Riesling, Ravines, and Ryan

by Ryan Kielbasa It’s been 6 months since I started on the wine team here at France 44 and if we haven’t gotten the chance to meet yet – Hey, I’m Ryan. I started at France 44 in July after a career managing recycling programs for corporations and universities. After years of working with empty bottles, it feels great to work with full ones! For my first blog post, I am stoked to share my excitement over one of the most thrilling wines I’ve had in a while. But before I do, I have to disclose something about the wine: it’s a Riesling. If that gives you pause, then this post is for you. Riesling’s reputation has been done dirty over the years, with no shortage of low-quality, high-sugar, mass-produced iterations filling the market. For the longest time I only knew of Riesling as a cheap, sickly sweet wine available at any grocery store or gas station (I’m from Michigan where they sell wine in gas stations, crazy right?). In truth, Riesling is a grape with an unmatched ability to produce beguiling and high-quality wines that can be bone-dry, dessert-sweet, or anything in between. Known for its refreshingly high acidity and endlessly complex aromas, a good Riesling is a wine you can absolutely lose yourself in. Hailing from the Finger Lakes region of New York, Ravines Wine Cellars’ Dry Riesling is a perfect example. If you want to know what an outstanding dry Riesling tastes like – this is your bottle. With only 2.25 grams of sugar in the entire bottle this zingy little number has no perceptible sweetness. Instead, sipping on this fills my head with thoughts of lime leaf, pear, hazelnut, river rocks, and the air after a summer rain. One of the best parts about this wine? It’s an absolute steal for a wine of this quality. At less than $20, it’s an easy way to erase any bad memories of Rieslings past. Need another bonus? Because this wine is so shout-from-the-rooftops outstanding, we’ve gotten together with our friends at the France 44 Cheese Shop to find its perfect pairing. Our pick – An equally stunning and aromatic Alpine cow’s milk cheese called Appenzeller. Try a slice of this cheese with a glass of Ravines and get ready to say goodbye to any lingering skepticism you may have about Riesling. And if you end up loving the Dry Riesling, explore the other Ravines wines we have in stock–the Pinot Noir ($29.99) and the Maximilien Red ($29.99)!

For the Sober-Curious

by Tashi

The world of non-alcoholic beverages has grown over the past few years, and we are happy to carry plenty of options for anyone trying to cut out or cut back their alcohol intake.  We carry NA options all year long, but there is a movement called Dry January that was started in the UK to encourage people to reassess their relationship with alcohol by abstaining from drinking for a month.  Even though we are a liquor store, we love this idea and have put together a sampler kit of some of our favorite products to get you started!  Our staff can also help you find other NA beer, liquor, or wine that fits your vibe, as our selection has grown considerably over the past year.  We assure that you can still be the life of the party without the hangover!

Our Non-Alcoholic Sampler Kit includes:

  • Lagunitas Hop Water – Crisp, zingy, and hoppily refreshing. This sparkling beverage is made using everything Lagunitas knows about hops. Chock-full of Citra, Equinox, and Centennial hops, for a big splash of flavor that’s surprisingly fruity.
  • TÖST ROSÉ – TÖST ROSÉ is an all-natural, delicious, dry, sparkling non-alcoholic beverage with white tea, Ginger and Elderberry. This is the store favorite when it comes to NA alternatives to sparkling wine.
  • Athletic Brewing Run Wild IPA – Run Wild is the ultimate sessionable IPA for craft beer lovers. Brewed with a blend of five Northwest hops, it has an approachable bitterness to balance the specialty malt body.
  • Ghia Spritz – Ghia is a non-alcoholic apéritif packed with only pure, natural extracts. Potent plants. Heady herbals. Blithe botanicals. The Spritz includes yuzu, rosemary extract, and elderflower to temper down the natural bitterness, but still taste complex.
  • Hella Bitters and Soda – Hella’s Bitters & Soda is a premium sparkling beverage that gets its smart refreshing flavor from the Gentian root in the South of France. Spritz Aromatic is bittersweet with notes of clove, allspice, bitter root and orange peel.

Each kit includes two bottles or cans of each product, so you can share with friends!  

MORE NON-ALCOHOLIC PICKS FROM OUR STAFF

KARINA Studio Null Sparkling Rosé – This is the non-alcoholic wine I’ve always hoped for. So many N/A wines fall far short of actually tasting like wine and end up being sugary, unbalanced, and tasting like Kool-Aid. Studio Null makes a traditional alcoholic wine, distills out the alcohol to less than 0.5% ABV, and manages to keep all the great flavors, aromas, and acidity that I love so much in dry sparkling rosé. Made from Silvaner and Portugieser (two super cool German grapes), this pink bubbly will have you checking the label several times to convince yourself it’s not alcoholic–it’s that well-made!

DYLAN Jinx Tea

I love Jinx tea, It’s my favorite. 

The Raspberry Lemonade is yummy. 

I always try to savor it. 

Only the best for my tummy.

They have other flavors.

BILL Lovejoy’s Thai Basil Bloody Mary Mix – I really enjoy Lovejoy’s Thai Basil Bloody Mary Mix over Ice with a wedge of lemon and lime. It’s such a great twist on the classic Bloody Mary mix and it’s super easy just to skip the vodka and enjoy it without any alcohol. Plus it’s locally owned and made.

TASHI Untitled Art Juicy IPA – My favorite NA beverage is Untitled Art’s Juicy IPA.  The flavor is super on point, you can’t even tell it doesn’t contain alcohol it’s so well done.  I regularly grab a six pack because it really just hits the spot, even my partner loves it and requests I bring it home for us.  If you like hazy IPAs, you will love this!

BENNETT France 44 Spring Water – Deserving of grand cru classification, this water is sourced from the purest natural springs in the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin appellation. These bountiful springs are naturally filtered by a roughly half-billion-year-old glacial formation, lending notes of vibrant purity and the distinct absence of terroir. Studies have shown that consuming fresh spring water is beneficial to your health!

