A Graphic Designer’s Guide to Liquor

by Dio Cramer

A full two years into legal-liquor buying, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert. Just kidding! The truth is that I am still at the stage of life where price is the most important variable in choosing my alcohol. After that, I turn to the design of the label, which is a much more interesting way to choose liquor.

A little intro for y’all since I am new to the blog — Hello! My name is Dio and I have been doing graphic design for France 44 and the Cheese Shop for about a year now after getting my start in the wonderful St. Paul Cheese Shop. I’m a designer and illustrator, a Capricorn, and also someone skeptical of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” mentality. You can certainly judge it after you have actually read the book, but up until that point, I believe the cover can give you a valid sense of what lies ahead and whether or not it’s going to be worth it. Same goes for liquor. Even before I knew what kinds of liquors I liked the taste of, I loved looking at the labels.

Labels, bottle shapes, and general marketing is incredibly important in the world of liquor. These elements form a personality that draws targeted demographics towards (or away from) a specific bottle and often guide them in choosing one bottle over another. This is especially influential when you can’t taste the very thing that you’re buying. Designers use visual aids to tell a story that we internalize, either consciously or subconsciously, and help us form opinions about the bottle before popping the cork.

With liquor labels, I’ve found that the great designs seem to fit into two main categories: nostalgia and novelty. Some brands stick with the same design that they have been using for years, and other newer brands try to emulate that same classic or nostalgic vibe. This feels right for liquor that is aged or brands aiming for a sophisticated look. On the flip side, many brands use novel designs to try and get customers to pay attention to their bottle and buy their product. This latter category of novel designs is what I focus on in this piece, but perhaps there is another blog post in the future that dives more into the history of liquor labels and explores the nostalgic and classic designs.

Nostalgia vs Novelty

A liquor store is a fantastic place to explore the contours of your design tastes and expand your design terminology. To begin, I spent some time comparing the Gin section to the Whiskey section. The difference is stark. Obviously, whiskey is a much darker liquid than the clear gin, so right away the two aisles feel emotionally different. Many of the whiskey labels had dark caps and labels with contrasting white text. The serif and script fonts combined with dainty flourishes create a vintage and old-timey feeling. Age is an important factor in whiskey so many of these bottles have large numbers incorporated into the design, advertising how many years the whiskey aged. Most of the classic whiskey brands are aiming for that classic, dated look.

The gin aisle, on the other hand, has a much lighter and more modern feeling. It seems that the goal here is timelessness. Many labels have thin text with light decorative elements, and blues and greens seem to be the primary colors of choice. One of my favorite label designs is Future Gin, followed by the “Blue” from Forthave Spirits. These two designs are eye catching, but for different reasons. Forthave Spirits is emulating old homemade concoctions with their handwritten script label. A bottle like this would fit into the apothecary vibe, which I’ll admit I am a sucker for. The Future Gin is immediately eye catching with colorful (yet pastel) abstract art. It looks modern but in a kind of timeless way.

Moving on to the rest of the store, I chose bottles that stood out to me, and then tried to sort them into distinguishable sub-categories. I came up with: bold graphic, hand-drawn, geometric, tarot card, and new-wave psychedelic. 

Bold graphics

BOLD GRAPHIC 

The tactic here is obvious – designing a beautiful bottle that sticks out among the rest. Some of these have only illustrations and minimal text, some use the text as the graphic to draw your eye, but all of them will capture your attention as you scan the aisles.

Hand-drawn art and text

HAND-DRAWN

I am particularly drawn towards hand-drawn art, partly because that is what I do and partly because it adds a human element to design. These bottles have character–they feel more alive than their neighbors. These can feel modern like the pen and highlighter design of Secsy Mbole, or elegant and nostalgic like the Branco de Sta. Cruz. If I were to design a liquor label, it would probably fit amongst these hand-drawn labels.

Geometric designs

GEOMETRIC

Geometric style of graphic design has far deeper roots than I can explore in a single blog post, but these bottles sure are eye-catching. In particular, these stand out from the nostalgic-style of many liquor labels. These designs are decidedly modern, which gives them a classy feeling. I might choose one of these as a gift. Elegant and lively, a good visual addition to any house (Of course, I’d hope the contents were appreciated too.)

New-wave psychedelic beer art

NEW-WAVE PSYCHEDELIC

This sub-category is specifically for beer labels. If any wine or spirit bottles in our shop fit into this category, I certainly missed them. Craft beers are all the rage these days. They are popping up left and right, and the makers have turned to wild, out-there marketing in an attempt to distinguish their products from the rest. Many of these labels are designed to appeal to counter culture stoner types, much like the psychedelic phase of the 60’s. To that point, I am currently drinking Prairie’s Vape Tricks, which is not only delicious, but visually a piece of pure stoner art with green and yellow mouths blowing trippy shapes out of smoke. Craft beer is certainly the most graphically out-there of the liquor world, and these labels do not disappoint.

Tarot card theme

TAROT CARD INSPIRED

Last, and perhaps most interestingly, is the theme of the Tarot cards. The other subcategories I found are general design categories, but this is thematic and much more specific. These bottles are characterized by mythological figures, magical themes, and hand-drawn illustrations that emulate the design and feeling of tarot cards. Some feature biblical-like scenes of destruction and devils like Rabble and Chamucos, and some are more mystical and whimsical like AlterKind Stranger, and Il Mostro. Perhaps it’s the long history of witchcraft and alcohol-like concoctions that make these bottles so appealing — or perhaps it’s the figures that give them so much character — but these are the bottles I am most intrigued by. Each of these designs contain a story, and the intrigue into that story is what makes me curious about the liquor inside.

