling wine and a lemon twist. 

ROUND THREE: BEER?

Passover

Easter

+1 for Easter! Crisp, clean, with a pleasant hoppy bitterness, Fair State hit it out of the park on this one. Why would you need anything else??? 

Ribera y Rueda: Spanish Wine Deep-Dives

WINE & CHEESE PROMO

 

In an effort to get more incredible Spanish wine in your life, we’re running a special wine + cheese promo from April 1-15!

Buy a featured wine from Ribera del Duero or Rueda in the liquor store, bring it to the Cheese Shop to have a cheese paired to it, and receive $3 off your cheese purchase.

Plus, you’ll get a chance to enter to win a trip to Spain for the ultimate wine tour!

What comes to mind when someone mentions Spain? Flamenco dancers, bull fights, Salvador Dali, paella and siestas are all acceptable answers. But what about Spanish wine?

It’s reasonable to suggest that France and Italy have Spain well beat in terms of recognizability, and you wouldn’t be alone if you couldn’t name any Spanish grapes off the top of your head, even though Spain is #1 in the world for vineyard acreage. We usually head to the Spanish section when we need a cheap, fruity red for sangria or mulled wine, or easy-on-the-budget Cava bubbles for mimosas.

But Spain is so much more intricate than that, so we’re highlighting two regions over the next two weeks to showcase how uniquely characterful Spanish wines can be. We’re moving onto one of Spain’s most underrated regions this week: Rueda.

Rueda

The small(ish) region of Rueda is often overlooked. It’s sandwiched between a few different red wine regions, most with arguably more recognizability than Rueda. But Rueda is white wine country, and the grape to be aware of here is Verdejo (ver-DAY-yo). It takes up nearly 90% of vineyard plantings in Rueda, almost all of which are farmed organically due to Rueda’s warm, dry climate.

But the Verdejos of today are vastly different than anything you’d find even three decades ago. The traditional style was to make Verdejo oxidatively in wooden casks, and was reminiscent of Sherry: baked fruit, nutty, and definitely not the fresh and crisp style we know Verdejo to be today. There are a couple wineries that hang onto this old-school oxidative tradition, but the vast majority of winemakers today use temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks to make sure their Verdejo is crisp, clean, and refreshing.

Check out the wines below for three different takes on Rueda Verdejo:

Naia Rueda Verdejo

Naia is the perfect introduction to modern Verdejo: perfectly-ripe fruit notes of peach, nectarine, and lemon burst out of the glass with a rounded texture from some lees aging, and a hint of salinity and fresh herbs on the finish. // $17.99

Nisia Old Vines Rueda Verdejo

Coming from 80-year-old vines that are sustainably farmed, this Verdejo has intense notes of lemon curd, passionfruit, and tart apple for an extra-zingy sensation. Rich yet with great acidity and a long finish. // $17.99

Pago del Cielo 'Celeste' Rueda Verdejo

Made by the Familia Torres family, this high-quality Verdejo is on point with great minerality and high aromatics. A lighter-bodied version of Verdejo, but never lacking in power or flavor. // $22.99

Even though the current style of Verdejo may be newer to Rueda’s wine ethos, their winemaking history goes back just a bit farther–back to the 10th century. Small family growing operations have been the backbone of this region for centuries, and that remains true today. The bright fruit and balancing acidity make Verdejo a fantastic pairing wine with a variety of cuisines, including shellfish, salads, and Asian-inspired dishes. Or, try them with one of these tried-and-true recipes:

Try it with:

Rueda wines also are a great match for young Manchego, fresh goat cheeses, and some ash-coated cheeses too. Stop by the Cheese Shop for a perfect pairing with your Rueda of choice, and get your promo pricing on it until April 15th! Visit Ribera y Rueda’s Recipes & Pairings page for even more culinary ideas.

Ribera y Rueda: Spanish Wine Deep-Dives

WINE & CHEESE PROMO

 

In an effort to get more incredible Spanish wine in your life, we’re running a special wine + cheese promo from April 1-15!

Buy a featured wine from Ribera del Duero or Rueda in the liquor store, bring it to the Cheese Shop to have a cheese paired to it, and receive $3 off your cheese purchase.

Plus, you’ll get a chance to enter to win a trip to Spain for the ultimate wine tour!

