Satisfy Your Inner Wine Geek: Wine Trivia

Think you know a thing or two about wine? Have a go at the France44 Wine Trivia quiz! Answers are at the bottom—no peeking!


1)      What is a crémant?

a)      A cream-based wine

b)      A French sparkling wine produced outside of Champagne

c)       A French sparkling wine noted for its creaminess

d)      100% Chardonnay Champagne

2)      What is Napa Valley’s Frog’s Leap Winery named after?

a)      There used to be a frog farm on the estate

b)      It’s the measurement of a frog’s leap from the winery to any of the estate vineyards

c)       They wanted to poke fun at Stag’s Leap Winery

d)      They want to highlight how important biodiversity is to their winery

3)      Pinotage is a cross of what 2 grapes?

a)      Pinot Gris and Hermitage

b)      Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah

c)       Pinot Noir and Cinsault

d)      Concord and dirt

4)      How do you pronounce Freixenet, Spain’s #1 producer of Cava?

a)      frightened-eh?

b)      fresh-uh-net

c)       freaks-in-net

d)      fray-shnay

5)      Bobal is a little-known grape from ______ that is rapidly gaining popularity.

a)      Australia

b)      Argentina

c)       California

d)      Spain

6)      We love dogs, and so do winemakers! Out of our almost 3,000 wine labels at France44, how many of them sport pictures of hounds (or their canine relatives)?

a)      23

b)      11

c)       18

d)      68

7)      What grape is used to make Vino Nobile di Montepulciano?

a)      Montepulciano

b)      Sangiovese

c)       Nebbiolo

d)      Noble grapes

8)      What grape is used to make Brunello di Montalcino?

a)      Montepulciano

b)      Cabernet Sauvignon

c)       Sangiovese

d)      Nebbiolo

9)      What grape is used to make Morellino di Scansano?

a)      Colorino

b)      Sangiovese

c)       Barbera

d)      Dolcetto

10)   What the heck is on Matthiasson’s wine labels?

a)      Ballet dancers

b)      Grape vines

c)       Nut crackers

d)      Pruning shears

11)   What is the “Mistral”?

a)      A strong wind that blows constantly in France’s southern Rhone Valley

b)      A specific soil type found only in Jura

c)       The head honcho at every French winery

d)      The national after-dinner digestif of Greece

12)   Our General Manager, Chris, has worked harvests for this superstar California winemaker.

a)      Fred Franzia

b)      Russell Bevan

c)       Chuck Wagner

d)      Dale Peterson

13)   How is Madeira wine made?

a)      It develops a layer of yeast called flor and ages within a solera barrel system

b)      It’s fortified, then heated for 3 months

c)       It’s mixed with clarified sea water to give it its slight brininess

d)      It’s distilled, then poured over smoked palm leaves

14)   Bell’agio Chianti’s straw basket is called a _______.

a)      Straw basket

b)      Wine hammock

c)       Fiasco

d)      Diablo

15)   This dude is the patron saint of vineyards and winemakers, and his picture is here.

a)      St. Vinotheque

b)      St. Sylvan

c)       St. Knoll

d)      St. Urban

16)   This France44 staff member went to high school with the designer of the Rabble wine labels.

a)      Dustin

b)      Adam

c)       Doug

d)      Zach

17)   What grape is Prosecco made from?

a)      Pinot Grigio

b)      Prosecco

c)       Glera

d)      B and C

18)   This French wine is made in the same way as dry Sherry from Spain.

a)      Pineau des Charentes

b)      Sauternes

c)       Vin Jaune

d)      Beaujolais Nouveau

19)   What does “LBV” stand for on some Port bottles?

a)      Lost Baby Viper

b)      Les Beaulieu Vino

c)       Last Bottle Vine

d)      Late Bottle Vintage

20)   Which wine label sports Salvador Dali and his pet ocelot?

a)      Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir

b)      Tridente Tempranillo

c)       Field Recordings “Wonderwall” Pinot Noir

d)      Orin Swift “Pretty Kitty” Red Blend



1)      B. Try the Clavelin or the Antech—a couple staff favorites!

