You’ve Just Got to Visit: The Finger Lakes of New York

by Amy

In case you missed it, we hosted the most bewitching class at TMORA last week.  Focused on the immigrant story or Dr. Konstantin Frank, we went into a deep exploration of the Finger Lakes wine regions of New York.  An area of small, family-operated producers with a rich history of quality winemaking, dating back to the middle of the 19th century.  A place for nature, generous hospitality and fine wine.  An esteemed American wine region and yet, it’s rare that I encounter anyone who has made the trek.  I was in the same boat until my visit in May made me a proud ambassador for this enchanting wine region.   

I admit that before my visit, I knew very little about these lakes.  Located south of Lake Ontario, these 11 ‘finger’ lakes are the direct result of glacial activity some 2 million years ago.  This activity, carved out long, narrow, deep lakes that stretch north to south like fingers reaching up to Lake Ontario.  The extreme depth of these lakes (Seneca is 630 feet deep!) creates a moderating climatic influence on the vineyards of the region.  This special lake effect helps make viticulture possible.  

Grape growing here is diverse with a mix of American, Hybrid and European varieties planted throughout.  Concord (as in Welch’s grape juice) is the most widely planted grape but last week’s class centered on Dr. Konstantin Frank’s efforts to successfully grow European (Vinifera) grapes in the region.  He’d had great success with these grapes in Ukraine and had the foresight to push for them in the Finger Lakes too.  Now well-established with European varieties like Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay: Riesling has become the region’s calling card and it’s no secret that I LOVE Riesling.  

While there, I also fell in love with the natural beauty of the region, good food and warmhearted hospitality.  Vineyards and tasting rooms, usually run by the owner or family themselves, are intermixed throughout the countryside with waterfalls, forests and hiking trails. My highlights were Taughannock Falls state park on Cayuga Lake (see picture), Lakewood Vineyards & Tasting Room and Graft Wine & Cider Bar both on Seneca Lake.

Doing good while making excellent wine is nothing new for Red Tail Ridge, a small Finger Lakes operation started by Nancy Irelan and Mike Schnelle. Working from their LEED-certified winery, the couple crafts cool-climate Chardonnays, Rieslings, Pinot Noirs, and more from their exceptional New York state terroir.  Located on the western side of Seneca Lake, their tasting room is warm and inviting with a gorgeous view of the lake.  This Blanc de Noir is precise and tart with a soft bubble and flavors of orange peel and ripe cherry.

Dr. Frank established his vineyards on Keuka Lake in 1957, establishing his ‘Vinifera Revolution’ and elevating the New York wine industry from a state of happy mediocrity to a level that today commands world attention.  Rkatsiteli, a native variety of Georgia that he’d worked with in Ukraine, does well on the southwestern side of Keuka Lake, exhibiting flavors of apricot, pineapple, ginger and spice.  The Dr. Frank estate offers a variety of elevated tasting experiences from the southwestern shore of Keuka Lake, just north of Hammondsport.

Forge Cellars dove head first into the terroir of its Finger Lakes vineyards with a rigor and intensity that elevates it from most East Coast wineries. Usually focused on single-vineyard expressions, ‘Classique’ blends several sites from the southeastern side of Seneca Lake near their picturesque tasting salon.

‘Classique’ is dry and distinct with notes of yellow apple, quince and jasmine.  

Wine Classes at TMORA

By Hailey

If there’s one thing that lumps everyone at France 44 together, it’s that we’re all nerds. In some way shape or form, we all have something that we could talk your ear off about. As you’d assume, it’s generally something to do with wine, beer, spirits, or cheese. And honestly, there are worse things to know an embarrassing number of random facts about. The perk for all of you – our faithful and lovely clientele – is that we are also eager to share our know-how with you. Those of you who follow us closely are aware that through the summer, we’ve been partnering with various museums and event spaces to put on some stellar off-site events, sharing our breadth of knowledge and factoids with you. We took a couple week’s breather in August, but we could not be more excited to announce our newest partnership with The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA)

Let me just start by saying that if you haven’t visited the museum before, you are truly missing out. The building was built in a Spanish Colonial-Revival style, with impressive arches inside and out, Romanesque windows, and stone carvings throughout the space. This dramatic architectural design can be explained by the fact that in a previous life, the building housed a church. Even with the soaring ceilings, though, the space makes for a surprisingly warm and cozy environment. 

TMORA took over its current building in 2005, and has since developed into what is believed to be the largest privately owned collection of Russian Realist paintings outside of the Soviet Union. The work spans beyond just realism, with rotating exhibitions that feature modern and abstract pieces from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. In addition, the Museum maintains a room devoted to the work of émigré artists from those countries, with a special emphasis on artists living in Minnesota.

We will be working with TMORA for a four-part series of classes from September to December. These events will grant you after-hours access to the full museum and all of its exhibits, as well as an hour-long class complete with wine samples and cheese plates ala France 44’s Cheese Shop. Each evening has an admittedly geeky theme for us to deep-dive into together, with the series coming to a close with a Champagne and Caviar Extravaganza just in time for the New Year.  Read on for more details on each class – we hope to see you there!