What comes to mind when someone mentions Spain? Flamenco dancers, bull fights, Salvador Dali, paella and siestas are all acceptable answers. But what about Spanish wine?

It’s reasonable to suggest that France and Italy have Spain well beat in terms of recognizability, and you wouldn’t be alone if you couldn’t name any Spanish grapes off the top of your head, even though Spain is #1 in the world for vineyard acreage. We usually head to the Spanish section when we need a cheap, fruity red for sangria or mulled wine, or easy-on-the-budget Cava bubbles for mimosas.

But Spain is so much more intricate than that, so we’re highlighting two regions over the next two weeks to showcase how uniquely characterful Spanish wines can be. This week we’re starting with Ribera del Duero, which produces the most prized bottles of Tempranillo in the world.

Ribera del Duero

If you’ve ever wandered around our Spanish wine section, you’ll know that a vast majority of it is red. And if you were to pick up any random bottle of Spanish red wine, the chances are good that it’ll contain at least some amount of Tempranillo—Spain’s premier red grape. It’s called by a variety of names depending on which region you’re in, but in Ribera del Duero it’s known locally as Tinto Fino. 

Tempranillo, like any other wine based on the climate, soils, winemaking traditions, etc, comes in a variety of styles. It can be fresh and juicy, silky and spiced, or dark and brooding. Ribera del Duero is known for its hot climate, low rainfall and high elevation vineyards, all of which add up to dark, full-bodied, intensely flavored wines.

Check out the wines below for three different takes on Ribera Tempranillo:

Protos Tinto Fino

This 100% Tempranillo is the perfect introduction to the full-bodied red wines from Ribera del Duero. It was aged in used French and American oak, giving it just a hint of vanilla and spice that highlights the dark fruit notes. // $17.99

Viña Sastre Crianza

The Crianza designation means that this wine sees at least a year of aging in oak barrels and undergoes a strict quality control process, making this an exceptional, age-worthy wine. Rich, ripe blackberry, black cherry, and toasted barrel mark this standard-bearer. // $35.99

Pingus 'Psi'

Psi is made by Dominio de Pingus, one of the heralded estates that helped put Ribera del Duero on the map for premium quality wines. Pingus makes this wine in conjunction with small local-area farmers, working with them to instill knowledge and the importance of thoughtful farming and high-quality fruit. // $35.99

Ribera del Duero is a small region, and it follows that most of the wine production here is also on a pretty small (and ridiculously high-quality) level: 75% of the grapes are harvested by hand, and many come from old vineyards that simply don’t allow for machine work. Ribera del Duero is also known for its stately castillos, dominating the landscape and adding to the majesty of the region. They’re also pretty serious about their tapas and lamb dishes, so check out the recipes below for your next Spain-inspired dinner:

Try it with:

Ribera wines also are a great match for aged Manchego, creamy blue cheeses, and clothbound cheddars—and don’t forget to include some Jamon Serrano and chorizo on your board too when you visit the Cheese Shop for your promo-priced cheese pairing. Visit Ribera y Rueda’s Recipes & Pairings page for even more ideas!

Check back next week for a dive into one of Spain’s best-kept secrets: the wines of Rueda.

I’m For Amphora: A Guide to Amphora Wines

by Karina Roe

“The ground has all the life you need to give birth to grapes. A vine needs the earth to make a grape. Once you have that grape, you need the earth again to make the wine.” –Josko Gravner

There is poetic beauty in the idea that the soil that births the grapes then becomes the vessel that holds the wine. The ancient art of amphora winemaking goes back to the earliest origins of turning crushed up grapes into a brain-tickling ferment. Today, 8000 years later, amphora wines are a small but mighty force that are finding their way onto the palates and into the hearts of curious wine lovers. 

The amphora tradition goes back to ancient Egypt. These vessels, which have been found in huge quantities stacked neatly alongside great pharaohs in their tombs, were known as symbols of fertility and rebirth. But more practically than that, these ancient clay pots also radically transformed the way people were able to consume wine. Amphorae changed wine from being a mere seasonal beverage that needed to be drunk immediately before it spoiled, to giving it extended life and mysterious complexity. 