(I also think Untitled Art is making some excellent N/A beer, especially the Italian Pils and Juicy IPA).

JOSH Zera Sparkling Chardonnay – This is such a fun and easy-going sparkling NA wine. It is fruit forward with a touch of sweetness. It tastes like those candy peach rings I had as a kid. And to top it all off, its organic! 

JAY Athletic Free Wave Hazy IPA – Athletic Brewing has been a pioneer in the non-alcoholic beer scene and is one of our most popular NA brands. The Free Wave Hazy IPA doesn’t disappoint. It’s juicy, citrusy and delicious. 

KAYLA Untitled Art Italian Pils – My favorite NA Beer is the Untitled Art Italian Pilsner.  it’s loaded with Hallertau Mittekfruh and Strata hops, making it a bit more hoppier than your standard Pilsner, but being less than 1% ABV, you still feel like you’re drinking an actual beer. 

MELISSA Töst Sparkling Cocktail – My favorite dry drink is Töst. As an avid iced tea drinker, I was driven to try this when it came into the store and fell in love with it! With a great balance of tea and flavors that give it a dry, yet layered mouthfeel. It also looks awesome in a fancy glass! With it being tea based, I shared it with my teenage daughters and they enjoy it as well, so it can be fun for the whole family.

Josh’s New Years Bubbles Crash Course

Dear 2021,

Why though?

Sincerely,

Josh 

Here we are my friends. You made it through another year. It may not have been what you expected the year to look like, but nevertheless, you made it. If there was one thing that this year taught me, it was to find reasons to celebrate. Celebrate the little wins, the big wins, and the almost wins. Celebrate having people there with you through a lack of wins. When the world still seems to be on fire, finding the little joys in life and moments to celebrate has helped me dramatically. This week we get to celebrate with a classic tradition (and of course a personal favorite), sparkling wine and New Year’s Eve. Read our guide to some of the iconic sparkling wine styles and regions around the world, and our recommended wines for New Year’s celebrations.

 

CHAMPAGNE

The Icon. Champagne is still the considered and recognized as some of the best sparkling wine in the world. The name and the wine itself is tied to celebration, luxury, and of course ringing in the New Year. Most Champagne is made of the following three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier (though several other grapes are permitted). The process to make Champagne, known as the Traditional Method, often exhibits toasty, brioche flavors in the wine. This method, in which the 2nd fermentation happens in each individual bottle, is also the hardest and most expensive way to make sparkling wine. This fact plus the prestige of the region is often reflected in the Champagne price tag, with Champagne wine prices starting around $40.

  1. WARIS LARMANDIER RACINE DE TROIS – $64.99 – Smells like fresh peaches and brioche.
  2. MARC HEBRART BRUT ROSÉ – $64.99 – A constant favorite amongst our staff.
  3. VOIRIN-JUMEL TRADITION BRUT – $39.99 – Pound for pound, this is one of the best values we carry from Champagne. It. Is. So. Tasty.

 

CRÉMANT

Looking for a Champagne-style wine without the Champagne price? Look no further! Crémant is a category of French sparkling wines that are made using the same method as Champagne. There are eight different regions in France that make Crémant. The grapes grown in each region will be featured in that region’s sparkling wines. For example, Crémant de Bourgogne (Crémant from Burgundy) will be made with the key grapes of Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The styles of wine within this category can vary dramatically, but often there is a high value-quality ratio, making it a fun category to explore.

  1. PAUL NICOLLE CRÉMANT DE BOURGOGNE EXTRA BRUT – $29.99 – One of my all around favorite sparkling wines right now. 100% Pinot Noir.
  2. LAURENS ‘LA MATTE’ CRÉMANT DE LIMOUX BRUT NATURE – $21.99 – Everything J. Laurens produces is delicious and about $20. Give their sparkling rosé a try too!

 

PROSECCO

Hailing from the Northeastern region of Italy, Prosecco is a fruitier expression of sparkling wine. It is made using the “Tank Method”, which is faster and less expensive than the Traditional Method which is reflected in the price of the wine. Prosecco is made with the aromatic white grape, Glera. Offering notes of melon, pear, and tropical fruits, Prosecco pairs excellently with a wide range of foods. It is a playful, delicious, and fresh style of wine that is meant to be drunk shortly after purchase! When unsure of what bubbles to bring to a party, Prosecco is always a safe bet.

  1. COLLI EUGANEI PROSECCO EXTRA DRY – $15.99
  2. CANTINA DI CARPI VIA EMILIA – $13.99 – technically not Prosecco, but same method of production & you’re going to love it.
  3. FLORA PROSECCO BRUT – $16.99 – Dry Prosecco! Perfect on its own or in your favorite sparkling wine cocktail.

 

CAVA

Spain’s answer to French Champagne. Cava mirrors some of the qualities of Champagne. It is made using the traditional method, it has similar aging requirements, and often showcases rich, toasty flavors. Cava, however, is predominantly made with three Spanish grapes: Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are allowed, but are still relatively minor grapes to the style).  A major difference between Cava and Champagne is the price. High quality Reserva or even some Gran Reserva Cava is still half or a third of the price of Champagne!

  1. AVINYO BLANC DE NOIRS RESERVE BRUT NATURE – $34.99 – A rare 100% Pinor Noir Cava from one of my favorite Cava producers.
  2. MIQUEL PONS CAVA BRUT – $14.99
  3. MAS FI CAVA BRUT – $11.99

 

 

PÉT-NAT (PÉTILLANT-NATUREL)

As they say, “everything old is new again”. The original method for sparkling wine production that has become fashionable in the past decade or so, and has made quite the splash into the market recently. A few short years ago we had a handful of Pét-Nat wines and now we have an entire section from all over the world! Although “Pét-Nat” is a loosely defined term, wines labeled as such often (though not always) follow these general rules:

  • Made using the Ancestral Method (part way through the first fermentation the wine is bottled and then the 1st fermentation finishes in the bottle resulting in carbonation)
  • Bottled unfiltered/without disgorgement. Yes, there may be sediment or even chunks in your wine (yummmmm chunky wine…). It is harmless and will settle to the bottom of the bottle if undisturbed.
  • Topped with a metal crown cap instead of the traditional sparkling wine cork.
  • Often slightly lower in alcohol
  • Less carbonation than traditional method sparkling wines like Champagne

Pét-Nats range in style from fresh and fruity to funky, sour, almost kombucha-like wines. The wines below fall more in line with the former.