What are the labels you are drawn to? Are they nostalgic or novel? Crisp geometric shapes or hand-drawn mystical? Does the personality of the label match the contents?

Personally, I plan on taking home Il MostroKind Stranger, and Future Gin, where I can promise you these bottles will live on in my home as vases and other vessels once the alcohol is long gone, as I am unable to get rid of beautiful bottles or jars of any kind. Maybe then I can report back on the full sensory experiences of these liquors, contents included.

Heat, Protein, Time, and Beer: Grilling Tips from Bill

by Bill Nosan

When the Twins start playing baseball, it’s officially grilling season in Minnesota. So if you haven’t already, it’s time to clean off the winter residue from your grill and heat that thing up.  At its roots, grilling is pretty simple. It really only requires  four basic things:  Heat, Protein, Time & Beer. I’ve heard a distant, crazy rumor that beer isn’t actually necessary for grilling, but as member of the beer department, I can say without certain, that rumor is completely false.

So grab a beer and join me. Maybe you’re like me and feel that making a meal for your friends & family is one of the things you enjoy most. It’s something that I truly love–it brings me joy.  Preparing the meal outside on the grill is even better, maybe because being outside grilling doesn’t feel like a task. It feels more like fun–fresh air, talking to your neighbor, watching your dog dig a hole in your newly seeded lawn… It’s probably just buried deep down in our DNA that we just enjoy being outside cooking over a fire. But I think the real reason is that grilling just makes your food tastes better (and you get to be outside drinking a beer).

Either using propane, charcoal or wood as a heat source, we basically grill the same way.  Indirect heat (slow & low), direct heat (fast) or a combo of both. It doesn’t take much time to learn what proteins & veggies do best using what method.  There are about 1001 ways you can learn all the different grilling techniques for all the different types of food, so I won’t dive deep into that for this simple blog post (see below for how you can learn more).

One of my go-to, quick grilling favorites, is preparing flat cuts of beef (Flank, Skirt, Bavette, etc). These cuts are great with direct heat and they cook up fast. Depending on the grill, give the beef roughly 5-6 minutes on each side on high heat for medium rare, then let it rest for 10 minutes. We want to use high heat to brown & sear that piece of meat. Remember, searing does not lock in juices. We sear to create browning (the Maillard reaction). Those sear (grill) marks are what help your food taste great. The more surface area you can brown, the better the outcome. Careful to just sear, not char (burn) your food. I love these flat cuts because you can have beef & veggies off the grill and on the dinner table in half an hour or so.

Another quick tip is for fish. I use direct heat while using a griddle or a carbon steel/cast iron pan. The fish will hold its shape & release better off the solid, flat surface as opposed to the individual grill grates.  Learn how to control your grill temperature and the rest is pretty easy.

So besides a grill and a heat source, what do you actually need?  The Neanderthals basically had a few rocks & a sharp stick to grill, so you really don’t need much for grilling your dinner.  But if you want to up your game just a bit, you’ll need a few helpful tools:

  • A good thermometer is key—The Cheese Shop sells the Thermoworks brand and I use their ProNeedle. It’s small and incredible useful.
  • A good pair of tongs (make sure you check if they work every few minutes). Get one long enough so you can keep the heat away from your hands.

Amazon.com: Barbecue Funny Grill Sergeant BBQ Apron with Pockets and Beer Holder 12 x 1 x 12 inches 6.6 Ounces: Home & Kitchen

  • I use a good apron because I’m sick of food stains on my clothes. Plus, an apron has pockets to hold all your tools as well as a backup can of beer or two.
  • Speaking of beer: I prefer clean & crisp while grilling. We have amazing, locally made options. I prefer to have a beer while I’m grilling and a glass of wine already poured waiting at the table for the actual meal.
  • But here’s the best “tool” you need: good, quality ingredients. Much like making a world class cocktail at home, preparing restaurant quality food at home starts with quality ingredients.

Do you want to learn more? Lots more? Join Thomas from the Meat Shop & Adam from the Wine Shop next week for our virtual Grilling & Wine class, filmed on the outdoor terrace of the Lorient building (kitty-corner from the store). They will showcase some of France 44’s incredible house-made sausages, charcuterie products, and fresh meat cuts. You’ll also learn which wines pair best with them when you get to the dinner table. They’ll cover prep and cooking tips to elevate your grilling game this spring and summer, and give you the inside scoop on classic wines and some new, unique favorites. Attendees will get charcuterie and cured meat on their cheese plate, and receive a special event discount for France 44 meat products purchase post-event. It’s going be fun so I hope you join them.

Finally, here are some of my go-to drinking options for grilling:

Utepils Helles 4pk Cans | $8.99 | Helles, the bright golden beer style, made Bavaria’s Beer Gardens world renowned for hundreds of years. This Helles is brewed with MN artesian spring waters and authentic Bavarian malt and hops.

Fair State Pils 4pk Cans | $9.49 |  A German-style pilsner, dry and crisp with a grassy aroma from a large kettle addition of Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops. One hop, one malt, lager yeast. Simple and delicious.

Oberto Barbera D’Alba | $19.99 | This quality Barbera hails from three small vineyards, all located in the village of La Morra, where the world’s finest Barbera comes from. It is a deep purplish red color, and shows subtle oak notes and fruity overtones on the nose; very elegant, with acidity, tannin and fruit blending perfectly on the palate.

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel | $23.99 | A blend from sites in Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. Flavors of dark ripe cherries and sweet raspberries emerge on the palate, followed by a rich velvety finish.

Shedding New Light on Australian Wines

by Karina Roe

Australia is one of the biggest wine-producing countries in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from the tiny amount of shelf space it occupies at France 44.  Although the Australian viticultural scene can trace its history back to the early 19th century, we’re more likely to think of outback critters adorning magnum-sized bottles with screw caps.

