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!

Sauvignon Blankety-Blanc: A Complicated Love Affair

by Karina Roe

The world loves Sauvignon Blanc. Bright, citrusy flavors, mineral freshness and that wild, herby edge make this zesty wine easy to love. New Zealand has barreled its way onto the international wine scene within the last few decades with its electrifying Savvy B’s (please don’t ever use that term in real life), chock full of grapefruit, passionfruit, and Kiwi sunshine.

And then there’s Sancerre, ready and waiting for the folks who desire a less in-your-face expression of the grape. If “minerally” is your descriptor of choice and you feel you could do with less enamel on your teeth, Sancerre’s screechingly-high acidity, chalky raciness, and barely-there fruit is right up your alley.

We sell a lot of these two wines, and the sales never seem to slow down no matter what season we’re in. But if you’ve been in France 44 (or any wine store) within the past few months, you may have noticed that your favorites haven’t always been there for you.

New Zealand’s woes have been many: there have been aftershock effects from the European wine tariffs a couple years ago and the inability to satiate thirsty countries, the country completely closed their borders to fend off COVID-19 and so shut off a lot of shipping routes, and extreme spring frosts in 2020 resulted in a 30% crop loss… just to name a few challenges.

Sancerre has been battling similar weather wars in recent years, with the devastating 2016 and 2017 vintages being the most horrific. Since then, recovery has been slow but steady, but prices have increased exponentially. When you combine these challenges with those pesky tariffs and an international market that just can’t get enough of that classy “Sancerre” name on the label, it’s easy to understand why a bottle of Sancerre under $30 is now considered a bargain.

But we don’t believe in stories that don’t have happy endings, especially when there’s wine involved. Wine makes people happy, so as long as there’s wine around, the endings are bound to be happy too.

Sancerre and New Zealand have vast, loyal followings, and they will continue to produce as much Sauvignon Blanc as they can squeeze from their vineyards. (France has strict laws about expanding appellations, and New Zealand is an island, after all.) But Sauvignon Blanc is produced in nearly 30 different countries around the world, each with their own unique expression of the grape. The future might be murky for Sancerre and New Zealand, but it’s bright, shiny, and pretty dang delicious for your own palate’s journey.

Here are a few of our personal favorite “alternative” Sauvignon Blancs ripe for exploring:

Domaine Jean Teiller Menetou Salon Blanc - PlumpJack

DOMAINE TEILLER MENETOU-SALON | Loire Valley, France | $23.99 | For those of you Francophiles that are nervous about stepping too far outside your comfort zone, try Domaine Jean Teiller from Menetou-Salon—a literal stone’s throw away from Sancerre. The soils are quite similar with their chalky, marine-fossil stones littering the vineyards (see picture). The plots are slightly farther away from the river and have less elevation than Sancerre, which helps in producing slightly plumper, riper wines with beautiful floral and peach notes. Domaine Teiller is completely hand-harvested and has been certified organic since 2017, assuring excellent quality. And as we all know, good grapes make good wine.


VON WINNING SAUVIGNON BLANC II | Pfalz, Germany | $24.99 | If you’ve never met Amy Waller (or really any of the rest of our wine staff), the first thing to know about her is that she’s a German wine freak. She moonlights for Wines of Germany as a German Wine Ambassador, and she has singlehandedly doubled our German wine section since she first started working for us. This makes for great anguish as we try to jam yet one more German wine into a tiny section, but great delight in carrying world-class producers like Von Winning. This minimalist/perfectionist producer attributes his success to “not doing the wrong thing at the wrong time,” which means: let the grapes do the work and don’t get in the way. The Pfalz is a sunshiny region in western Germany, and this wine is pumped full with bright lemon zest and lemongrass. If we haven’t yet hammered home that Germany isn’t “just Riesling,” this stunning wine will definitely do the trick.


Leah Jorgensen Sauvignon Blanc 2018 | MadWine

valls_feastly_111

LEAH JORGENSEN SAUVIGNON BLANC | Rogue Valley, Oregon | $24.99 | Really, this blog post was written as another excuse to wax poetic about Leah Jorgensen, the Pirate Princess of Oregon. We love to support Leah for so many reasons: She’s a badass boss lady, living out her Rogue Valley wine dream exactly the way she wants to. She’s funny, used to do standup comedy, and loves pulling pranks. She’s deeply tuned into her heritage and roots, and weaves it all perfectly together with the present. Her single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect expression of this, giving a vision of what the Loire Valley used to be before stainless steel and super-techy wineries were a thing. This Sauvignon Blanc has deep flavors and is more complex than you might expect, and the lees aging and stirring presents a gorgeous richness to counteract the flintiness and bright acidity.