  1. CA’ DI RAJO ‘LE MOSS’ I Italy I – $15.99
  2. IL MOSTRO RAGANA BIANCO I Italy I $24.99
  3. HOLLYHOCK NO. 11 PÉT-NAT I California I $23.99 – 100% Gamay from Pét-Nat from Santa Barbara.

 

OTHER FAVORITES

There are many other fabulous sparkling wines that do not fit into the specific categories above and it would be remiss of us not to mention some of our favorites.

  1. PERRAUD COGNETTES ‘PERLES DU VAL DE MOINE’ BRUT I France I $19.99 – Certified organic sparkling wine from the Muscadet region of the Loire Valley. Made in the traditional method and is fabulous.
  2. SOTER MINERAL SPRING BRUT ROSÉ I Oregon I $74.99 – Biodynamically farmed estate vineyards in Willamette Valley, Oregon. Potentially my favorite sparkling wines from the USA.

Give Yourself a Hygge: Jorgensen “Nisse + Hygge” Red Table Wine

by Karina Roe

HYGGE (HUE-ga) // the feeling of coziness and contentment evoked by simple comforts, as being wrapped in a blanket, having good conversations, enjoying food, etc.

I hate to be the one to break this to you, but it’s the weekend before Christmas. We’ve officially marked the transition from “thoughtful shopping” to “frenetic shopping.” There are no more “free evenings” on our calendars. Those quiet moments in your brain? They’re not coming back until January.

And yet, this is exactly the time when we need those quiet moments—the most hectic time of the year. The most stressful hours are when we need to be kindest to each other. That extra breath that you think you can’t afford yourself has never been more essential.

I’ve written about Leah Jorgensen’s wines a time or two before. I don’t need to expound more on my love for her, but I do need to tell you about her solution to give you a few quiet moments back: the 2019 Nisse + Hygge Red Table Wine.

This wine was literally born from ashes back in 2017 for Leah. 2017 will forever be known as the Year of the Wildfires that raged across too much of California and Oregon. (What we didn’t know, of course, was that that level of destruction would repeat itself every year after that. Climate change is a jerk.) Leah had some smoke taint in a few of her Cabernet Franc batches, and to save the precious juice she decided to blend it with some Gamay to make a seasonal release—something akin to a Beaujolais Nouveau that had a quick fermentation time, bright fruit flavors, and a “drink-now” personality to it. Her one-off experiment was an instant hit, and has now taken on a deeply committed following and a life of its own.

Today, Leah makes Nisse + Hygge as a fundraiser for wildfire prevention. It tastes both wild and warming, with dark berry flavors and gentle violet notes. It’s comforting, but it’s also just complex enough to keep you engaged and going back for another sip. Leah says that this wine is “intentionally untamed and meant for immediate enjoyment,” and she recommends it with traditional Scandinavian cuisine like Swedish meatballs, cheeses with lingonberry and rye crackers, and even some smoked fish to bring the Hygge home.

This is the gift you need to give yourself this holiday season: a bottle of Nisse + Hygge, a fuzzy blanket, and space to share a few elusive quiet moments with someone else who needs it too. Let go of the shopping lists for the night. Turn off your damn phone. It’s okay to put life on hold for one hour while you take care of yourself and the people you love.

Happy Holidays, and Long Live Hygge. ♥

The Official 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

We know you’ve been waiting all year for this. We’ve got a gift box for everyone on your list, from the beer buff to the cocktail curious–even a non-alcoholic sampler pack! Check out our glassware gift pack add-ons, our mystery bottle stocking stuffers, France 44-exclusive wine maps and drink coasters, and France 44 class gift certificates. There’s also a tried-and-true list of delicious and exciting wines that are sure to impress any host (and keep your party invites coming for years to come). And if you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, come talk to our staff for more ideas or fill out this nifty custom gift form. Cheers, and happy shopping!

Gift Boxes

Glassware Gifts

Found the perfect bottle, but need something else to gift-ify it? Choose to add on some glassware to complete the package. Plus, we’ll put it all in a ready-to-give gift box, complete with crinkle and a ribbon! Click each add-on to see our recommended spirits to include with the glassware. 

Up your gift giving game by adding six traditional ceramic Copitas (tiny cups) to your mezcal, tequila, or agave spirit purchase. 

Recommended Spirits (sold separately):

  • BANHEZ ENSEMBLE MEZCAL I $29.99 I Comprised of 90% Espadín and 10% Barril agaves, this mezcal is delightfully mild, floral and fruity (pineapple, banana). Banhez Ensemble is perfect for first-time mezcal tasters and wonderful for cocktail innovation.

 

Make your fancy rum gift even fancier with two Rum Taster glasses to enhance all the complex aromas and flavors in a high-class bottle.

Recommended Spirits (sold separately):

  • PLANTATION XAYMACA  RUM I $24.99 I With Xaymaca Special Dry, Plantation revives the quintessential Jamaican-style, 100% pot still rums of the 19th century with an expression of intense flavors that reveal the traditional, legendary Rum Funk: aromas and flavors of black banana and flambéed pineapple. 

 

  • EL DORADO 12 YEAR RUM I $36.99 I Lush tropical fruit and spice nose with hints of honey and dark sugar. Round, mellow, full bodied palate with rich flavours of fruit and spice. The finish is delightful, elegant and dry.
 