Every wine has its time in the sun: Slovenia and Croatia were all the rage a few years ago. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc sales continue to astound. We can’t keep the orange wine and pét nat shelves stocked. Rosé is no longer just a summer fling. And I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but Australia is on deck.

There’s a reason that over 360,000 acres are planted to grape vines in Australia. Australia has some of the oldest and most complex soils on the planet, with a near-perfect climate to boot. Disease pressure is fairly low, and some parts of the country (especially South Australia) have never experienced phylloxera, the devastating root-nibbling louse that destroys vineyards, because of their strict quarantine regulations. And did you know that Australia is home to some of the oldest still-producing vines in the entire world—some well over 125 years old?

But beyond all these mind-bogglingly cool facts is that annoying marketability issue: Australia has been bogged down by the bottom-shelf “critter wine” stereotype since the 90s, and it’s been a hard image to shake. Much of the wine drinking world has embraced premiumization, shifting away from mass-produced value brands. And although Australia does indeed make incredibly complex, unique wines at premium prices, very little of it has made its way into the United States market and has stayed in Australia’s home market.

But would we be writing a blog about cool Australian wine if that was where the story ended? No, a new day is dawning on Australia’s shores, and that day is rife with deliciously well-made wines from signature grapes like Semillon and Grenache, exciting experimental varieties like Nero d’Avola, Nebbiolo, Carignan, and many others. Australia is having its moment in the sun and frankly, we can’t wait to see what the future brings.

2019 Brokenwood Sémillon Hunter Valley New South Wales

Brokenwood Semillon – Semillon is one of the underground superstars of the Australian wine world, and this production from Brokenwood is the perfect introduction to this vibrant, nervy white wine. Drink it tonight or age it for a decade—it’ll stun you both ways.

Yalumba | Barossa Bush Vine Grenache

Yalumba Grenache – For those looking to add something different to their usual repertoire of California Pinot Noir, this is a must-have. Coming from old Barossa bush vines, this Grenache is packed full of ripe red fruits while staying light on its feet, with a bit of spice to create a dry, lengthy finish.

Ricca Terra Nero D'Avola - The Real Review

Ricca Terra Nero d’Avola – This very tasty minimal-intervention Nero d’Avola (a southern Italian grape) comes from Ricca Terra, a young winery founded by a former Yalumba winemaker. Ricca Terra plants “alternative” varieties that make sense with the changing climate (read: serious drought conditions) in South Australia instead of just planting cash crops, and Nero d’Avola has hence become their flagship grape.

2013 Jamsheed "Harem - La Syrah" Yarra Valley Victoria - SKU

Jamsheed Harem La SyrahWe all know Shiraz is the calling-card red in Australia, but this Syrah (with the spelling as a nod to France) from Jamsheed is a far cry from the jammy fruit bombs we’re familiar with. Floral, earthy, and with a wildly complex personality, it still has the stuffing to stand up to anything you can put on a grill.

A Love Letter to Cabernet Franc

by Tasha Poehler

If you’re currently reading this blog, or any wine blog for that matter, chances are you’ve heard of a little grape called Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s tough to get this far without knowing at least a little bit about it – but what if I were to tell you that its lesser-known family member was a favorite among wine professionals and wine lovers alike and a really great bottle won’t break the bank.

We’re talking about Cabernet Franc, the parent to both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s a bit wild compared to its more civilized children, and that’s what makes it so unique. Whether or not you’ve tried it, I’d like to tell you why this versatile grape is absolutely worth your time and why it’s a staple in my own collection.

Cabernet Franc is a light to medium bodied red that likely originated in the Basque region of southern France. It is commonly used as a blending grape in Bordeaux and some Southern Rhône blends where it adds herbaceous notes of tobacco and spice. Although it’s most common in a blend, it absolutely shines as a soloist because of its insane versatility. It has found a home in nearly every major wine region.

Where you’re buying from can dramatically shift the essence of the wine itself. Some of the best and most renowned Cab Francs come out of the Loire Valley (Touraine, Bourgueil, Anjou, Samur-Champigny, Chinon). These cooler climate wines tend to be leaner and more herb-driven with a sharper acidity. Think bell pepper, bramble, black pepper & tart cherry.

But that’s not to say that you can’t find an amazing bottle from elsewhere in the world.

While cooler climate wines tend to show a greener and leaner wine, the warmer climates will show something a lot richer. From California to Argentina to Australia, the heat and sun produce a fuller and juicier wine. There’s tons of strawberry, raspberry, chocolate, and peppercorn in the glass. No matter where you’re getting this wine from, its peppery nature will always shine through in some form or fashion.

This type of wine is one of my favorites to pull out at a dinner party. A light bodied red with a little funk and fruit is almost always a crowd pleaser. I’ll stick it in the fridge for 20 minutes to get a slight chill and let it do its thing at the table. Because of its versatility it pairs well with a wide variety of dishes. The lighter styles are great match with goat cheese or grilled salmon, while the fuller and richer styles are complex enough to stand strong against grilled steaks and pork chops.  A tomato-based dish would also wow whoever you’re entertaining once this pandemic decides it’s had enough.

Like any wine, it’s easy to do a deep dive and figure out which styles you like best, but for simplicity’s sake here are four different Cab Francs we carry at France 44 that all show off the unique characteristics of this grape in a fun and comparative way.