Le Sot de l'Ange "ALZ" Vin de France Blanc 2019

BONUS ALTERNATIVE: LE SOT DE L’ANGE ALZ | France | $29.99 | We couldn’t resist putting in one last oddball for the ultra-adventurous Blankety Blanc drinkers out there. These guys go beyond what is traditional for Loire Valley wines. They don’t merely add new chapters to the canon of classics; sometimes they scribble over what’s already been written. This certified-biodynamic estate (extremely rare in this part of the Loire) is extremely thoughtful in making sure the wines they make are imprinted with the land they come from—the terroir of each individual plot of land. ALZ is an off-the-wall expression of Sauvignon Blanc… and Chardonnay… and Chenin Blanc. The crazy thing about this wine is that you can truly taste all three grapes separately if you focus on them individually, but they meld together in a strangely perfect way, too.

What We’re Drinking: Wine Edition

Barbecues and Up-North getaways are making up a large portion of our August weekends here at France 44, both for staff and customers! With that lazy August energy in the air, we thought it would be more fun to find out what bottles the staff are taking with them on their vacation days, rather than doing an in-depth study of a particular wine or producer. So, without further ado, here’s what the France 44 staff is drinking: Wine Edition!!
 

 
Sam
I’ve been infatuated with this dry Lambrusco that looks and tastes like a perfectly ripe raspberry. It’s a refreshingly dry take on this traditional wine style, and the effervescent bubbles are a good reminder that Lambrusco really was out there doing the ‘pet-nat’ thing before it was a thing. You really can’t find a better wine to take the edge off these hot August afternoons!!
 
 

 
 
Rick
This gorgeous, unique white from the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains is sort of a “Goldilocks Wine.” Using the indigenous grapes Petit Manseng and Petit Corbu, the winemakers of Illaria manage to create a near-perfect balance of fruit and minerality, resulting in a wine that’s not too austere and not too fruity. Enjoy this “just right” bottle with just about any food you can imagine.
 
 
 

 
Dustin
This is a tasty little wine! Sourced from grapes grown in the Camp 4 vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, this is a ripe and rich white made from a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Roussanne. This blend of grapes is more traditional to Southern France than Southern California, but the winemakers at Kita manage to create a rich, ripe white out of them that is unmistakably Californian, with tons of zesty citrus and white peach flavors. It’s also worth noting that Kita Wines is owned by the Santa Barbara Band of Chumash Indians, who are the first Native American tribe to own and operate both a winery and a vineyard.
 

 
Josh
The Pax North Coast Syrah seems to have everything I want in a Syrah. It has plenty of blackberry, plum, black pepper, and subtle floral notes. It is peppery with an ample amount of fruit yet still somehow refined and elegant. Honestly, all that matters is that it is absolutely delicious. I’m grabbing another bottle of this for the weekend! 
 
 

 

Bennett
What I’m drinking always revolves around what we’re cooking in the kitchen that night. My favorite go-to food wines are German and Italian whites, but here are the most memorable pairings from my summer:
 

 
 
 
Kayla
As a beer team member, I don’t always drink wine, but when I do I drink La Nevera Boxed Wine. It’s dry, fresh, delicious and it’s in a box (four bottles of wine fit in one 3L box!). What else can you ask for? Stay thirsty my friends.
 
 
 
 

 
Adam

What have I been drinking this summer? Rose, bright acidic white wine and lighter body reds. My favorite discovery of the summer hasn’t been a particular wine, but a particular bottle size. I love 1 liter bottles of wine! They are approachable,  affordable, and tend to satisfy all palates. They are crowd pleasers for your backyard BBQ, and you get the extra 250ml out of the bottle. What’s not to like?

My favorite 1L bottles

Whites- Halozan, Ercole, and Furst Elbling

Reds- Ercole, Azul y Garnacha, Gulp Hablo Garnacha

 


 
 
Jay
I love this wine, especially when it’s hot out and I’m still in the mood for a fun red. Pop it in the fridge for 20 minutes and put a slight chill on it, then sit on the patio and enjoy — it’s like having a glass of cool ripe strawberries.  The bright red fruits and acid make it perfect for sipping on a warm day, but the structure, minerality and spice are there too, and this can easily stand up to barbecue and burgers.
 
 
 

 
Tashi
I recently took Perles Fines sparkling rose to my best friend’s birthday party and it was a total crowd pleaser.  It’s dry and paired well with the birthday cake.  Plus, the muselet has an adorable unicorn cartoon on the cap which was a fun surprise!  This will definitely be my go-to for birthday bubbles.
 
 
 

 

 

Tom
This wine is an absolute grilling & cabin staple. The Graziano family has been making awesome wine in Mendocino since the early 1900’s and the 3rd and 4th generations of winemaking tradition are being carried on by the family today. It is juicy and rich and goes perfectly with just about anything off the grill! Seriously, try this with cheeseburgers. Needless to say, this wine slaps. 
 
 

 
Rob
The wine that I am drinking right now is Hamm’s.