Add two classic Glencairn glasses to your bourbon, whiskey, or scotch purchase. A must-have for any whisk(e)y lover, from novice to connoisseur!

Recommended Spirits (sold separately):

  • FRANCE 44 STELLUM SINGLE BARREL BOURBON I $54.99 I This is a 5 year MGP cask strength bourbon picked out by your favorite staffers just for you! Bright cherry and caramel milk chocolate hit you up front before coming through with oak and spice.

 

  • BOWMAN BROTHERS SMALL BATCH BOURBON I $32.99 I The Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon is distilled three times using the finest corn, rye, and malted barley, producing distinct hints of vanilla, spice, and oak.

Stocking Stuffers

Pick up a box of mulling spices, a three-bottle sampler pack of your favorite spirit, or a pre-wrapped Mystery Mini gift.

Our Mystery Mini boxes are great for stocking stuffers, a white elephant gift exchange, or for those “I feel I should get them something but I don’t know them very well” scenarios. Four 50ml bottles of booze are included, but it’s a surprise as to what you get!

We also have our very own French wine region coasters! Grab one or all six. Only here at France 44!

Wines for Host Gifts

J. LAURENS ‘LA ROSE NO. 7’ | $18.99 | This festive pink bubbly is one of our all-time favorites, no matter what time of year. Best to get two bottles though, or your host gift will be gone before you even walk out the door to the party.

WARIS LARMANDIER ‘RACINES DE TROIS’ BRUT CHAMPAGNE | $64.99 | Cuvée Racines de Trois represents the “three roots” of Waris-Larmandier: the contribution of the three siblings to the project, and their use of three grape varieties, and coming from three regions of Champagne. The Waris-Larmandier style is terroir-focused, understated, structured, and ultra-elegant. 

DOMAINE CARRETTE MACON-MILLY LAMARTINE | $19.99 | This unoaked Chardonnay is the perfect host gift, whether it gets opened at the table or not. Just enough fruit and creaminess to provide texture and a delicious flavor, this high-class white wine is a guaranteed success at any function.

FOSSIL POINT PINOT NOIR | $17.99 | Showcasing notes of ripe plum, black cherry, clove, and pomegranate, this Pinot offers a quality well above its price point. Fossil Point Pinot has concentrated flavors that will pair well with slow-cooked pork belly, roasted duck or miso-glazed Salmon.

O’SHAUGHNESSY NAPA VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNON | $84.99 |  This polished and rich Cabernet checks all of the boxes. It is plush, complex, and perfect for your holiday roast. O’Shaughnessy is a fabulous wine to drink now and over the next decade.

ST. AGRESTIS AMARO | $39.99 |  Although it is not a wine, the St. Agrestis Amaro is the perfect after dinner drink to cap off your holiday party! It is one of our staff favorites and is great for new Amaro drinkers and enthusiasts alike. Organic herbs, roots and citrus are macerated into a neutral spirit to produce this Brooklyn-made Amaro.

Inspiration for your Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving 2021 is shaping up to be one for the record books. There’s nary a turkey to be found this side of the Mississippi. Sweet potatoes are flying out grocery store doors faster than they can be stocked. And if you haven’t reserved your France 44 Cheese Shop Pumpkin Pie by now, you might be relegated to eating pumpkin puree by the spoonful right out of the can instead.

But one thing that won’t be hard is choosing which libations to pair with your holiday feast. Whether you’re planning for two or 20, the France 44 staff will help you choose the perfect Thanksgiving beverage lineup. From appetizer aperitifs to pumpkin pie potables and everything in between, we’re sharing what we’re bringing to our own tables in hopes of bringing some inspiration to yours. (If you want the fast and dirty shopping list, just scroll to the bottom.) Happy Thanksgiving!

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Flora Prosecco | $15.99 | “My favorite way to start Thanksgiving is with mimosas! Flora Prosecco has become my favorite go-to. Try it with pomegranate or cranberry juice for a festive twist. It also tastes great without juice. That gives it the dual function of mimosas and bubbles to have with dessert!” – Melissa

Leffe Blonde | $8.99/6pk | “The flagship of Leffe, it’s smooth and fruity with a spicy aftertaste! At 6.6% it’s an excellent beer for any dish and relaxing moments with family and friends.” – Kayla

Gail ‘Doris’ Red Blend | $24.99 | “Loving this wine right now and probably will forever. This vintage has a high percentage of Zinfandel accompanied by about 15% of a variety of other grapes. Classic field blend. The Zin isn’t uber jamtastic, and that may be why I’d drink this with any holiday fare. Ripe raspberry, strawberry preserve, and a skosh of pepper round out the palate. Simply stunning.” – Dustin

Paul Nicolle Vieilles Vignes Chablis | $29.99 | “Good Chablis is what I’m bringing to Thanksgiving this year. There are few better pairing wines than a crisp, minerally Chablis, and the small Paul Nicolle domaine is at the top of the game. It is full-bodied enough to stand up to the bigger flavors on your Thanksgiving table, but that laser-sharp acidity also cuts through the salty and savory flavors in your stuffing, turkey, gravy, potatoes… (excuse me, I accidentally drooled on the keyboard).”  – Karina

Arnot-Roberts Trousseau | $34.99 |My current favorite ‘close my eyes wine’ – a wine so good you have to close your eyes and give it your full attention. The whisper-quiet honeyed red fruit flavors provide a refreshing counterpoint to the commotion of the holidays. Drink this one on its own (preferably on your own) when you need a break from the loud flavors (and personalities) of the Thanksgiving dinner table.” – Ryan

Peter Lauer Riesling ‘No. 25’ Trocken | $29.99 | “It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who reads our blog that I’ll be drinking German Riesling at my Thanksgiving celebration this year. My pick is focused, zingy and bone dry. The winemaker, Florian Lauer, has made is his life’s work to preserve the historic vineyard names of the Kupp area within the Mosel region of Germany. You’ll find it to be the perfect aperitif wine for your cheese board and shrimp cocktail.” – Amy