  1. Leah Jorgenson Cabernet Franc | Southern Oregon | $27.99 | Leah Jorgenson is among a group of relatively new badass winemakers who are shifting their focus to sustainable farming and biodynamic winemaking in Oregon. She’s also credited as the first in the country to make a still white wine from Cab Franc. I’m a huge fan of women leading the charge in innovation within the wine world and have yet to find a wine of hers that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. Super aromatic and a little bit funky, this wine shows a ton of red fruit, bitter herbs, and bright acidity. A little smoky and a little earthy, this wine has it all. It might not be for everyone, but its complexity makes it a fun one to test out if you’re looking for something uniquely its own.

2. Domaine de Pallus ‘Messanges Rouge’ | Chinon, Loire Valley, France | $18.99 | Fifth generation winemaker Bertrand Sourdais has run Domaine de Pallus in the appellation of Chinon in the Loire Valley since 2005. After 2009 the winery committed to biodynamic cultivation and all manual harvest. The grapes used for this particular batch of wine are aged in stainless steel for a little over 6 months which results in a simple and soft wine with bright red berry notes, a little spice and that signature Loire Valley green bell pepper. At a super affordable price, this wine is sure to be a favorite.

3. Waterkloof ‘Circumstance’ Cabernet Franc | Stellenbosch, South Africa | $23.99 | In the 90s Paul Boutinot set out to find the perfect vineyard site and it wasn’t until 2004 that he settled on the south-facing slopes of Schapenberg Hill in the coastal region of Stellenbosch. By 2008 the decision was made to turn Waterkloof into a lean, mean, biodynamic machine and is one of only a small handful of wineries in the Cape to hold that distinction. Waterkloof was actually awarded Champion Status by the WWF’s Biodiversity & Wine initiative after making the choice to preserve half of their farm for the indigenous wild and plant life of the region. In this day and age it feels good to be supporting viticulture that aims to help protect our planet. This wine has a ton of blackberry and cherry. A little bit of oak, and a little bit of green pepper, this wine is well balanced and tasty as hell.

4. Fabre Montmayou Reserva Cabernet Franc | Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina | $18.99 | Hervé Joyaux Fabre moved to Argentina from Bordeaux to explore the region and its potential for great winemaking. While Argentina is mostly well known for growing Malbec, this Cab Franc is a testament to this winemaker’s drive and passion to create something unique and beautiful given the local terroir. 60% of the wine is aged in French Oak for 12 months. It’s fresh and elegant on the nose, with warm graphite and subtle black cherry. It’s well balanced with a long finish and perfect for lamb or even chocolate.

Pairing Wine with Springtime

My name is Mike Schufman. I am not a wine professional, I am a guitar player and drummer with a culinary degree. I graduated from Saint Paul College in 2010, have lived in France, traveled to multiple European countries, and can speak and write in 3 languages. Since studying in the Loire and Rhone regions of France from 2007-2008, I have worked in various settings from full-service restaurants, to corporate dining, to grocery stores, and currently for France 44.

March through April in Minneapolis can feel a bit like getting one’s hopes up; a feeling of cautious optimism. Snow often makes an unwelcome re-visit after a bitter cold but mostly dry February. Meanwhile, moderate to chilly temperatures can create a slushy mess everywhere you look. At the same time, you smell the fresh spring air. You can finally appreciate the crisp breeze accompanied by longer sunshine as you roll down your car windows.

And even crisper than the breeze are the seasonal produce you see at your local market or co-op. There, hipsters flock for the fiddlehead ferns, ramps, spring onions, garlic scapes, peas, asparagus, mint, various other fresh herbs, and hearty, bitter greens. You can see, smell, and taste spring all around you. By May, you’re in heaven! And what is heaven without delicious food and wine?

In my first wine blog, I want to focus on Spring. More specifically, what Spring means for food and wine. Not a sommelier’s take on wine, but rather a culinary angle–my wine picks evoke the flavors and moments of spring. For this blog, I will focus primarily on white wines for their versatility and bright, crisp flavor that lends itself so perfectly to seasonal springtime dishes.

Pretty much, name something green, and it’s probably in season. Many of these fresh, vegetal flavors, in the wine world, are referred to exactly as the foods that offer them appear: “green.” Green is more than a color. It may signify bitterness, freshness, rawness, or unripeness. It can also signify healthfulness; that which is medicinal, refreshing, bright, acidic, youthful, vibrant, and zesty. Now we have a canvas on which to paint a lovely culinary picture.

As I see it, whether you’re combining foods together to create a dish, or combining a dish with wine, you are looking for balance and harmony. This can come from:

1. Complementary or contrasting flavors and textures (sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy, acidic and fatty, funky and fresh) Here, we prevent an overload of one component of food by providing a resolution.

2. Matching flavors (Herbs and goat cheese, Chocolate and chilis, stout-braised short ribs, mint and cucumber) Here we find a common theme between two seemingly different components and play on a particular flavor as an abstract concept that we wish to highlight. And in doing these two things, we also strive to avoid the third scenario:

3. Clashing flavors (Fish and cheese, Umami/Earthy+Gamey, Acidic +Hot and Spicy) Here, we unfortunately combine components that have similar needs of resolution, leaving your tastebuds and stomach feeling very, very sad.

Depending on your preference, you can lean toward #1 or #2, and chances are, your wine pick is going to be great! The most important rule is that there are no absolute rules, and sometimes, you just know what you like. If you like chardonnay with everything, then drink chardonnay with everything!

So, anyway, onto the wine picks! I have chosen 3 different styles to highlight.

