Every July 14, Frenchmen and francophiles alike revel in Bastille Day celebrations around the world. They're all fêteing that historic day in 1789 when French liberal political groups staged an infamous uprising against Louis XVI and the French monarchy at the Bastille prison in Paris.
To you, this may seem an unimportant holiday, given that A) you are probably American; and B) we've just finished celebrating our own Independence Day. But you'll have to admit, there's something kinda sexy about laying out a summertime-in-Provence-inspired spread of luscious triple-crème Brie, decadent duck mousse pâté and a handful of salty-meaty Niçoise olives on a platter along with a perfectly crusty baguette. Then pour one or two of the easy-drinking French wines below and celebrate Bastille Day and the wonder that is the pairing of fantastic food and wine.
Think Bordeaux wines are all about expensive cabernet sauvignon or merlot-based blends? Think again. There could be no better time of year than now to enjoy the uniquely delightful semillon-sauvignon blanc blends found in Bordeaux blancs (translation: white wines of Bordeaux). Experience a different kind of terroir expression by trying the Château Haut Rian Bordeaux Sec Blanc 2009 ($12), which is light-bodied, citrusy and crisp as a freshly-ironed white shirt. Full of minerally notes and infinitely quaffable, the semillon adds a bit of lush roundness to an ordinarily bone-dry sauv blanc.
One of the best things about French wine is that even the least expensive of them are usually made with a great deal of tradition, care and quality. The Domaine de Pellehaut Harmonie de Gascogne 2008 ($11) is no exception, and showcases a blend of the classic grapes grown in this little corner of southwestern France, where Armagnac (kissing cousin to Cognac) is produced. This wine features a few lesser-known grapes -- ugni blanc, gros manseng and colombard -- as well as two you're well familiar with, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc to create one mouthwateringly good glass of wine. You'll be at the bottom of this bottle before you know it, so plan ahead by scooping up two when you're buying.
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There is no such thing as summertime in France without rosé. As such, no Bastille Day celebration would be complete without one, so if I were you'd I'd pour the Château Grande Cassagne Rosé 2009 ($9). This is classic French rosé at its best: a refreshingly juicy-licious combo of syrah, grenache and mourvedre that will easily become part of your summer rotation. Maybe you take two slices of that baguette, spread each with a little salted butter, and add a few slices of country ham or prosciutto. Pour yourself a tumbler full of this wine.
If you've heard of Beaujolais, it was probably Beaujolais Nouveau, a bit of a novelty wine released after only a few weeks of fermentation every November on the third Thursday of the month. These wines are usually not meant to be taken as an example of quality winemaking, which unfortunately has resulted in people writing off all Beaujolais wines en masse. If you fall into that category, then I highly urge you to investigate the Terres Dorees Beaujolais Rouge 2008 ($15) to see what real Beaujolais is all about. A couple of quick facts: Beaujolais is a place, not a grape. The grape varietal used in Beaujolais rouge? Gamay, which is known for its violet aromas and just-picked berry fruit flavors. This lovely wine delivers both, and might remind you more than a little of pinot noir. You'll enjoy this one particularly with food more so than on its own: A wild mushroom and goat cheese tart would be a great pairing.
Fancy yourself a Côtes du Rhône fan? Then you just might fall head over heels for the Chateau de Vaugelas Corbieres "Le Prieuré" 2007 ($12), a blend of grenache, syrah, some old vine carignan and a little mourvedre thrown in for kicks. Produced just south of the Rhône valley in the Languedoc region, this is hearty red, liable to induce visions of your nana's blackberry crumble. Lest you fret at the idea of drinking a big 'ol wine during the dog days of summer, here's a refresher on the merits of slightly chilling your reds and recommend that you do exactly that with this one.
Not up for pulling off your own personal Bastille Day tribute? Join up with your fellow French food and wine lovers at Le Central, which is offering a special three-course menu for $29.95.