Our first of the series will focus on Dr. Konstantin Frank, one of the most influential figures in North American wine. Russian-born and Ukraine-raised, Frank helped to shape the grapes and styles of Finger Lakes wines. If you’re looking to try domestic wines that are produced in a more European style, this class will be an eye opener for you! We’ll taste a flight of Finger Lakes wines while discovering the many ways his legacy impacted the domestic wine industry, what in the heck trockenbeerenauslese means, and why you should be drinking more East Coast wines, all while basking in the Museum’s gorgeous art collections.  

For our second class of the series, we’ll spotlight André Tchelistcheff — AKA “The Winemaker’s Winemaker.” This Russian-born winemaker helped to shape the wines of California and Washington as we know them today. Through his legacy of peer-mentorship as well as his development of some of today’s most widely used winemaking techniques, Tchelistcheff played a key role in establishing North America on the wine map. We’ll guide you through a variety of wineries that his influence directly touched, and learn how his role in the 1973 Judgement of Paris helped to positively change the trajectory of domestic wine.

The third class of the series focuses on one of the most ancient winemaking regions in the world: Georgia. After perusing the museum with a welcome beverage in hand, you’ll taste through a flight of Georgian wines in the main exhibition of the museum. We’ll explain how their generational wine techniques persevered through the Soviet era, what a Qvevri is (and how many people can fit inside the largest ones), and why fermenting wine underground leads to some of the most complex and interesting wines. 

We’re capping off the series with a bang! Champagne and Caviar. Need we say more? We’re taking more of an experiential approach for the final installment of our partnership with TMORA, leading you through a luxurious tasting experience of what is perhaps the world’s best food and wine pairing. Your ticket will get you samples of six of our favorite champagnes, accompanying small bites, and, of course, caviar (roughly 15g caviar for each guest). As you taste, you’ll learn about the history and production process of Champagne, and discover why it is such a magical pairing to this iconic delicacy. 

Pét-Nat & Cider: An Evening Picnic at the Bakken

by Hailey, Melissa, & Josh

If you know me at all, you know that picnics are one of my (Hailey) favorite past times, and more specifically, a ‘loved up’, full shebang of a picnic complete with my favorite blanket, a slew of curated snacks, a couple of bottles of my favorite bubbles, and a couple of good friends. When I’m feeling especially bougie, I might even whip out a tiered platter to really drive it home (and, let’s be honest, because I want to Instagram the perfect evening I’ve created). Our upcoming cider and Pét-Nat class is meant to lean into that in the most perfect picnic setting there is: the West Winds Garden at the Bakken Museum. 

More about our class! 

We’re partnering with MN local cider house Keepsake Cidery for this class, so you can expect some really incredible apple ferments from them, and we’ll be picking some of our favorite ancestral method sparkling wines to enjoy as well. We’re as much educators as we are event lovers at France 44, so you can still expect a 30-45 minute class to give you some info on what exactly a Pét-Nat is, why you should be drinking more cider, and what to eat with both. 

Afterwards, you’ll get to take control of your evening. We’ll have various picnic-style seating options available for you to cozy up at, and we will also be bundling up some of our favorite goodies to picnic with from the Cheese Shop for each group. Several stations of wine and cider samples will be available for you to peruse after the class as well. Ask us all of your burning questions and we’ll deep dive into all of the details of each wine and cider with you, or find your cozy corner and enjoy a beautiful evening with snacks, wine, and good company. 

More about the amazing people at Keepsake Cidery!

Keepsake is a family run orchard, cidery, and tasting room that focuses on wild fermented (aka Pét-Nat) ciders. They are located in the beautiful Cannon Valley region in Dundas, MN. Nate and Tracy started their orchard out of a passion for farming, community, and nature. They bring these fundamentals to everything they do. The cider is a highlight that helps them showcase local farms in their tasting room, local restaurants in their Friday night cookouts during the summer, and the markets they host for local businesses through the year. When you drink their cider, you are drinking something that is part of a larger community dedicated to sustainability, family, and community. They can tell you where every apple they used comes from and give you background on why they chose that apple. Keepsake educates and entertains while you drink their cider and share the experience. At the class, you need to be sure to ask how many animals are currently at the orchard (natural pest control, natural fertilizer, etc.) and where the name Keepsake came from. The true heart of Keepsake comes out in the cider they make. Check out some of our current favorites!

What the heck is Pét-Nat?

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. Join our Pét-Nat and Cider Event on August 16th to give these a try! 

The Canned Wine Revolution

by Josh

Canned wine is one of the fastest growing categories in the wine industry today. This, however, is only a recent trend. After prohibition there was a massive increase in experimentation and innovation in the beverage industry. This is when we see some of the first canned wines hit the market. The cans themselves however resembled something closer to oil canister than a wine you would want to ingest (check it out on Canned Wine Competition). Most of the wines being canned were fortified and sweet wines resembling something like port – quite a contrast from the lighter and more refreshing wines that are canned today. Due to a lack of canning technology and market demand, this first wave of canned wines quickly fizzled, and canned wines essentially disappeared for several decades.