Meinklang Burgenland White | Austria | $18.99 | This biodynamic white blend screams springtime with its bright, green, floral notes. An intriguing 50-40-10 blend of grüner veltliner, welschriesling, and muskat (respectively), this white offers a cohesive flavor profile rather than any obvious varietal characteristics. The nose is pleasantly fresh and aromatic, bursting with fresh, floral citrus akin to bergamot, coriander seed, and mint. In a weird but welcome way, childhood memories of opening a fresh box of fruit loops come to mind. Acidity is vibrant and reminiscent of Granny Smith apples or pears tossed with lime zest. This wine is pure excitement on for your tastebuds at under $20 a bottle.  Enjoy with mild stir-frys featuring green vegetables, chicken pizza with ramp and almond pesto, minty lamb meatballs, or a nice falafel sandwich* with lemon tahini, crisp romaine lettuce, and fresh tomato.

Culinary Note:

*Where did I come up with the idea to pair this with falafel? Not only are falafels crispy and delicious, but they are also jam-packed with fresh parsley and cilantro, with just a hint of zesty green chilis and spices such as cumin and coriander. This, along with the nutty characteristic of fried chickpeas (some versions feature fava beans as well) pairs beautifully with this style of wine. 

 


 

Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy | From the grape garganega, which is scientifically identical to the Sicilian viarietal Grecanico.

Being a culinary graduate, I find a lot of overlap between the jargon between foodies and wine nuts (By the way, you can’t caramelize a steak!). After all, part of the fun is finding the balance between the simpleton and the snob. If you don’t say something slightly pretentious, are you even enjoying it?

Medium bodied, this style gives you complex aromas, vibrant acidity, and nice, oily texture on the palate.

Sometimes, when people describe wine tasting notes, I think to myself “Wow that’s very specific. Toasted almond? Is it really a note of toasted almond? “Nutty” or “almond” isn’t enough of a description? But when I swirl this in a glass, it is clear to me. This is toasted almond. The aromatic compounds are reminiscent of nuts having gone through to transformation of roasting. A raw almond note, by contrast, would read much more subtle on the nose, similar to unripe stone fruit. For this more subtle almond note, lighter body and fruitiness reminiscent of honeydews, reach for a verdicchio or grechetto (try Andrea Felici Verdicchio–$17.99, or Antonelli Grechetto–$16.99).

These wines would be brilliant with anything pesto* fine Italian cheese & charcuterie plates, pan-seared whitefish and green beans amandine with lemon zest, and would also shine alongside a mushroom risotto with asparagus.

Examples:

Inama Soave Classico | $17.99

Pra Staforte Soave Classico | $27.99

*Culinary Note: Since I’ve mentioned pesto twice, I’d like to add a note from the kitchen and mention it a third time. I know–it’s not 1991, but pesto doesn’t need to go out of style and can be revisited anytime. Plus, it tastes like spring. In culinary school, we learned that anything can be classified as a pesto if it features these components:

  1. A nut. In the classic basil pesto, pine nuts are used for their piney aroma and butteriness. But you can swap it out for marcona almonds, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, macadamias, anything that you can call a culinary nut.
  2. A plant tissue. This would be the basil leaves and garlic in the classic green pesto. But this can be interpreted many ways. This could be kale, mint, ramps, roasted bell pepper, fresh peas or mustard greens. Get creative and use whatever you picked up at the farmer’s market that would work for the flavor you want to create!
  3. A cheese. Doesn’t have to be parmigiano reggiano, though always a great choice. Anything nutty and aged is good. But you can also take it in a different direction and go with something creamy and herbaceous like chevre. Get creative!
  4. An oil. This is when you want to break out the extra virgin olive oil. That said, some chefs do like to dilute the mixture with a neutral oil and only add a small amount of extra virgin to finish it, to prevent the overall mix from being too bitter.

 


 

Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Riesling Kabinett Trocken | Pfalz, Germany | $23.99

This riesling achieves a wonderful balance. It delivers the bracing acidity that you would expect from German riesling accompanied by tropical notes of coconut, green apple and citrus zest. There is an underlying hint of green or vegetal flavors and a pleasant minerality. The fact that there is so much going on in this wine is resolved by the ever-so-slight hint of residual sugar, though still well within the category of “dry.” This gives the wine some roundness and a refreshing character that makes you want to come back for another glass. This riesling could be featured with a variety of dishes, from Thai coconut chicken soup, to roasted sweet potatoes with harissa, to pork chops with kohlrabi slaw or braised cabbage.

Other dry, balanced Rieslings to consider:

Donnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling Trocken | Rheinhessen, Germany | $29.99

Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling Clone 239 | Finger Lakes, New York | $14.99

And there you have it! My top 3 white wine picks to go with your creative springtime meals! I hope you enjoyed reading, and just maybe it will inspire you or change the way you think about the food, the flavors, and the moments. Have fun in the kitchen and enjoy the weather!

 

 

Ice Ice Cider

Alright stop, collaborate and listen

France is back with a not-new invention

Cidermaker grabs an apple tightly

Cryoconcentration daily and nightly

Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know

Reach the right Brix and it flows

Alright, my apologies, I got carried away. It’s easy to do with something so delicious yet so underappreciated. Some of you are probably wondering, what on earth is ice cider?

Ice cider is basically a big sibling of hard apple cider; a dessert-style cider made in similar fashion to—you guessed it—ice wine! Like ice wine production, quality ice cider production only works in cold climate regions that are suitable for apple growing. There are two processes used to concentrate apple sugars for the production of ice cider: cryoconcentration and cryoextraction. While the latter method is much less common, it is the original production method. Christian Barthomeuf, a Quebecois winemaker, created the first ice cider in 1989 mimicking the production process of German eiswein.

Doing it the hard way, through cryoextraction, meant leaving the apples on the tree well into the frigid winter, drying up their water content and freezing them in the process. Separation of the water and juice thus happens inside the fruit itself. When the frozen apples reach the proper maturity, they are pressed and the resulting concentrate is frozen once more, resulting in a rich sugary nectar that will undergo a long, slow fermentation. Because this method involves much uncertainty, high costs and low yields, most cider makers produce ice cider opt for the other method.