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel | $23.99 | “Thanksgiving is one of the most gluttonous meals of the year, and I have no idea why people pair this wonderful feast with delicate, lightweight wines. Try a Sonoma County Zinfandel at the dinner table this year, especially if you’re smoking the turkey. Silky, rich berry fruit–low tannins–spicy kick–absolutely delicious. It’s a perfect match. ‘Merica!” – Bill

Shacksbury Cider Variety Pack I $21.99 I “I am in love this this variety pack from one of my current favorite cider producers. The pack has 4 cans of each of the following: Shacksbury Dry Cider, The Vermonter (a delicious gin-like dry cider), and the Shacksbury Rosé (aged with red wine grapes). There really is just something about fall weather and fall food that screams for a delicious ice-cold cider. The variety pack is the perfect way to make sure there is a style everyone will like at your Thanksgiving.” – Josh

St. Agrestis Amaro | $39.99 | “I really enjoy this on its own! The bitter/herbal start really meshes well with the cinnamon and sarsaparilla on the finish. Makes me think of the holidays – and at 30% ABV, it’ll keep ya warm too!” – Stephen

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon | $32.99 | “I’m currently in love with the small batch Bowman Brothers bourbon. Its bright notes of cinnamon and gingerbread pair perfectly with my favorite vermouth to make a lovely Manhattan. It’s definitely something I look forward to making for my family during the holidays.” – Aaron 

Ezra Brooks Cream Liqueur | $14.99 | “After the Thanksgiving rush, I feel quite beat. We sell gobs of cream liqueur this time of year and I’m going to treat myself to some Ezra Brooks Cream Liqueur in some coffee after my morning run… that I’m not going to take. It’s every bit as good as the best cream liqueur at half the price. I may even make myself an evening bourbon cream milkshake for dessert because I’m worth it!” – Tom

Schneider Weisse Aventinus Weizen Doppelbock I $5.99/500ml I “When it comes to pairing beers with Thanksgiving dinner, I prefer something with yeast-driven flavors, some alcohol warmth and fine carbonation. While most beers that fit this mold come from Belgium, some good options can also be found from Germany. Schneider Aventinus is one of my favorite food- (and cheese!) pairing beers. Sophisticated yet perfectly balanced with notes of plum, fig, clove, banana bread, cola and caramelized malt. The finish is warming with a prickly tingle of carbonation. Try it with L’Amuse Brabander goat gouda for a heavenly pairing.” – Bennett

Hamm’s Beer | $17.99/30pk | “What’s the best pairing with Turkey? Ham(m’s). The magical elixir from the land of the sky blue waters, Hamm’s. It tastes like beer and I like it.” – Rob

 

 

 

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TL;DR VERSION

 

PRE-DINNER/ALL-DAY DRINKS

Flora Prosecco | $15.99

Hamm’s Beer | $17.99/30pk

 

DURING DINNER DRINKS

Peter Lauer Riesling ‘No. 25’ Trocken | $29.99

Paul Nicolle Chablis | $29.99

Gail ‘Doris’ Red Blend | $24.99

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel | $23.99

Arnot-Roberts Trousseau | $34.99

Leffe Blonde | $8.99/6pk

 

AFTER DINNER DRINKS

St. Agrestis Amaro | $39.99

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon | $32.99

Ezra Brooks Cream Liqueur | $14.99

 

 

Glühwein, Gløgg, Wassail… Cold Weather’s Best Beverage

Despite having been born and raised in Minnesota, I’m a baby when the cold weather hits. It’s not an unusual sight to see me in a turtleneck with a sweater on top (I’ve even been known to layer my jackets…), and I’m a big fan of long johns and wool socks this time of year. No matter how many layers I pile on, though, there’s nothing quite as warming as a steamy mug of mulled wine – and if you’ve ever wandered the Christmas Markets of Europe or elsewhere, you know this to be true.

Mulled wine has been around pretty much as long as wine has, which is to say, almost forever. It started out as a way to avoid waste – Romans and Greeks were recorded as early at the 2nd century for adding spices to bad batches of wine in order to make them more palatable, and in the cooler months, heating it up as a way to keep warm. As the Romans spread and conquered, they brought with them “Conditum Paradoxum,” a mixture of wine, honey, pepper, bay leaf, saffron, and dates.

By the Middle Ages, it had become a wildly popular beverage for two reasons: one, most of the water wasn’t potable, so people were drinking beer and wine in its place. Two, spiced wine was believed to promote health and avoid illness (a big concern in the wake of the Black Plague, rela). Even royalty was known to enjoy a hot cup of wine or two, with King Henry III of England, Count John IV of Germany, and King Gustav I of Sweden all citing it as one of their favorites. When Christmas Markets popped up in the late 1800’s, mulled wine morphed from the more bitter recipes of the past into the warm, spicy ones we know and love now and quickly became a staple. Today, booths at the markets continue to offer their own distinct recipes.

While the most recognized recipes are a blend of red wine, brandy, cinnamon, citrus, and sugar, recipes are pretty variable depending on where you are, with the types of spices, bases, and fortifying spirits changing depending on culture. In Alsace, white wine (usually Riesling or Pinot Blanc) is swapped for red wine, and star aniseed is a key spice. In Scandinavia, vodka, gin, or akvavit are often used in place of brandy, and cardamom joins the spice blend. In Poland, hot beer is used instead of wine. All to say, it’s a pretty forgiving beverage, so as you make your own mulled wine (or beer, or cider!), you can play with the recipe as much or as little as you want to make it your own.

As far as the spices go, we did the work for you and put together a mulled wine kit (wine sold separately) to help get you through the impending doom that is winter in Minnesota. Each kit contains three sachets of our house spice blend, plus a tried-and-true recipe card to make a traditional batch of glühwein. What you use to fortify is entirely up to you, but might we suggest a liter bottle of Gulp Hablo Garnacha to get the base going?