Fast forward to the 2000’s. Canned wines were starting to become a regular sighting at many liquor stores, though the selection was limited and producers were few. During the following two decades, canned wine sales only went up, and at an exponential rate. Everyone began to realize that canned wines were more portable, lighter, and required less gadgets to enjoy, than their glass-bottled counterparts. Situationally, canned wines were simply more convenient than glass bottles with corks. More and more people found themselves drawn to a canned wine for this sheer convenience, available portion sizes, or playful marketing. 

A mere few years ago, there were only a small handful of canned wines gracing our shelves from a select few producers. Now, we have almost 30 different canned wines from all over the world in a vast array of styles and flavors, and we are adding more to this section every single year. With the demand for deliciously made canned wine continuing to skyrocket, winemakers are taking the time to put quality juice into their canned products. The increased quality of the wine combined with improvements in canning technology and availability, has led to a rapid increase in the overall quality of products being released. As more people are finding themselves enjoying these canned beverages, the facade that “good wine” only comes from a bottle is rapidly fading away. 

The options and styles of wine being made seems to be endless – red wine, white wine, rosé wine, sparkling wine, semi-sparkling wine – and the list goes on! I have compiled a few of my current favorites below, but there are so many more fabulous options on our shelves. Stop by sometime and check out our canned wine section… and then stop by again later, because the chances are that there may be something new. cans thisFast

ITXAS ROXA -$7.99

One of my favorite rosés is now in a can! This dry, light, and fresh Basque rosé is everything I want when sitting near some body of water during these hot MN summers. It is the exact same juice that goes into their glass bottle (which does not always happen). I’d hate to be hyperbolic, but this is the best canned wine that I have ever tried. Ever.

AVINYO PETILLANT - $6.99

This wine hardly needs an introduction. Avinyo Petillant has long been an extremely popular wine at F44, and now it is in cans for the first year! It is effervescent, fruity, and delicious. Having people over for an outdoor brunch at your place? This is the perfect wine for all those brunch foods.

XARMANT TXAKOLI - $6.99

Much like the Avinyo, Xarmant Txakoli has been a staff favorite bottle for several years. And it is now in cans for the first vintage ever! This refreshing Basque wine is bright, citrus, and mineral. It is the ultimate seafood pairing, and dare I say it, my second favorite canned wine ever. 

MOSEY PINOT GRIGIO ROSÉ - $5.99

Mosey Cans are new to our shelves they are made by one of our favorite canned winemakers, West & Wilder. Unfortunately, West & Wilder is currently not available in the market, but Mosey was able to takes its place perfectly! We have all four of their wines: red, white, bubbly, and rosé. Try one, try all (probably should try all). The rosé above is actually made from Pinot Grigio – making it an orange wine instead of a rosé, technically. And it’s my favorite of the four. 

AUPA PIPEÑO - $5.99

Yes, there are canned red wines! Aupa Pipeño probably takes the top of my canned red list. It is a chillable Chilean red made from Pais and Carignan. It comes in the ever convenient 250ml can and is the ultimate summer red – refreshing and juicy. Enough said.

UNDERWOOD SPARKLING ROSÉ​ - $6.99

It’s darn near impossible to talk about canned wine without mentioning Underwood. Underwood’s canned wines have been the top-selling canned wines at F44 for a long time. They are a substantially larger brand than the previously mentioned wines, but you don’t become the top seller without making a pretty tasty wine. The sparkling rosé is my favorite, but they are all well-made and worth trying. And to top it all off, the Underwood Canned Wines are Kayla approved (our in-house canned wine expert), which is the top mark a canned wine can achieve.

Insider Peeks: The France 44 Event Space

Hello, friends! Karina and Hailey here to give you all of the information you could possibly want about the Events space: where we’re at with construction, what the new event programming will look like once construction is complete, and what we’ve been busying ourselves with in the meantime. Spoiler: we have some pretty cool things brewing! 

Where we’re at… 

After months of holes being dug, and filled, and dug again… we are finally seeing some serious construction progress. If you’ve visited the store lately, you’ve no doubt noticed the changes over the past several weeks. This week, we have really begun to see the Events space start to take its more proper shape. We finished the drainage rough-ins, studwork, and trusses, and the plywood is being completed as we speak. In the coming weeks, we’ll start to pour concrete on the first and second stories and start on the interior work.  

The big, need-to-know construction update is that from August 15-26th we’ll be redoing our parking lot – meaning the parking lot will be completely unavailable from August 15-18 and August 22-25 (thankfully, we’ll have the lot back temporarily for the weekends those weeks). The good news: once this is finished, our new parking lot will be fully complete and we can finally return to normal use of the full-sized lot.  

We’re keeping the worst of it to the slower weekdays and are working on some creative ways to ensure you can still get the goods during those times. Plus, the Events Team will be onsite for a No Parking Lot ‘Fun Times’ Party on August 17-18 and August 24-25 from 3-7pm as a massive thank you to those that power through the brunt of our parking lot woes. Things to look forward to will include:  

  • Free wine and beer samples 
  • France 44 Events merch 
  • Extra bike racks – and a free Cheese Shop cookie if you ride your bike or walk to the store! 
  • A Double Points “stock up” event the weekend prior (August 11-14) 
  • Extra curbside service with easy-to-order grab and go bundles and curbside phone ordering 

 


 

Alright, enough about construction… What exactly will the space be used for, you ask? So many things! 

