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.