2)      A. Read Frog’s Leap story while you’re sipping on their incredible Chardonnay.

3)      C. Pinot Noir and Cinsault, known as Hermitage in South Africa. This is a great introductory bottle if you’re not familiar with Pinotage yet.

4)      B. Now you know Catalan!

5)      D. We have two in the store!

6)      C. Double points if you can spot all of them.

7)      B. Tuscany’s “noble wine,” Sangiovese (known in Montepulciano as Prugnolo Gentile) has to make up at least 70% of the blend in Vino Nobile.

8)      C. A special clone of Sangiovese that only grows in the tiny Tuscan town of Montalcino.

9)      B. Apparently the answer to every question is “Sangiovese.”

10)   D. Use your imagination a little—you’ll see it.

11)   A. Rouge-Bleu’s “Mistral” is a delicious, funky little wine made in honor of this crazy wind.

12)   B. Larger than life, and a Minnesota native! His Pinots are incredible.

13)   B. This method is meant to replicate what would happen to the wine on its long sea journeys back in the 18th century.

14)   C. What a fiasco!

15)   D. And the Knolls’ exquisite Gruner Veltliner pays him dutiful homage.

16)   A. Check out her amazing website!

17)   D. Same grape!

18)   C. This is an experience in a bottle—Rolet makes a fantastic expression of it. Make sure you have some olives and cheese to go along with it!

19)   D. Want to try a vintage port but don’t want the hefty price tag? LBVs see more wood aging than regular vintage ports, and unlike vintage ports they are ready to be drunk upon release.

20)   C. Juicy and ridiculously fun to drink.


How’d you do?

1-7 points: Well… you’ve gotta start somewhere, right?

8-14 points: Not bad! You clearly know more than the Average Joe.

15-19 points: I bet you’ve read through The Wine Bible a few times.

20 points: Either you cheated, or you work at France44.

The Road Less Traveled

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Stick with what works.

Go with the tried and true. 

Expand your horizons.

Of the thousands of choices available to us these days, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And when we get overwhelmed, the most common reaction is to shrink back to safety. We walk in feeling confident, bold, and daring… until we see 100 different Sauvignon Blancs staring us down. Rather than struggle through deciphering which one we’re going to like, our hand involuntarily reaches for our Ol’ Reliable, Kim Crawford. It’s familiar, comfortable, and we know exactly what we’re going to get in our glass.

Of course, “comfort brands” like Kim Crawford, Kendall-Jackson and Apothic Red drive sales in almost every store. These names have built themselves up to be household brands that people have come to know and depend on. But if we relied only on these labels, there would be no reason to have any other choices. It would be safe and predictable, but… super boring.

Wine isn’t a necessity in life. It exists today to delight and satisfy us. In our technologically-advanced winemaking world, we have a plethora of well-made, unique, interesting, and enjoyable wines from several different countries, thousands of producers of all types and sizes, and thousands of different microclimates. One of the most incredible things wine has to offer is this wide bevy of influences, all working together to create something wholly unique. If you’ve made the choice to drink wine in the first place, why wouldn’t you want to discover the crazy, special things it has to offer? You don’t watch the same movie every week. You don’t read the same book over and over again. Why should you have to stick to the same old rotation of beverage choices?

We’ve compiled a short list of some of our favorite “substitution wines” to help you break out of your comfort zone. The wines are similar, of course, but they’ll play a slightly different tune than the wine you’ve stuck with for far too long. All that’s required is an open mind and a spirit of adventure. With some things in life, it’s good to stick with the tried and true. But with wine, you could be missing out on some tasty—and sometimes awe-inspiring—experiences.

And as always, our staff would love nothing more than to chat about all the wonderful choices out there!

  • The empire of Kendall-Jackson, which has been on a buying spree of premium-Lafage Centenaire Blanc 2015quality wineries up and down the west coast this year, has built up its Chardonnay to be a reliable, consistent bottle year in and year out. Its luscious fruit flavors and hints of toasty oak are signature markers of this textbook California Chardonnay. Those same luscious fruit flavors and full, round body show up in the Lafage “Centenaire” Blanc, hailing from Roussillon in Southern France. Coming from Grenache and Roussanne vines that are well over 50 years old, the ripe orchard fruit notes are just as opulent and smooth as KJ’s Chardonnay!

Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2013

  • For years, Meiomi Pinot Noir has delighted wine lovers with its sumptuous, intense flavors that seem to make other Pinots pale in comparison. Its silky-smooth texture, baked fruit and spice character make this a standout in a crowded field. Translate these same qualities to the Old World, and you’d be surprised how well Tres Picos Garnacha fits the bill! Packed with undulating layers of ripe red fruit and well-placed notes of clove and vanilla, it retains a lithe, supple nature and a delectably long finish.

Margarett's Romer Red 2014

  • Where would we be without Apothic Red? A “gateway” red blend for many new wine drinkers, this is a hedonistic, too-easy-to-drink sipper that’s equivalent to candy in a wine glass. If you’re looking for a tiny step in a drier, less sugary direction but want to retain that intense, beautifully concentrated fruit, Margarett’s Vineyard Romer Red is made up of a similar “kitchen sink” blend of grapes. This tasty wine is structured, bold and accentuated by spice—a more grown-up version of Apothic.

Fleuraison Blanc de Blancs Brut NV

  • LaMarca Prosecco’s iconic baby-blue label brings festive flair to any gathering. The fizzy, fruit-forward, daintily sweet nature of this Italian sparkler is perfect for mimosas, Bellinis, or to go along with any starter course. If you hop on over to France, you’ll find a profusion of economically priced French bubbly (which includes basically everything produced outside the region of pricey Champagne). One such alternative is the Fleuraison Blanc de Blancs: zippy, light on its feet, and ridiculously tasty. A little more refined and less heavy-handed in fruit quality than Prosecco, the Fleuraison also works well in cocktails or as a gorgeously bright reception bubbly.
  • Did you know that Kim Crawford is actually a guy? Whoever he is, he sure has a knack for creating wines with international appeal. This Sauvignon Blanc is so popular that when you walk into the wine shop looking for “that Kim wine,” everyone knoQuivira Sauvignon Blanc 2014ws what you’re talking about. Bold, in-your-face tropical fruit jumps out of the glass with that stereotypical New Zealand grassy/peppery note hiding in the background. But if you’ve had your fill of over-the-top Kiwi Savs and have a hankering for a gentler version, head over to sustainably-farmed Quivira Vineyards in California’s famed Dry Creek Valley. Balanced, clean and linear, this zippy white retains its refreshing acidity and juicy citrus notes from mineral-rich soils, and the cooling influences of the nearby Pacific Ocean. Quivira’s claim-to-fame is their commitment to sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming methods, with the aim to create balanced and harmonious wines at every price point.

Cheers to new wines, new experiences, and getting out of your comfort zone!

How Merlot Can You Go?

There isn’t a person in our current wine-drinking generation that hasn’t heard those fateful words: “I am NOT drinking any *@#&ing Merlot!” Heck, maybe you’ve even said them yourself. (Bonus points if you actually remember who said them and in what context…) It’s baffling to think that one line from one movie over 10 years ago could do such damage to an entire industry, but hey, that’s the power of the media. On the upside, a lot of bad Merlot producers didn’t have a market anymore. On the downside, a lot of good Merlot producers… didn’t have a market anymore. And since Mr. Giammatti’s character claimed to love Pinot Noir so much, guess what replaced the “bad Merlot” market? Yep—bad Pinot Noir.
Friends, Merlot has sat in its time-out corner for too many long, lonely years. It’s learned its lesson. It’s come into a new season, and is ready to show you what it has to offer. Do you like beautiful, ripe, plummy dark fruit? Do you like full-bodied, well-balanced, structured wines? Do you prefer dry wine? Do you enjoy Bordeaux from time to time? Guess what: you’re totally into Merlot. No more suspicious sideways glances (pun intended). We dare you to give it a second chance, and it all starts with this bottle.
Coming from a Paso Robles producer already known and loved well at France44, this new release is 100% Merlot, and 1000% delicious. The Rabble Wine Company gets back to the foundation roots of good, solid Merlot: no fancy new oak, no over-the-top sweet fruit character, no ballooning alcohol. The dark berry and plum notes of this classically-styled Merlot are accented with hints of baking spice, mocha, and fresh-ground coffee bean.
To really get the full effect of the magic of this Merlot, bring a bottle over to the cheese shop and plop down with a couple friends, a hunk of blue cheese, and one (or several) freshly-baked baguettes. The wine and the gorgeously funky flavors of the blue cheese play off each other to bring out luscious flavors of near-bursting blueberries, plump blackberries, and just the right amount of spice. Only one question remains: how Merlot will you go?