CORPORATE BOOKINGS // One of the most exciting things about the Events space is that it grants us the opportunity to expand our offerings to our corporate partners beyond our current off-site catering. And, because we have such versatile offerings in terms of rooms and spaces, we pretty much have the capacity for anything and everything (within reason, of course).  

The lounge and patio will offer a beautiful backdrop for entertaining clients and staff members alike, in a casual, relationship-oriented setting. Book either (or both!) for a simple, casual happy hour; or go for a themed tasting with cheese plates and appetizers to pair. We’ll even link you up with one of our certified Sommeliers or Cheese Mongers for an educational component if you so wish. 

Beyond expanding what we’ll be able to offer for our public classes, the new-and-improved classroom will also be the perfect setting for corporate team building sessions. Develop closer relationships within your team through experiential and hands-on activities, and engage in some friendly competition! Learn to make your own batch of vermouth from scratch, create the perfect cheeseboard, or dive into the classic cocktails and their many variations. Here’s a little secret, too: come 2023, we’ll also add pizza making to the docket. 

PRIVATE EVENT BOOKINGS // One of our core values at France 44 is our continued connection to our neighbors and community, and we are incredibly excited to further that connection by opening our space to our lovely neighbors. Whether it be for a graduation or birthday party, or you’re just looking to have a good time with friends and loved ones without the stress of hosting in your own home, we’re here for you!  

Party on the patio for cocktails and appetizers before moving into the classroom to enjoy family-style platters (courtesy of our always on-point in-house Catering team); host an intimate happy hour and cozy up at the fireplace in the lounge; or book a private tasting with friends and be spoiled with a selection of wines that you never knew you ought to be drinking. 

We’ll also be hosting a few pop-up events in the early days of the Events space, as we get our feet on the ground. We’ll be sending out more info in the coming months for a slew of ticketed events in the new year, beyond our usual public classes.  

PROFESSIONAL CERTIFICATION COURSES // It’s been a “tightly kept secret” that we’ve been working hard over the past year to expand our educational offerings at France 44, and we could not be more excited to share that we are officially an approved Wine and Spirits Education Trust School! 

For those who are not familiar with it, the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) is one of the leading organizations for certifications in wine, spirits, and sake. There are WSET schools around the world, from Shanghai to London to Chicago, but we are very excited to be one of only a few in Minnesota. Our public classes have always been a core component of our business, and our WSET school will expand that to a more professional level. That said, whether you’re looking for professional training or just thoughtful imbibing, the door will always be open to industry folk and enthusiasts alike who are looking to expand their knowledge. After all, education is the dividing line between an intentional drink and a mindless one.  

 

We’ll start out by offering Level I and Level II Wine, but Level III Wine (along with Level I and Level II Spirits) will soon follow. Keep an eye out for informational sessions via zoom and small in-person groups, and sign up for our mailing list through the France 44 Education homepage to stay up to date on course announcements and other goings on. 

IN THE MEANTIME…

You might be left wondering what exactly the Events Team has been up to during all of this construction – yes, we’ve been putting on a few off-site events here and there, but we’ve also been focusing on the catering side of our business in the meantime. Our main takeaway? Wow, is there a lot of hard work and love that goes into creating and sourcing all of the beautiful items on our catering menu. From our whole-animal butchery that is responsible for everything from our house sausages to our gyro meatballs, to our catering chefs who lovingly put together all of our artful cheese and charcuterie boards by hand, to our off-site group manager who helps curate the perfect food and beverage menu for your event and coordinates the staffing to boot… Sure, we may be a bit biased, but we really do have an extraordinary team, and it’s thanks to them and all of their hard work that we are able to have such special food & beverage offerings.  

So, if you’re as impatient as we are for the Events space to open, take advantage of what our catering team has to offer! If you haven’t caught the theme yet, flexibility is kind of the name of the game for us: we can easily accommodate groups large or small, most dietary restrictions, and we have an incredible Sommelier team available to help with any staffing needs you might have as well. Check out our catering menu here, and for in-home or off-site events with Sommelier services, shoot us an email at catering@france44.com to chat through our options.  

 

Cabin Crushin’ Beverages

As the weather heats up and cabin life begins, we find ourselves craving drinks that are refreshing, lighter, and portable! Here is what we will be drinking this holiday weekend and this summer to keep cool! 

Cazadores Canned Margaritas - Hailey

Call me basic if you want, but I’ll drink a margarita any day. Cazadore’s 4-pack Canned Margaritas are perfect whether you’re camping, up at the cabin, or just hanging out at the beach. I’m a big fan of their Spicy Margaritas — they have a delicious jalapeno flavor without too much of a kick. Stick them on ice in the cooler and bring your fav coozie!

Junkyard Grandpa Bill's Pils 4pk Can - Bill

It’s hot!  I want Pilsners to drink. And this all Citra Hopped Pils has been my favorite for the last 2 months. We just stole more from the North Dakota allocation and even that’s almost gone!  
Easily one of my top picks of the year so far.  It’s everything I love about craft beer!