Most modern ice cider is made through the process of cryoconcentration; harvesting apples at peak autumn maturity, storing them cold, pressing in early winter and then storing the juice outdoors in the cold. The sugary must is separated from the frozen ice crystals and then undergoes a long, slow fermentation. The ice cider may be aged in oak barrels to add further dimension. These ciders are best enjoyed slowly to revel in the unexpected, pure complexity that apples can offer—juicy sweetness, surprising tartness and delicate notes of spice.

Milk & Honey Alchemy Ice Cider — $19.99/375ml

The newest release comes from the 2019 fall apple harvest. This fermented concentrate of Winesap and Northern Spy apples spent 7 months resting in freshly emptied Four Roses bourbon barrels, picking up notes of vanilla, caramel and baking spice. It’s like bottled apple pie! A lingering mouthwatering tartness encourages further sipping.

Sweetland Orchard Borealis Ice Cider (3 Varieties) — $23.99/375ml

Made with Minnesota grown heirloom apples and freezing cold Minnesota weather. Pressed juice is left out in below-freezing temperatures. The juice endures multiple freeze and thaw cycles, being brought into the cider house as an ice cube during the last freeze. Juice is separated from the water during the melt and then goes into a lengthy fermentation. Notes of apple butter, baked apple, nuts and popping acidity. Some cider is bottled straight; some gets put in barrels. The Oak-Aged version rested in Minnesotan oak barrels from the local Black Swan Cooperage, picking up woodsy vanillin notes. The Rye-Aged version rested in Far North Spirits Rye Whiskey barrels for nine months, contributing a distinct spicy quality.

New Natty Wines at France 44!

Against all odds, the natural wine movement perseveres. Even in the face of a restaurant apocalypse and a pandemic-fueled boxed wine resurgence, people continue to bang down our doors for low-intervention wines with eye-catching labels. Some are drawn by the promise of wines that eschew traditional tasting notes, jumping into the tasting lanes of, “funky,” “crunchy,” or “tangy,” while others are just eager to support the small farms and winemakers that create these unique bottles. Not sure what a natural (or, natty, as the kids say) wine is? Don’t worry, we made a podcast about it. 

Luckily, we’ve recently acquired a whole new selection of these bottles from Sensus Wines, a Chicago-based importer with a wildly fun catalog of artisanal, natural wines from locations near and far. Here’s a taste of what’s (literally) in store, and don’t hesitate to put in an order right away; in true natty wine fashion, quantities on ALL of these bottles are very limited!


From Clot de les Soleres, located in Penedes, Spain, we’ve acquired a unique Pet-Nat made from 100% Macabeu ($29.99). If that sounds familiar, it’s because Macabeu is one of the “Big 3” grapes used to make Cava! Rarely bottled on its own, this wonderful pet-nat is lightly sparkling, with a palate that bursts with rich, ripe apple and candied orange peel flavors. 

Also on offer from the same producer is a one-of-a-kind Cabernet Sauvignon ($32.99). When winemaker Carles Mora began replanting his vineyards to indigenous varietals, he left one patch of Cabernet Sauvignon alone that had been planted in the late ‘80s. The wine he makes from this plot is like no Cab we’ve experienced—a zingy, bright streak of tart cherry rings through the center of this wine, electrifying the edges of your mouth before settling into a classically full-bodied finish. 

Clot de les Soleres Macabeu $29.99 (Click here) 

Clot de les Soleres Cabernet Sauvignon $32.99 (Click here)


Nearby, in the town of Zamora, La Microbodega de Alumbro works with an equally unique patchwork of vines to craft “Malveral,” a blend of Malvasia and Palomino grapes that are allowed to ferment on their skins, yielding a wine that pours a golden amber color. Gently tannic, this “orange” wine has a dried apricot core that effortlessly pairs with a huge range of foods ($34.99).

La Microbodega de Alumbro Malveral $34.99 (Click here)


While “light and fresh” isn’t our typical association for red wines from the Dão region of Portugal, the two bottles we’ve picked up from Quinta da Boavista are just that! These wines, with their whimsical, hand-drawn labels, will make you totally reconsider your opinion on Portuguse reds—guaranteed. “Lero-Lero” ($22.99) is made primarily from the Jaen grape (also known as Mencia in Spain, for all you grape-geeks out there) and tastes like biting into a fresh strawberry—feisty, juicy, and delicious. “Tretas” ($22.99) incorporates a more traditional slate of Portuguese grapes and shows darker blackberry flavors—imagine a full-bodied, classical Portuguese red whipped into meringue-like lightness.

Quinta da Boavista Lero-Lero $22.99 (Click here)

Quinta da Boavista Tretas $22.99 (Click here)


Lying in the shadow of their better-known cousins from Barolo and Barbaresco, wines from the tiny hamlet of Ovada and its surrounding region—the Alto Monferrato—don’t get much love in the U.S. market. Hopefully, experiencing the wines of Rocco di Carpineto, a “radical winery” that produces its wines with maximal respect for the environment and minimal interference in the winery, will spur some interest in this underrated corner of Piedmont. Their “Aur-Oura” Dolcetto ($27.99) is a revelation, showcasing all of the beautiful dusty, dense black fruit that well-made Dolcetto can express, along with a streak of herbal lift and freshness.