France 44’s Mulled Wine

1. Place mulled wine sachet into a medium sized pot with 1 liter of red wine and ½ cup of brown sugar.

2. Using a sharp knife or peeler, peel half of one orange and half of one lemon, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible. Place in pot.

3. Juice 1 orange and add to pot.

4. Overmedium heat, warm the mixture, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is just steaming, then reduce to a low simmer. Continue heating for 30 minutes, allowing spices to infuse.

5. Stir in 1 cup of spirit of choice, or 2 cups of tawny port.

6. Strain, garnish with orange wheel and/or cinnamon stick, and serve in heat-proof mugs or teacups. 

Yields 6-8 servings.  

*For a more or less sweet mulled wine, simply adjust the amount of sugar added accordingly. Sub agave or honey for an alternative sweetener. 

 

Drink When Chilled: Three Wines for Autumn Weather

by Karina Roe

I’ll be completely honest: this post is just an excuse to write about three wines I’ve run into recently that I love very much. I’m an extremely seasonal drinker (and I won’t apologize for it), so my palate has been hankering for deeper, warmer flavors than what Elbling or Picpoul can promise me. And truly, these crisp autumn days are some of the best parts about living in Minnesota. These are the days we can drive with the heat on but the windows still rolled down. It’s our last gasp of energy before the sludge and drear of winter sets in, and we need a wine that stands up to that level of energy while still warming our bones. So without further ado, here are three new red wines to explore. Drink them with a slight chill, don’t over-analyze them, and enjoy this brief-but-perfect autumn season.

Zantho St. Laurent | Burgenland, Austria | $15.99 | One of the craziest wine regions I’ve ever come across is Austria’s Burgenland, sitting on the edge of southeast Austria and flowing into Hungary. (Someday I’ll do a semester-long wine course on this area, along with other “borderland” regions like the Jura, Alsace, and Catalunya-Roussillon.) The political and cultural history of this place is fascinating to me, and it doesn’t hurt that the wines are right up my alley too.

Zantho’s vineyards in Burgenland, Austria. Courtesy of winery website

Anyways, the wine team happened upon this perfectly delicious, spot-on expression of St. Laurent from Zantho about a month ago. As soon as we tasted it, I started pre-writing this blog post—seriously! This not-so-distant relative of Pinot Noir is the epitome of fall comfort drinking: medium-bodied with good, dense, dark fruit; a healthy dose of earthy spice; and a dried-leaf crispness that makes you reach unconsciously for a heavy flannel jacket. It’s made by superstar Austrian winemaker Josef Umathum (also the maker of your favorite Austrian rosé), who sources this fruit from around 50 regional farming families who organically farm and hand-harvest everything. And for well under $20, this is one autumn red you can’t afford not to have around.

Mas Peyre vineyards, Côtes Catalanes. Courtesy of Haus Alpenz

Mas Peyre 1ères Soifs Carignan | Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France | $19.99 | The family-run Mas Peyre estate is represented by one of our favorite new table wine importing partners, Haus Alpenz (their niche is usually oxidative and fortified wines). Our importer friends, who sell the Bourrel family’s aged, oxidative wines, discovered their bistro-esque wine while having lunch at a little café near the family’s estate. It was something that the family made just for local consumption, but they were too impressed to let it stay a secret from the rest of the world. With a little guidance from Haus Alpenz toward a brighter, more energetic expression of the wine, the Bourrels succeeded in making this lip-smacking wine that, while refreshing and comforting, still speaks of place and terroir–a true vin de soif (“thirsty wine,” quite literally).

This organically-certified old-vine Carignan is made via semi-carbonic maceration—the same way a lot of Beaujolais is made. Slightly richer and profoundly more interesting than most entry-level Beaujolais, this is a wine that was made to be drunk around a crackling bonfire with good friends and maybe an out-of-tune acoustic guitar. As the label states, “Served lightly chilled (by the autumn air, of course), this is a festive, convivial wine that reflects the warmth and vitality of the people who make it. Raise a glass to the ties that bind family and friends.”

The alleged winemaker. Courtesy of Tim’s Instagram: @mrbrightsidemakeswine

Mr. Brightside Gamay | Portico Hills Vineyard, Santa Barbara, California | $22.99 | Don’t waste your time trying to look up a website from this teeny-tiny winery—we checked already, and it doesn’t exist. Honestly, there’s not much information out there at all about this delicious wine. All we know is that this winemaker (his name is allegedly Tim Fulnecky) used to make wine with Andrew Jones of Field Recordings. In fact, Tim started out as a lowly harvest hand for Andrew after he graduated from college. (In California, if you don’t immediately have a big-kid job lined up for you after college, you go pick grapes. Or marijuana.) Together, Andrew and Tim made one of our favorite domestic Gamays—Hollyhock Lodge. Mr. Brightside (yes, like The Killers song) is Tim’s personal project and is an homage to the wines he likes to drink best: crunchy, zesty, lively Gamay from Beaujolais in France.

The bottom line is this: the best way to learn more about this fresh, acid-driven, hint-of-green European throwback Gamay is to just drink it. And if you’re really hankering after more info, Tim’s phone number is on the back label.

Petite Arvine: The Best Grape You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

by Hailey White

It’s that time of year where the change of seasons begins, and you start to feel that slump into comfortability. Admittedly, I’ve been guilty the past few weeks (months? What even is time anymore) of sticking to those wines that I just know I love. I’ve had them a million times, they’re tried and true, and I don’t feel like thinking too hard about what to buy. Enter one of our lovely wine reps at Libation Project to get me out of that slump with a grape that I’ve read about once or twice, but never had the opportunity to taste, and wow. My eyes have been opened, and I’m excited to egg other people into trying it, too! 