Itxas Harri Canned Rosé - Josh

One of my favorite rosés is now in a can! This dry, light, and fresh Basque rosé is everything I want when sitting near some body of water during this hot MN summers. The demand and availability of really good canned wine has exploded in the past few years and I couldn’t be happier about it! Grab a bottle can today!

Fever Tree Light Cucumber Tonic Water - Ryan

Ever wish someone would bottle the bracing shock of jumping off a rope swing into a cool river on a 95 degree day? They did, and it’s called Fever Tree Refreshingly Light Cucumber Tonic. I drink it on its own with some ice as a rejuvenating afternoon cooldown, but it of course makes a perfect partner to your favorite vodka or gin.

Minneapolis Cider Co. Orchard Blend - Melissa

My go-to Cabin Crusher is Orchard Blend from Minneapolis Cider Company. It is well balanced and refreshing. Its even fun to mix with orange juice for a cidermosa as a lower ABV brunch beverage. 

Ghia Non-alcoholic Aperitif - Karina

I’m riding the NO/LO bandwagon this summer. Balance is key! Ghia was my first love in this popular category. The ginger and bitter botanicals are great for digestion after too many brats and brownies, but it’s equally delicious in a low proof negroni (just add gin)!

Bell's Oberon - Aaron

If you’re looking to combat the hot summer sun, look no further than Bell’s Oberon. This delightful wheat ale is a perfect reward for mowing the lawn on a scorching day, and at 5.8% it’ll pack a punch!

Hi-Neo Chu Hi Yuzu Highball - Tom

YOU NEED TO TRY THIS! It’s seriously insane how declicious this is.

Highballs are a simple concept: base spirit, fruit juice, and sparkling water. This Japanese Highball is made from a shochu rice based spirit, yuzu fruit juice, and bubbly. Its crazy crushable refreshing patio drinker. I’ll have a few on the pontoon this weekend!

Escapada Vinho & Birrificio Tipopils - Stephen

I’m submitting two because I am an overachiever. 

This wine is best chilled! Mildly effervescent, citrus notes with grapefruit in the spotlight, 9.5%, and ridiculously refreshing! Pairs well with patios, docks, and perhaps a even a garden gazebo. 
 
Do ya like Pilsners? Do ya like herby earthy flavors with very mild bitterness? Do ya like Italian goods? You do? Excellent. I have the beer for you.  One of the OG Italian pilsners, you’ll be through your first one before you can say “Ciao Bella”

Heineken 0.0% & Superior Lemon Switchel - Tashi

We took a 12 pack of Heineken 0.0% cans canoeing and camping this past weekend and I was pleasantly surprised at how crushable they were, and the price didn’t disappoint either!  Light, refreshing, and honestly you can’t even tell it’s NA.  Not into beer?  I recommend Superior Lemon Switchel.  It will quench your thirst, keep you feeling refreshed, and has the same bubbly feel as a beer or seltzer.

Hamm's - Rob

Just because my answer to every ‘staff-pick’ blog is the same doesn’t make it any less true. And let’s be honest, there is only one right answer for a crushable cabin beverage, and that answer is Hamm’s. It has been said that Hamm’s is the most refreshing liquid ever. Plus, now that our cases of Hamm’s have the throwback packaging, they taste even better. 

Burgundy That’ll Blow Your Mind (without breaking the bank)

by Hailey

“Burgundian” wines are found across the world, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon to Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. The fact that such a (comparatively) tiny French region has so much global influence isn’t a huge surprise considering the historical weight that Burgundy carries in the wine world. It was one of the first regions of the world to meticulously plot exceptional sites for vines (thank you, Cistercian monks!), and is the country with arguably the most influential legal system for classifying wines and the areas they come from. Not to mention, the term terroir – the buzziest of wine buzz words – is associated with Burgundy more than almost any other wine producing region. Yet the reality of wines from Burgundy is that they aren’t always that accessible to the general public. Thanks to their position as one of the “classic” wine regions of the world, these bottles often go for a pretty penny, and climate change is only exacerbating the problem. So, you might ask (as I have often asked myself), how is the average Joe supposed to explore and enjoy these wines? 

Earlier this month, I had the absolute pleasure of going on a weeklong tour of the five côtes of Burgundy, thanks to Somm Foundation and Bertrand’s Wines. The emphasis of the trip was to highlight producers and sub-appellations that A) are experiencing a bit of a renaissance or are otherwise not fully on the map, and B) are incredible examples of Burgundy wines at a more affordable price. Unfortunately, not everything I tasted is available in the Midwest market, but luckily France 44 has some killer bottlings that can act as perfect substitutes.  

Starting in the northernmost part of Burgundy is Domaine La Croix Montjoie, in the Vézelay AOC within Chablis. If you’ve never heard of Vézelay (I won’t judge you if you haven‘t – it’s not all that well known!), the main thing to know is that it’s a historic region with a rollercoaster history. Prior to Phylloxera in the late 1800’s, Vézelay was an area that was pretty lush with vines, and a fairly regarded one at that. When those damned vine louses bombarded the region, it was almost entirely wiped out – even as late as 1960, only a couple of hectares remained. A decade later, a renaissance began to take hold, with individual producers putting in tireless effort to increase plantings and produce quality bottlings.  