Nothing/Everything Changes: The Story of Overgaauw

There are 8,838 miles between Stellenbosch, South Africa and Minneapolis, and David Van Velden can tell you about each one of them. Visiting us all the way from one of the world’s most southerly wine regions, David will be behind our wine tasting bar this weekend (September 23-24), pouring his family’s estate wines from Overgaauw. Winemaker visits are some of the most exciting things to experience, so we highly encourage you to come and taste, listen and learn from one of South Africa’s most dynamic young winemakers!

South African wine has had an interesting “coming of age” story. Many of its vineyards were planted well before Bordeaux was even a thought, but yet it’s still considered a “New World” winegrowing area. For too many years it was synonymous with poorly made, mass-produced Pinotage wine—the grape that was heralded to be the distinctive calling card of South Africa, only to be the bane of the country’s wine industry. But as time went along and the dissatisfaction for mediocrity grew, a new generation of South African winemakers emerged, ready to revitalize the wine industry. They left for Australia, the U.S., Germany, and France, thirsty for knowledge and experience that they could take back to their homeland.Overgaauw Tria Corda 2012

This notion of leaving, learning and returning has always been very important to the Van Velden family of Overgaauw Wine Estate, known to many internationally as one of the “first families” of Cape wine. Because of David (senior) Van Velden’s stint in Bordeaux as a young winemaker in 1969, he instituted the use of small French oak barrels for his wine—the first winery to do so in South Africa. He was also the first to champion Merlot and make a 100% varietal wine—a grape previously only used in blends. But most importantly, he dove into soil analysis and mapping out soil types in order to determine the best varietal for each vineyard, ending up replacing most of his white grapes with red grapes better suited to the land.

Now, David Van Velden (junior) has taken over the reins as head winemaker. Having grown up crawling between grape vines on the family estate and trying his first wine at age 6, it’s safe to assume that winemaking runs through his veins. His passion is centered on making wine that speaks of the land it comes from and building off his father’s zealous work in the vineyards. Judicious oak usage and meticulous vineyard management have been important tenets in his tenure at Overgaauw, along with keeping his fruit pure and balanced—retaining a classic, traditional style while still riding the waves of innovation and change.

As the song goes, The more things change, the more they stay the same—a lyric that rings true and proud for the Van Velden family. This important “family of firsts” has become an unshakeable pillar of Cape wine, and one of the many reasons South Africa has such an exciting future ahead of it.

For The Love Of Wine (And Golf)

Golf legend Davis Love III will lead the U.S. as Captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup, held at the Hazeltine Golf Club in Chaska starting September 27th. But when he’s not on the course, he’ll be making a stop at the France44 tasting bar! He’ll be featuring his Love Family Farm wines: Aledru Chardonnay and Red Blend.

aledruchardA refreshingly crisp Chardonnay done in a modern-Chablis style, the Aledru Chardonnay has a smooth, rich taste profile that features honeyed and tropical peach flavors. Fermented mainly in stainless steel, it is vibrant, fresh, and will go beautifully with any number of dishes.

The Aledru Red Blend consists of 48% Shiraz, 24% Mourvedre, 19% Petit Verdot, 5% Grenache and 4% Pinotage. It’s an elegantly complex wine with cassis, blueberry, blackberry, cherry, dried herb, cinnamon and hints of cigar and leather aromas. It was fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 12 months in French and American oak.

Love’s passion for wine mirrors his passion for golf. The Aledru wines are characterized by balance, depth, and precision of style, and the quality of winemaking is apparent in both the Chardonnay and Red Blend. But apart from fancy words and classy labels, only the wine can truly speak for itself—so stop by our tasting bar this Friday to meet both the legend and the wine!