Amphorae are also linked to ancient viniculture practices in the Fertile Crescent and what is today known as the country of Georgia in Eastern Europe. But unlike the ancient Egyptians who used any number of additives and flavoring agents to help with taste and longevity, the Georgian methods were much simpler. The focus has always been on the inherent qualities of the wine itself and even more important, their beloved qvevri, the Georgian term for amphora.  

Qvevri buried underground, courtesy of Orgo Winery

Qvevri makers were once the most heralded members of Georgian society. The know-how of this laborious craft was passed down from generation to generation. But after various world wars, political upheavals, crushing Soviet rule, and the dawn of the tech era, Georgia’s qvevri tradition was on the brink of extinction. A handful of qvevri producers were left to defend their ancient craft, but the inevitable truth was that their precious tradition would die with them.  

But the pendulum always swings back the other way, doesn’t it?  

In the late 20th century, an Italian winemaker by the name of Josko Gravner made a pilgrimage to Georgia, and after tasting the local wines decided that qvevri was the only path for his own wines. Gravner brought back qvevri to his Friulian estate, introduced his compatriots and subsequently the rest of the world to this resurrected craft, and suddenly Georgia could not churn out qvevris fast enough to meet demand.  

So, what is it about these clay pot wines that has become so endearing to the geeky somms, adventure seekers, and crunchy naturalists of the wine world?  

Clay vessels have roots in many cultures and countries around the world. But in the case of Georgian winemaking, qvevri are synonymous with skin-contact wines, or “orange wines.” Wines of all colors are fermented and aged in qvevri, but amber wines are the standard bearers of Georgia’s unique wine traditions.  

Take the Orgo Rkatsiteli for example. “Rkat” is to Georgia what Chardonnay is to California, and is a perfect candidate to take on skin contact and amphora fermentation. This wine from Kakheti sees 6 months of skin contact maceration in qvevri, and comes from astonishingly old vines despite the region’s many Soviet-era vine pull schemes. It is the perfect introduction to qvevri wines and Georgia’s most famous white grape. The wine is unfiltered and a touch cloudy on purpose, giving it more depth of flavor. There are indeed tannins here because of the skin contact, but they are fine and well-integrated. The qvevri aging gives a subtle earthy nuttiness to the wine, and frames the dried apple and tea notes that appear with a little time in your glass. 

But because qvevri and amphora are less porous and contribute less flavor than oak barrels do, their effect on more intense red wines is also lower. This allows the wine itself to shine through, and for a grape like Saperavi this is important. If Rkatsiteli is the Chardonnay of California, then Saperavi is Cabernet Sauvignon. The Vellino Saperavi is textbook: deep, dark ruby, full-bodied with great acidity and tannins, and very long-lived. This fruit-driven example is plush with ripe blackberry, black plum, and cherry, and is a perfect match with any hearty stew or roast. 

Freshly fermented skin-contact Ribolla Gialla in amphora, courtesy of Wiley Wines

Today, amphorae are being used by artisan winemakers around the world, from Slovenia to Sonoma. Minnesota’s own wine cowboy Phineas Fittipaldi brings us Wiley Wines Ribolla Gialla. Ribolla Gialla is a mainstay white grape for Gravner in Friuli and has found its way to the vineyards of Oak Knoll, Napa Valley. Lovingly farmed using organic methods by Steve Matthiasson, Phineas hand-harvested these grapes and aged the wine on their skins in Oregon-made amphora for 9 months. For those thrill-seeking drinkers, this will make your head spin and your taste buds dance.  

Another nod to international champions of amphorae is the delectable Don Juan José ‘Anfora’ Carignan from Casablanca Valley in Chile. Borrowing from both European and Chilean traditions, Juan José uses grapes from extremely old vineyards (135-year-old Carignan vines) and prefers to use old anfora made from the same soils his vines grow in. Originally from France where it is used as a blending grape, this 100% Carignan is laden with spice and earth tones yet still filled out with ample red fruit. And like all the other featured bottles here, fermentation is done with native yeast, little to no manipulation, and with a deep respect for the grapes, land, and hands involved. 

From the most ancient depths of wine history to our shelves at France 44 in 2022, it’s a pretty cool thing to be able to be a link in an 8,000-year-old chain of tradition. If you’d like to read more about the Georgian qvevri tradition, check out Alice Feiring’s book “For the Love of Wine.” Gaumarjos! 

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