La Croix Montjoie ‘L’Elegante’ Bougogne Vezelay

Winemakers Sophie and Matthieu Woillez are prime examples of how this renaissance is continuing and evolving today. They founded their winery in 2009, converting what was once a cow barn into their production site. Their ‘l’élégante’ bottling is a showcase of their philosophy: minimal intervention winemaking to produce fresh, crisp wines that are true expressions of terroir. Expect menthol and acacia aromatics with lemon, supple pear, and peachy fruitiness. Ageing in old oak adds a quiet touch of spiciness alongside other subtle savory notes of almond and brioche. Perfect for the hot weather we’re experiencing, or alongside fish in papillote, chicken in cream sauce, or goat cheese.  

Baptiste Guyot Bourgogne Rouge

Moving a touch South to the Côte de Beaune, we find one of our best value Burgundies in house – Domaine Baptiste Guyot Bourgogne Rouge. As a ‘Bourgogne’ classified wine, grapes may be sourced from anywhere in Burgundy, but this bottle pulls from plots focused in Northern Beaune. The Domaine was originally founded in the 1800s and was in a state of disrepair by the time Guyot took over, with only 2 hectares of vines remaining. After essentially restarting it in its entirety and making the shift to sustainable practices, the first vintage was put out in 2011. This wine is light, easy, and juicy but with all of the preserving acidity that you want and a nose full of rose petals. Go to town with a glass of this and a plate loaded with snacks and I promise, you’ll be happy as a clam. 

Further South still, within the Côte Challonais, is Rully. Like Vézelay, it was affected particularly badly by both Phylloxera and the World Wars, but Rully is experiencing a lot of growth right now. That means that wines are only increasing in quality, while prices haven’t quite caught up yet. The particular area that this wine is coming from is known for having brown or limey soils with very little clay: if you’re the type of nerd that I am, you might know that wines coming from clay soils tend to carry more weight and power, whereas those from limestone are more mineral driven, fresh, and often have more aromatics. If you’re a normal person who doesn’t spend hours reading about soil types in their free time, now you know! 

Maison Chanzy Rully et Rosey Rouge

Maison Chanzy’s ‘Rully en Rosey’ is more the latter, but with a surprising amount of tannic oomph. Rully en Rosey is the highest elevation site in Rully, so temperatures are cooler here. In the wine, this translates to crisp acidity and a bit of tension, while also preserving a beautiful herbaceous and red blossom profile on the nose. 40-year-old vines lend some concentration of fruit – think ripe strawberry and black cherry, while 10 months aging in large oak barrels helps to soften the tannins a touch and gives a palate full of earth and baking spice. This is a super food friendly wine: grilled duck breast, sweetbreads, and anything umami-rich will be perfect matches the fuller texture and higher acidity of this wine. 

Chateau de la Greffiere Macon La Roche Vineuse

Last but not least is Château de la Greffiére’s Mâcon La Roche Vineuse Vielles Vignes. Located within the Mâconnais (the most Southerly of Burgundy appellations before Beaujolais) and just North of Pouilly Fuisse, this wine starts to hint more towards the style of Southern French wines. The climate here is indeed a bit more Provencal, with warmer sun exposure resulting in plumper fruit flavors and a richer palate. Heavy white marls dominate the soils in La Roche Vineuse, which, you now know, is a contributing factor to some of the weight in the wine. Don’t be fooled though! While you’ll notice a honeyed, buttery brioche quality in this wine, this is no California Chardonnay – it’s still full of bright notes of mango, zesty pear, peach, and a burst of blossoms on the nose. Enjoy this baby as an aperitif, or alongside Jambon de Bayonne, shellfish, or with a hefty charcuterie board. 

And there you have it! Go forth, rejoice, and drink Burgundy! Because while you can always spend a hundred dollars on a bottle, sometimes it’s a lot nicer to find those that won’t break your bank, but will still blow your mind. 

The “Chillable” Red

by Sam

The dividing line between red and white wine has never been blurrier. Wine color, once relegated to a strict binary that only had space for a fruity rosé as an interloper, has been revealed as a spectrum; red, white and pink have given way to the oscillating splendor of maroon, orange, mauve, cherry, rust, gold, yellow, peach, and just about any other word found on the long line between pale lemon and deep purple (to borrow the official WSET terminology for wine color).

While winemakers’ color fastidiousness has faded, consumer preferences for consumption remain mostly unchanged. Our whites (and oranges, and pinks) still tend to be served colder than our reds. There’s mostly good science behind this; chilling a wine accentuates acidity, increasing our sense of refreshment. And, for a very long time, the wines that were considered “refreshing” were almost exclusively white and pink.

Grab one of these neither-red-nor-white wines off the shelf, though, and you’ll quickly be surprised at just how serious some can be. In some amber wines from Georgia, the tannins are almost as pronounced as a bottle of Cabernet. Technically, this is a white wine made from white grapes–but the science of “refreshment” falls a bit flat; this is a wine for savoring, not for chugging poolside.

All of this is to say that, as our rigid boxes around wine color become more and more permeable, so too should our preferences on wine temperature. Our whites could be served warmer, and our reds could certainly be colder.