The Lost Art of the Cheese Course (Plus, a bonus weekend perk!)


France’s Image result for jean anthelme brillat-savarinmost famous gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, said this about the important role cheese plays in a meal: “Un dessert sans fromage est une belle à qui il manque un oeil.” Loosely translated, that means, “A dessert course with no cheese is like a beautiful woman with one eye.” According to the French sensibility, cheese is what brings the entire meal together.

A cheese course is, unfortunately, a strange concept to us today. We rarely have time to let the meal linger slowly through several courses anymore, nor do we always pay close attention to what we eat. However, a few carefully selected cheeses and curated wine pairings can be a beautiful way to prelude an evening, or to cleanse the palate in-between heavy courses.

Traditionally, the cheese course is served after the main course but before dessert. Sometimes a platter of various cheeses is served, and usually includes one of each different kind of milk—cow, sheep, and goat—along with a spread of preserves, honey, and perhaps nuts and dried fruit. Other times, one single, special cheese can be highlighted, perhaps with a wine pairing to really make it stand out.

This weekend, we challenge you to channel your inner French and bring back the lost art of the cheese course! Check out the France44 Cheese Shop’s weekend feature—Chebris, a goat and sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque country, topped with a dollop of delectable lavender honey.Pinon Vouvray Emotion Demi-Sec 2014

One more thing to add to this match made in heaven: Domaine Pinon “Emotion” Vouvray—brand new to France44! One of our wine buyers, Dustin, visited Domaine Pinon last year in France and fell in love with not only the wines from this small family estate, but also with the elegant simplicity that infused their entire way of life. He picked out this particular wine for France44, a demi-sec Chenin Blanc, because he was so impressed with its balance and vivacity.

Chenin Blanc is one of those “magic grapes.” Because this particular varietal has both high natural acidity and high natural sugar content, it can be done in a multitude of different styles: sparkling, light and bone dry, rich and nutty, or in a dessert style… all depending on what the winemaker wants it to be. Vouvray, within the Loire Valley of northwest France, is Chenin Blanc’s most natural home. The limestone, chalk and clay soils there give it the vibrant, lively quality it is so famed for.

Cheese courses don’t have to be ornate: that same elegant simplicity of a tiny French winery can be brought to your own table with a few well-chosen items that, when you taste them together, seem like they could never be eaten apart from each other. The creaminess of the Chebris, the gentle sweetness of the honey and the bright acidity and fresh fruity sweetness of the Pinon Vouvray combine to make a wholly enjoyable culinary experience.

Here’s one last thing to whet your appetite: from September 1-3 if you mention this blog post at the register, we’ll knock a dollar off your bottle of Pinon “Emotion” Vouvray. Here’s to savoring the simple but elegant moments of life!

Under $20, Over 90: Highly-Rated Wines for the Best Value

Who doesn’t love a good bargain? But with thousands of options available to us these days, it’s sometimes hard to weed through them all to find those stellar deals. And while it’s fun to be adventurous and choose wine at random, there’s also a part of us that wants to be sure of what we’re getting ourselves into. Wine buying can be dicey sometimes, so we use certain sources to help us figure out which bottles are best for our money.

Whatever you may think about wine critics and ratings, they do offer a helpful structure in learning about wines. A score is simply a critic’s effort to turn a subjective experience (deciding whether you like a wine or not) into an objective one, but it does put the wine in a more accessible frame of reference. We’ve compiled a list of some great value wines that have ranked high on professional wine critics’ lists—and all of them are $20 or less! This is proof that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a highly-acclaimed wine.

While this list isn’t exhaustive—there are dozens more “Under $20, Over 90” wines scattered around the store—a few key places to hone in on include southern France, Spain, Portugal, and South Africa. Lastly, our wine staff is always available to help you sort through the ins and outs of buying great value wine! We know wine, we love wine, and we want to help you fall in love with new wines, too. Happy bottle hunting!