Rocco di Carpineto Aur-Oura $27.99 (Click here)


Finally, we’re absolutely pumped to add two more options to our ever-growing Lambrusco section, proving once and for all that this bubbly red need not be condemned to the dumpsters of college house-parties. Ferretti Vini is a 100+ year old family operation in Emilia-Romagna, holding fast to their assertion that “the best Lambrusco is made in the vineyard, not in the wine cellar.” Their two Lambruscos, “Al Cer” ($27.99), deep-pink rosé, and “Al Scur” ($27.99), a fuller-bodied red, are stunningly dry, crisp, and utterly delicious. No sugary-sweet swill here—these are serious, yet way-too-easily-drinkable expressions of a terroir that is rarely given such a pure, well-crafted vehicle to show off in. Bravissimo!!

Ferretti Vini Al Cer Lambrusco $27.99 (Click here)

Ferretti Vini Al Scur Lambrusco $27.99 (Click here)

Bubbles for the New Year

There was a lot of uncertainty to deal with this year and everything we thought we knew got turned on its head. But as the end of 2020 draws near, it’s comforting to remember that through all the uncertainty, we know that hope is on the horizon and that we still have the certainty of a brand-new year to look forward to.

You know what else you can be certain of? Bubbles! Our staff are avid bubbles drinkers year-round, but there’s no better time to wax poetic about our favorites than on New Years’ Eve-Eve. Whether you’re celebrating by yourself with a bowl of Cheez-Its and a Netflix marathon or with an elaborate spread with your “pod,” we’ll set you up with the perfect sparkler to ring in 2021. Read on to learn about some of our favorite picks this year!

Hild Elbling Sekt Brut | $19.99 | Germany – Even though this bubbly is German, the region it comes from (the Upper Mosel) has more in common with Champagne and Sancerre than the rest of Germany. These vineyards have swaths of limestone, which contributes to the bright, zingy acidity that is the hallmark of this wine. It has just enough ripe pear and apple flavors to provide delicious balance and a crisp, clean finish.

Paul Nicolle Cremant de Bourgogne | $29.99 | France – This newcomer to the Minnesota wine scene caught us all by surprise this year. Paul Nicolle is rooted just outside of the town of Chablis, where the family makes unoaked Pinot Noir (not Chardonnay!) with an incredible vivacity for this cremant. It’s Extra Brut, meaning it has less than 6g/L sugar added, resulting in a high acid, mineral-driven, racy sparkler.

Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta | $34.99 | Italy – Ca’ del Bosco can easily fit into Italy’s sparkling wine royalty. With one of the most technologically advanced wineries in the entire country, they have perfected the Champenoise method with their estate-grown Chardonnay along with touches of Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco. It was aged for 25 months on the lees, giving it a gorgeous texture along with refreshing fruit and acidity. One of the best values of the year for us!

Marc Hebrart Premier Cru Brut Rose Champagne | $64.99 | France – We’ve known and loved Marc Hebrart for years. One of the steadfast “farmer fizz” bottles available in our market, it’s been one of the most consistently delicious bottles we’ve tasted year in and year out. This gorgeous pale pink Champagne is actually mostly Chardonnay which adds to the regal finesse it has, but is given its pretty color and delicate red fruit flavors from Pinot Noir.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois Champagne | $79.99 | France – Billecart-Salmon has been a France 44 darling from the very beginning. The Sous Bois is the clear choice if you’re looking for a full-throttle, wrap-yourself-up-in-bubbles Champagne: it’s vinified entirely in oak, giving the wine an extra brioche-and-toffee richness. Beautifully intense fruit notes are balanced by a crystalline acidity, giving this classy Champagne a satisfyingly long finish. This is the year of Treat Yo’self, and there’s no one that deserves this bubbly treat more than you do.

You don’t have to choose sparkling wine to celebrate! Here are two off-the-beaten path options that still pair perfectly with a new year.

Duvel Ale | $12.99/750ml or $14.99/4pk – Dry, racy and bountifully carbonated–perfect for New Year’s Eve. A true “devil” of a beer for its well-hidden strength, Duvel is a forefather of the Belgian Golden Strong Ale style. Its distinct character is derived from a century-old Scottish yeast strain used by the brewery and delicate Slovenian and Czech hops. Secondary fermentation in the bottle gives this beer voluminous foam, lifting herbal hop and pear brandy-like aromas to the nose. It has a lively palate perfect for pairing with richer, cheese-driven celebration fare.

Isastegi Sagardo Naturala Cider | $8.99/750ml – The opposite of what you’d expect for NYE, this cider is “still” and features no carbonation at all! Cider from the northern Basque region of Spain is unique and delicious, and Isastegi is a textbook example of this. Fermented from over a dozen varieties of local apples, it is blended in large oak barrels before being bottled fresh. Aromas of ripe green apple, zippy citrus, cider vinegar and barnyard funk preface a similar palate with delicate minerality and a streak of acidity. It is best served the traditional way: one sip’s worth poured from height into a wide glass, drink, repeat.

Whatever 2020 gave or took from us, let’s raise a glass of bubbles to old memories, new beginnings, and the certainty of time moving forward. Cheers!

2,000 Years of Wine Tradition Gets a Facelift at France 44

written by Dustin

France 44 would be remiss if we didn’t share our new treasure trove of German wines with you. Over the past year our market had lost one of the most famous German wine importers that had serviced the US for over 40 years. We worked tirelessly to get any news of what happened to these wines, phone calls, emails, the ever so important Zoom calls, and now we have finally found a new life line to bring us back some of our favorites.

Last week, we were lucky to land 14 new German wines. The, all important, and fan favorite Frtiz Muller Rose has reclaimed its spot in our rosé section. The Von Buhl Bone Dry Riesling and Rosé are now smiling back at us from their once empty shelf spaces. If you have never tried any of the aforementioned wines, you must, but please do not look over some of the other house favorites that have come back.