So, what makes a red wine fall into this “chillable” category? Stick to a few standards:

The chillable red is low in tannin, high in acid, and medium in alcohol. It can be foreign or domestic, still or sparkling, cheap or expensive, pale or deep in color. It is always, however, very very refreshing. Here, like in white wines, the main textural components being balanced against each other are acid and alcohol, while tannins play a distant third. 

Curious to try one? Here are a few currently in our fridge at France 44:

The wine equivalent of a humble-brag, J Lohr has quietly been making this Valdiguié since 1976, and has never had the price go above $15. Historically known as “California Gamay” before the grape was correctly identified, this is a light, can’t-put-the-glass-down Beaujolais-style red that is loaded with bright cherry and raspberry fruit.

A longtime stalwart of our Italian section, this indigenous Sicilian grape shows bright red berry flavors and an intriguing sweet spice character. It’s ridiculously refreshing, and goes particularly well with antipasto — pack a bottle for your next picnic.

País has a storied history; it is one of the oldest cultivated grapes in the Western Hemisphere, and was said to be the grape that Spanish missionaries planted, hence being known in California as the “mission” grape. This expression from Chile is all strawberry fruit, bursting with juicy acidity and near-impossible to put down.

Springtime in a Bottle: The Wines of Austria

by Karina

 

Fresh. Mineral. Elegant.

 

These are some of the biggest hype words in the wine world today. These are also the words that are largely used to describe the wines produced in Austria. And if you’re a seasonal drinker like I am (zero shame in that—drink what the meteorologist tells you to drink), there are no better wines to scratch your springtime itch than these.

 

Maybe it’s because of its geographic proximity to Germany or its phonetic proximity to Australia, but poor Austria never gets the spotlight it deserves. There is no other wine-producing country that has undergone a bigger transformation in the last few decades than Austria. From scandalous adulterations of bulk wine in the 80s to adopting green farming and winemaking practices, Austria’s modus operandi today looks completely different than the lifeless, mechanized systems of the past.

 

Austria is a curious wine region. For being about the size of Maine, it still clocks in at 60-70 million gallons of wine produced each year—no small feat for such a small country. But what makes Austrian wine really interesting are its geographic connections and historic roots. This landlocked country shares borders with 7 other countries, and each one of those neighboring countries has influence on what wine is grown and made in the adjoining Austrian subregions. That’s why you’ll see Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other international grapes grown alongside regional specialties like Grüner Veltliner, Sankt Laurent, and Blaufränkisch.

 

Austria has so many ties to various cultures and chapters in history, and they celebrate each one. From the crisp, clean white wines of the north to the unctuous dessert wines of the east and everything between, there’s an Austrian wine to fit every palate. We’re celebrating All Things Austrian this summer, and we’ve got some fun things happening to get you properly introduced to these exciting wines.

 

Here’s your homework (it’s fun, don’t worry):

 

  1. Buy a bottle or two (or more!) of a new Austrian wine you haven’t tried. We’re offering 10% off all Austrian wine both online and in-store this weekend, and this weekend only!
  2. Pick up one of the Austrian recipe cards at the Service Desk, swing by the France 44 Meat Counter for your protein, and put together a delicious Austrian dinner.
  3. Sign up for our newly-announced Austrian Wine class at The Bakken Museum on June 14th! We’ll be tasting through a big lineup of Austrian wines in the Bakken’s beautiful outdoor garden. There’s no better way to get acquainted with the styles, grapes, history, and traditions of this fantastic wine region.
  4. Extra credit: purchase an Austrian wine map to kick off your Austrian wine nerd fest, designed in-house by the fabulous Dio Cramer! Purchase in-store only.

 

Not sure what wine direction to go first? Check out a few of our current favorites in the wine shop:

LOIMER ‘LOIS’ GRÜNER VELTLINER

BIOHOF PRATSCH ROSÉ

ZANTHO ZWEIGELT

This is a picture-perfect example of what good, zesty Grüner Veltliner is all about. The Loimer ‘Lois’ comes from a small northern region called Kamptal, which is situated on the river Kamp and northwest of Vienna. This region is well-known for Grüner with its volcanic, mineral-laden soils, steep terraces, and cool growing temperatures. Expect some springy green herbal notes, ripe orchard fruits, a good burst of acidity, and just a whisper of spritzy carbonation.

A perennial favorite pink of the France 44 wine staff, this delicious rosé is made from 100% Zweigelt and has just enough juicy fruit to keep you reaching for your glass. It comes from the ridiculously-long-named region Niederösterreich, translating to “lower Austria,” which is actually located in the north—not confusing at all. Chill this down for your next patio party… or just keep it to yourself in a hammock by the lake. No glass required.

We love this Burgenland producer! Burgenland sits on the edge of southeast Austria and flows right into Hungary. This is one of the most fascinating regions of Austria politically and culturally, and it doesn’t hurt that its wines are delicious too. This easy-going red is a silky-smooth rendition of Zweigelt, an important red grape in Austria that was created in the 1920s by crossing two other important Austrian red grapes: Sankt Laurent and Blaufränkisch.

Trending Now: Enlightened Drinking (And Eating)

by Karina

Disclaimer: This op-ed piece is not about the political correctness of which glassware to use for various types of wine or occasions. The subject of glassware is merely meant to illustrate various attitudes toward the wine world as a whole. 