Northwest Knockouts:

Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2014: 92 points Wine Enthusiast, $19.99  //  Perfectly balanced with clean, pure fruit and a vibrant acidity. This classic Oregon Pinot Gris is described by Wine Enthusiast as having a “solid blend of citrus, cucumber, tangerine and melon flavors” that can be drunk in the near term as well as put away for further aging.

Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling 2014: 91 points Wine Spectator, $19.99  //  An elegantly-styled off-dry Riesling made by one of Germany’s most heralded winemakers, but using Washington grapes! The Long Shadows project aims to showcase the high quality and broad range of grapes coming from Washington State’s many climates and soil types. This is a deliciously, lively and crisp white that offers plenty of mint, green citrus and minerality with a delicate kiss of sweetness on the finish—absolutely perfect with Asian cuisine!

RootKlee Pinot Noir Willamette 2014s “Klee” Pinot Noir 2014: 91 points Wine Spectator, $19.99  //  One of France44’s new Staff Favorites, this Oregon Pinot delivers the “wow!” effect that can be so elusive in Pinot Noir. Lithe and expressive, it features tangy notes of raspberry, cherry and lime peel coming together with presence and finesse on the long finish. This is well worth getting a few (or more) bottles!

Iberia On A Budget:

Castano Solanera Yecla 2013: 92 points Robert Parker, $17.99  //  Looking for something dense and intensely concentrated? This Grenache-based red blend provides power, depth and great flavor intensity. Dark purple in color, it has a big sweet kiss of blueberry and blackberry fruit, a full-bodied mouthfeel and a beautiful purity, density and richness.

Lua Cheia Em Vinhas Velhas 2012: 90 points Wine Enthusiast, $16.99  //  If you’re Lua Cheia Em Vinhas Velhas Douro 2012unfamiliar with the wines from Portugal’s Douro Valley (or even if you already know and love them), the Lua Cheia is a perfect and utterly delicious place to start. Made from old vines, this wine is dark—almost black—with flavors as dense as its color. While rich, it’s also fruity with blackberry notes, sweet tannin and a cutting edge of acidity to give a lift at the end.

Palacios “La Montesa” Rioja 2012: 92+ points Robert Parker, $18.99  //  Alvaro Palacios is a legend in Spain. Whether he’s making wines in the newly-revitalized area of Priorat, from the Mencia grape in Bierzo, or like the La Montesa in Rioja, you can be sure that they’ll have terrific quality (and great press)! Sweet cherry, berry, and light chocolate flavors mingle in this smooth Grenache-based red. Balanced, harmonious and kept fresh by lively acidity, firm tannins impart focus on the long finish.

Fancy French Finds:

Lafage Centenaire Blanc 2014: 91 points Robert Parker, $13.99//  Coming from the Cotes du Roussillon, an area in southern France that’s growing in leaps and bounds in terms of quality wine production, this white blend is 80% Grenache Blanc and 20% Roussanne. It has beautiful minerality and stone fruits with hints of citrus blossom. Medium-bodied, fresh and crisp, this is a year in, year out spectacular value that shouldn’t be missed.

Lafage Tessellae Carignan Vieilles Vignes 2012Lafage Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2012: 92 points Robert Parker, $14.99  //  Made from 70-year-old Carignan vines, this ripe, luscious single-varietal wine from Cotes Catalanes is an absolute steal for $15. It displays copious notes of blueberries, raspberries, spring flowers and damp forest floor. The fragrant aromatics are followed by a lush, gorgeously textured, elegant and complex wine that should be drunk over the next couple of years.

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais 2014: 90 points Antonio Galloni, $16.99  //  Gamay at its finest and freshest! Never one to lack in vibrant fruity character, Domaine Dupeuble’s 2014 Beaujolais gives you the clean, pure taste of freshly picked raspberries and lively minerality with a backbone of balanced acidity. Violets and red currants layer on the palate with a long-lasting finish. Perfect with a little chill on it for those hot August days!

Domaine du Dragon “Cuvee Prestige” Rose 2015: 91 points Antonio Galloni, $16.99  //  “The Dragon” is one of our most consistently delicious Provence roses every summer. Orange zest, wild strawberries, grapefruit and tangy lime, this classic French summer sipper is a perfect patio wine.