The grape is called Petite Arvine, and it checks all of the boxes. It’s crisp and refreshing, still bright enough to not be a full-on switch from the high acid, mouth puckering whites that we all crave in the heat of the summer. At the same time, it has an incredible, rich ripeness of fruit and a creaminess to the mouthfeel that makes you think, “Okay, maybe I am alright with the impending cooler weather… Sweater weather isn’t so bad.” And there’s a reason that this gem of a wine has been hiding from us all for so long. 

Valle d’Aosta, located in the northwest corner of Piedmont
 

The grape is really just starting to come into itself as far as reputation goes. Prior to the 1990s, it wasn’t really grown much besides in the Valais region of Switzerland or in the Valle d’Aosta. And while historically it has had success within Valais, it’s Valle d’Aosta’s dry renditions that seem to be getting the attention more recently, particularly with the Grosjean family. Part of the reason that this grape might be considered a more “modern” phenomenon is due to the fact that it’s had a bit of a rocky history since its last heyday in the 1800’s.  

As with so many of our favorite grapes, we can chalk this up to the arrival of Phylloxera (the pesky vine louse that almost entirely upended the global wine industry in the late 1800’s), combined with the destruction from both World Wars. As a result of this and more, the size of vineyards, and with it the number of plantings of grapes in general, in Valle d’Aosta shrunk from over 3,000 hectares in 1800, down to a mere 635 hectares, making Valle d’Aosta the smallest region within Italy when it comes to wine production – a true underdog. Within that area, Petite Arvine is only planted in about 20 hectares of the region.  

courtesy of GrosJean Vineyards

Within such a small appellation, you can imagine that there isn’t a huge population of people, never mind of people making wine. The dozen or so wineries that exist in this tiny valley remain small, family run operations, which means they’re not pumping out mass amounts of wine. Instead, almost all of the juice made here is consumed locally by the community. While the downfall of this is that we don’t get the joy of drinking it all that often, the bonus is that most of these producers are more or less making the wine they want to make, and not catering it to the tastes of the larger, global population. The result is that these are wines that really speak to their locale of origin. Particularly, with a grape like Petite Arvine, this is important. It’s incredibly finicky and requires very specific conditions, and in fact is called “The Diva Grape” by many the because of its fussy nature. But what requires so much attention and work, yields a beautiful product.  

Grosjean first planted Petite Arvine in their vineyards in the 1980’s, and made the switch to organic farming in 2011. These days, they own just two hectares of Petite Arvine vines, producing roughly 15,000 bottles per year. Being in a mountain region, the slopes here are intense, with inclination at 70% in these vineyards. Considering these conditions, the family has had to take a lot of care in establishing terraces to keep vines from, literally, falling off of a mountain. Additionally, vines must be tended to by hand, since mechanization isn’t possible on slopes of these levels. Remember what I said about hard work?  

Petite Arvine vineyards at GrosJean

Because Petite Arvine ripens late in the season, they’re picked about a month later than other varieties grown in the same area, which you might argue helps lend some of the richness of fruit in the wines. Really, it’s the wildly bright and stunning sunshine in the region that helps to lend those juicier tropical fruit notes of pineapple and melon. That said, the aforementioned high altitudes help to keep these zinging with acidity. Grosjean ages the wines in partial stainless steel and neutral oak, an effort to preserve the beautiful blossoming aromas in the wine. It certainly checks all the boxes: Complex and full of fruit and aromatics? Check. Steely minerality and full of acid (hint: that means food friendly)? Check. Small, passionate producer making wine with the environment in mind? Check.  

So, if you haven’t realized by now, it’s Grosjean’s 2019 bottling of Petite Arvine — newly stocked on our shelves — that I’m so eager for, and it really is one of the most delicious things I’ve tasted in some time. I’m incredibly lucky that I have people walking into my place of work to enlighten me on things like this, but since not everyone has that person in their life, I’m here to be yours. Please, do yourself a favor and go pick up a bottle soon. It won’t disappoint! 

Rick’s Take on The Greats of Piedmont

by Rick

From the earliest days when I began learning about the “Wine Business”, I eagerly explored the wines of the great regions of the world, save for one. Italy intimidated me for so many reasons. For one, Italian wines can be hard to love unless used correctly. They have a higher level of acidity and are almost always bone dry. As such, they show best when consumed with food. I cannot remember a time where I ever saw an Italian drinking wine without some sort of food present. In my early days, I, like many Americans, drank wine like a cocktail. Italian reds in particular do not often show well in this context.

Another problem for me was that there are so many different types of Italian wine and almost none of them bare any resemblance to wines I knew from my casual wine drinking days. Even worse, it seemed like the Italians were trying to be intentionally confusing in their naming conventions. For example, there is Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello. Three are appellations, one is a grape. The grape (Barbera) is grown in the same place as two of the wines (Barolo and Barbaresco) but not the third (Brunello). Oh, and Barbera grown in Barolo or Barbaresco cannot use that name on its label! There are other delightful quirks in Italian viticulture, such as the fact that there are at least three different types of Trebbiano (same name, totally different grape), or that there are two wine growing areas in Italy called Montepulciano. There is also a type of grape called Montepulciano. If one were to make wine from the Montepulciano grape in one of these regions, it would be illegal to use the word anywhere on the wine label. In the other, it would be illegal NOT TO! Is it any wonder why people get confused?

Despite these idiosyncrasies, I am glad I finally decided to learn about these wines. I’ve been fortunate to visit Italy on several occasions, and it was because of these tours that I finally began to unravel the mystery of Italian Wine. Italians know how to live well, and wine is as indispensable to their way of life as pasta, fashion, or soccer. One of the things that helped me navigate the quirks of their wine culture was when I came to understand that Italy is a country in name only. Most Italians I’ve met think of themselves first and foremost as coming from one of the many regions. They are Romans, Tuscans, Piemontese, Sicilians and Campanians, to name a few. Even within the many regions, there can be fierce rivalries between towns that are just a few dozen kilometers from one another. Two such examples are Florence and Siena in Tuscany, or Venice and Verona in the Veneto, but there are many others.