German wine is and always has been historically known for Riesling. Riesling once rivaled the storied wines of Champagne and Bordeaux in demand amongst world leaders, it has been known to be one of the most versatile food wines, and has a history of making some of the most age worthy wines of all time. The grape itself gets a bad rap due to the possibility of it having a high residual sugar content. But please, look no further, we have brought in several dry expressions for those who love a crispy white wine!

Maximin Grunhaus Riesling Monopol Mosel, Germany $25.99/ bottle

“A blend of fruit from the three grand crus that opens with clear, aromatic mango fruit and, after a while, lots of flinty notes of crushed stones. Silky, pure and enormously salty on the palate, this is a stunning, complex, tensioned and almost challenging Estate Riesling with lingering salinity and immense complexity and charisma.” – Wine Advocate

Becker Family Pinot Blanc Pfalz, Germany $21.99/ bottle

Looking past just Riesling there are many other white wines produced throughout Germany. Unfortunately, many of these other expressions of white wine are scarcely imported throughout our country. Lucky for you we have acquired wines from a small estate called Friedrich Becker Family. The winery specializes in pinot noir, pinot gris, and an exquisite pinot blanc.

“Prominent notes of toasted barrel and nut accent crisp white plum and grapefruit here. It’s a briskly composed and easy-drinking but elegant Pinot Blanc made completely dry.” – Wine Enthusiast

Meyer-Nakel Estate Pinot Noir Ahr, Germany $39.99/ bottle

One of the many hidden treasures of German wine is pinot noir. Sharing a close border to France, Germany has a history of making pinot noir that some suggest could rival its neighboring red Burgundies. Just like many of the non-riesling white wines, pinot noir is ever so difficult to procure in the US. These wines embody the vigor and opulence of world class expressions of pinot noir and are definitely worth a try.

“Bright and tangy, delivering black cherry, currant and raspberry fruit on a juicy profile. The long, spicy finish echoes sweet berry and toasty oak notes.” – Wine Spectator

Shifting the Trend: The New American Red Blend

written by Karina

The category of “red blends” has always been a tricky one. Every country in the world makes red blends, and unfortunately there’s no standard recipe for what constitutes a red blend. They can be full-bodied and bursting with ripe, juicy fruit and a silky, ultra-drinkable quality. They can also be earthy and funky with mouth-drying tannins and tart fruit. They can be mind-bendingly complex, or simple and straightforward. 

And while so many regions worldwide are known for their beautiful blends, American drinkers are perhaps more likely to think of Red Blends as, well, distinctly American. These typically big, concentrated blends are packed with ripe, fruity flavors (and might have a few sneaky extra grams of residual sugar).  

But there are two blends we’ve gotten into recently that buck the trend of high alcohol, over-ripe fruit and instead explore the more elegant side of what red blends can be:

 Next Wines Red Blend | $15.99 | Columbia Valley, WashingtonOnce you taste the perfect harmony of fruit, spice, and well-integrated tannins, it makes sense that this Washington State blend was made by an Oregon Pinot Noir producer. King Estate is known for their world-class Pinot Noir and makes their wines with a beautiful freshness and finesse that highlights the best things about the grape. It’s no surprise that they have the same philosophy with their other wines. An almost equal balance of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it’s honest, delicious, and won’t break the bank.

Birichino ‘Scylla’ Red Blend | $21.99 | Santa Cruz, CaliforniaJohn Locke got his winemaking training from one of the most eccentric wine characters in American history: Randall Graham of Bonny Doon. Graham was one of the pioneering “Rhône Rangers” in California in the late 1980s and rose to fame for his against-the-grain winemaking philosophies and for championing little-known grapes. John Locke takes a similar approach with this fresh, incredibly fragrant red blend from Carignane, Grenache, and a splash of Mourvèdre. As with all of John’s wines, the Scylla is fermented with native yeasts, aged in neutral barrels, and was not fined or filtered. “All Scylla, no fylla,” as he says.

Beyond blends, the “new wave” (ie, the last 15-20 years) of California winemakers has adopted an avant garde approach to the identity of Californian wine. The Californian wine ideals of the 1990s and aughts with new oak barrels, overripe grapes, and high-octane Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have fallen by the wayside, and in their place are grapes that were once only found in their indigenous European homelands: 

Forlorn Hope “The Kerrigans” | $21.99 | Mendocino, CaliforniaMatthew Rorick has made a name for himself by way of quotable, head-turning names and niche, hole-in-the-wall grape varieties. He loves bringing the ‘old school’ wine styles back to life—the gritty, of-the-earth types that remind you that wine is food and not a showpiece. “The Kerrigans” is named in homage to what many old grape growers still call Carignan (car-i-nyan) in California—the perfect description of what to expect in this crunchy, no-nonsense, chillable red.

Matthiasson Pinot Meunier | $24.99 | Napa Valley, California | Pinot Meunier’s spiritual home is Champagne, where it’s used to add fruitiness and acidity in blends with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in world-famous bubbly. And while it’s not seen much by itself in France (or really anywhere else in the world for that matter), Steve & Jill Matthiasson decided it would be a hit as a still wine from Napa Valley. Originally planted for Mumm sparkling wine, this single-vineyard Pinot Meunier is earthy and mineral driven, while still retaining those sunshine-kissed pomegranate and blueberry flavors and that fragrant rose petal note that Meunier is so well-known for.

More New Grapes To Try:

Forlorn Hope “Queen of the Sierra” Red Blend | $21.99 | Calaveras County, California

Cruse Wine Co. Tannat | $27.99 | Mendocino, California

Stolpman “Love You Bunches” Sangiovese | $27.99 | Santa Barbara, California

Martha Stoumen Nero d’Avola | $44.99 | Sonoma, California