We’re ruled by fashion. The wine world is just as caught up in it as any other industry. From the color and style of wine we choose to the vessel we drink it out of (to even choosing to drink wine at all), the pendulum is in constant motion from trend to trend. 

Punch Drink Magazine recently put out an article about the rise of the “tavern glass” as opposed to drinking out of fancy, hifalutin (and breakable) Riedel wine stems. My first thought is, “Absolutely.” Spend more time with the wine in your mouth instead of looking at it through expensive crystal. We have no time for the gatekeepers and the rule makers of the wine world who try to sell wine as a status symbol. Wine to me is communal—a catalyst in bringing people together, in a similar (but not identical) way that food does. Wine nourishes; it is not supposed to be exploited and twisted and manipulated just to suit a bank account somewhere.  

But then I consider my role as a wine educator. If wine, glassware, and the general attitude toward wine are all crashing down off their lofted pedestals, will wine education also get the hook offstage? If the world is trending toward a “don’t think, just drink” mantra, is there any sense in learning about maximum vineyard yields, or soil types, or cold soaking, or century-old barrels that outlive the winemaker who uses them? Drink, be merry, and… don’t think too much? 

And yet, I think that perhaps the pendulum isn’t exactly swinging back the way it came—back to the weird post-Prohibition era when all we drank was Thunderbird and Carlo Rossi Hearty Burgundy, which gave way to all the obscene flavors and colors of Boone’s Farm.  

I think the pendulum might be finding a third path. Much of the wine world has fallen head-over-heels for things like natural wine and orange wine. We haven’t stopped questioning what went into our wine, who made it, where it came from. We shell out on a new pét nat without blinking an eye, or for the latest Martha Stoumen, or on a Teroldego we’ve been pining after. Institutions like WSET are seeing all-time highs in enrollment numbers around the world for those wanting formalized wine education.  

I love that we’re headed for educated, thoughtful drinking out of Mason jars. But I also love that you spent $90 on a single Zalto glass. If you’ve found pleasure in it, then it was worth it. I love that all your glassware was dirty, so you just drank from the bottle. I love that all your glassware was clean, but you drank from the bottle anyways. 

But most of all, I love that you had your wine atlas open as you drank. I love that you did a bottle share with your work friends and you talked about what you were smelling, tasting, experiencing. I love that you didn’t care about using the “right” wine lingo (is there such a thing?) because you were too invested in experiencing the wine on your own terms. I love that someone brought Heggie’s pizza, someone else brought pork rillettes, and you brought a bag of Doritos to dip in Raclette fondue. I love all of that. 

Wine education is not supposed to be a tool to wield power over others. Just like we do with so much of Nature, humans have squeezed this simple agricultural product into a mysterious, intimidating, intangible thing meant only for certain classes of society. But in the meantime, we also stumbled unwittingly into art, cultural intricacies, history, lore and legends, geological fascinations, and all the complexities Nature lays out for us to discover. 

If the pendulum is swinging, I’m hopeful that it’s pioneering a new direction. This “enlightened drinking for the masses” trend is fascinating, joyful, and so powerfully rewarding. Fill up that red Solo cup, grab your Chex Mix, and crack that nerdy reference book open. Drink with joyful curiosity, and don’t let anybody tell you you’re doing it wrong. 

If you’ve made it this far down the enlightened drinking path, here’s your reward: keep an eye out for exciting things happening in June. If you’ve been to France 44 in the last month or so, you’ll know that we’ve got major construction happening as we build our new Event Space. But in the meantime, we’re bringing our public classes and events out into the world! Subscribe to our Dojour page and you’ll be the first to know what’s on the horizon. 

And don’t forget the cheese. If the wine world thinks it’s hot stuff with all their certifications and pins, it could maybe learn a thing or two from the cheese world. Cheese pros are fanatic. Instead of competing for the most pieces of paper or most letters behind their names, cheese pros are all about relationships and connections (and delightfully bizarre competitions). It’s pretty amazing that we’re able to offer experiences at France 44 like deep-dive classes into funky washed rind cheeses, artisan English cheddars, or meet people like Andy Hatch of Pleasant Ridge or David Lockwood of Neal’s Yard Dairy, right here in Minneapolis. 

The 10th Annual DZTE Cheese Tasting & Silent Auction will be held Sunday, May 10 from 6-8pm.

The Daphne Zepos Teaching Endowment is an incredible non-profit we’re throwing a fundraiser for in a couple weeks. Daphne passed away in 2012, but she was nothing short of a zealot who spread the gospel of cheese everywhere she went, creating thousands of passionate cheese disciples throughout her many years of teaching and selling cheese. Our own France 44 Cheese Shop probably would not exist without her influence, and it’s because of her legacy that the DZTE sets up cheese professionals with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to travel, learn, study, and bring back knowledge to share with the rest of the cheese-crazy world. 

And if you’ve made it this far down this rabbit hole of a blog, you have no choice but to buy a ticket to the Wine & Cheese Tasting event we’re throwing in support of DZTE. You owe it to a future of learning about and eating delicious, unique, incredible cheese.