Wines from Piedmont are among my personal favorites. Being a major fan of Pinot Noirs from Oregon and Burgundy, I’ve found the Nebbiolos from Piedmont tick many of the same boxes for me. Between the spice notes, the red berry fruit and the similar weight and texture, it’s hard for me to choose a favorite! Beyond the glorious Barolos and Barbarescos, there are other outstanding wines from this spectacular region. Barberas offer bright and fresh tart berry flavors with a texture that will make California Cabernet lovers swoon. Dolcettos, on the other hand, are the blue-fruited and light-bodied answer to Beaujolais. There are a handful of charming whites that hail from the land of truffles and hazelnuts, but this particular blog will focus on the reds.

To mine such a rich vein as the red wines of Piedmont, it is helpful to limit the discussion to a few exemplars of the many styles of production: G.D. Vajra, Fabio Oberto, and Oddero. Each of these houses have a definitive style and access to outstanding vineyards. They are also readily available in our marketplace and their wines are still reasonably affordable.


G.D. VAJRA

This classy family of introverts (a rarity in gregarious Italy) ply their trade a mere three kilometers from the ancient town of Barolo. They are the classic “sleeper” winery in that they are rarely mentioned by the fawning trade press or trophy hunters, yet their wines receive unfailing praise and honorable mention vintage after vintage. Their craftsmanship and humility are legendary among the many ancient families who have farmed in the area. There was no greater testament to this than when Luigi Baudana offered to sell his land to them, and only them, when he decided it was time to retire. This was despite the fact he had many wealthy and famous suitors offering him substantially more for his storied vineyards.

The house style of G. D. Vajra is one of accessibility at all stages of development. Even their most prestigious bottlings are generous and approachable with very little preparation once they are released. They could easily adjust their style to make more fashionable wines intended for long cellaring (and with substantially higher prices), but to them, the whole point of having vineyards in one of the greatest wine regions on Earth is to produce wine for the widest possible audience. That said, it is important to note that their wines are not intended for the “mass market”. They are, instead, wines made with a true sense of place but in a style (and price) that allows for nearly any palate or budget to indulge.

Exhibit A-1 is their remarkable 2017 Langhe Rosso ($16.99). This perennial favorite is a blend of four indigenous varietals: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Freisa. We’ve been selling this wine for twenty years and somehow it has remained at roughly the same price with an even higher level of quality as when we first fell in love with it back in 2002!

 

FABIO OBERTO

Family dynamics can be complicated. Fabio Oberto knows all about this. He worked for years under his father, Andrea, learning the ins and outs of winemaking. As is often the case in winemaking families, various siblings take over aspects of the business. This was the plan at Oberto. Fabio would assume the winemaking duties and his sister would oversee marketing and sales. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Like with many farm families, children often decide they want the city life. That was the case with Fabio’s sister. She did not, however, share her plans with Fabio. In a maneuver worthy of a soap opera, she secretly convinced her father to sell the business, and NOT to tell her brother about it, rather than continue as a family winemaking operation. All of this took place when I was visiting Piedmont in 2016. It was hard to believe that such a thing actually happens in real life. The situation for Fabio looked grim.

Through a twist worthy of Hollywood, somehow Fabio managed to scrape together enough money to buy out his sister and convinced his father to allow him to take over the entire business. With herculean effort, he assumed all responsibilities and managed to get wine produced and sold under his own label, without missing a vintage. We at France 44 are very glad he did, as these wines are always strong sellers in the category. Fabio’s style follows in his father’s footsteps. His wines are plush, ripe, and hedonistic.

The 2018 Barbera d’Alba ($19.99) is a crowd-pleaser that will compliment a variety of foods. The tart Bing cherry fruit is wrapped in a rich body, smoothing out the bright acidity and emphasizing the signature freshness of this varietal to shine. Enjoy it with rich stews, duck breast or creamy washed-rind cheeses, like taleggio.

If you are looking for a great introduction to Barolo, the 2016 Barolo del Comune di Serralunga($37.99) is hard to top. Fabio made connections with many growers in the area during his years preparing to take over the winery. This wine is the fruit of those labors. Not only is it from the stellar 2016 vintage, but it perfectly reflects his winemaking style. The tannins are sweet, not green or dusty. The wine has good structure and balance while still delivering on his signature fruit-forward approach. The essential Nebbiolo spice notes are present without taking control of the experience. All in all, this is a wine that is ready to drink today but will also improve with some cellaring (5-7 years at least).

 

PODERI E CANTINE ODDERO

The modern origins of this outstanding producer begin in the 1950s, though the history of their cellar and winemaking stretch back a century before that. Giacomo, the patriarch of the family, was a pivotal player in the elevation of Piedmont wines to their current lofty status. He was also a major force in the burgeoning fame of other agricultural gems of the region, from cheese to hazelnuts to truffles. The Oddero cellar is located in the center of one of the greatest vineyards in all of La Morra, the legendary vineyard of Cannubi, and was an important (and very secret) Masonic meeting house for the province in the 19th century.

 

The house style is heavily influenced by the traditional method of winemaking in this area, which is to say that their wines, especially their Barolos, are more tannic and better suited to long ageing than early enjoyment. I can personally attest, however, that one’s patience will be richly rewarded. Oddero’s wines retain their primary fruit for an incredibly long time, with 15-year-old bottles still showing youthful vivacity and surprising grip… even from “ordinary” vintages.

We have available the 2017 Oddero Barolo ($54.99). This vintage was a challenging one for many producers. The crop was very short due to a brutal frost that affected nearly all of Western Europe, and the weather was hot and very dry. Nevertheless, those who knew what they were doing were able to produce wines of great quality. The 2017 Oddero will surely evolve gracefully over the years but is surprisingly generous in its youth. If you absolutely must drink it now, you will have to decant it for a good 90 minutes before serving it. My advice: Buy a few bottles. Open one now and have it with a glorious rack of lamb, then hide away the rest of the bottles and forget you have them for the next decade or two!