July 14 is Bastille Day in France, and it truly is, as the French call it, "La Fete Nationale."
The celebration marks the day in 1789 when angry mobs stormed the notorious Bastille prison in Paris and symbolizes the start of the French Revolution. Consider it the French equivalent of our Independence Day.
In Paris, there will be a grand military parade as always, but President Nicolas Sarkozy has canceled the traditional Elysee Palace garden party to symbolize the austerity measures being undertaken by his administration in response to the ailing world economy.
It's a pity. Bastille Day is a perfectly good excuse to throw a party, even if it may be a little spur-of-the-moment midweek. (You can always wait for "le weekend" and give a Gallic shrug if anyone notices the date discrepancy.) Celebrate at the very least with French wines and French cheeses. Step the party up with a French-themed dinner; the food can be made by you, or you can buy ready-made at a specialty store or supermarket.
Here are three Bastille Day party menu suggestions grouped by red, white and rose wines. Recipes for these dishes and more can be found in almost any general cookbook. Consider works by, among others, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Patricia Wells, Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. And, of course, recipes can always be sought online.
If your idea of a Bastille Day celebration is an elegant lunch or dinner laden with gleaming sterling and sparkling crystal, spend some bucks on a Burgundian chardonnay. The wine will have the weight and minerality to accent the voluptuousness of fresh shellfish.
2007 Bouchard Pere & Fils Meursault: A buttery, almost popcornlike nose gives way to an austere, tart apple flavor. A touch of oaky creaminess provides balance, making this an elegant chardonnay from Burgundy's famed Cote de Beaune region. $45
2006 Olivier Leflaive Chablis Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre: Burgundian chardonnay with a minerally nose underlaid by a note of ripe hay. There's a clean, snappy citrus flavor with a touch of black pepper and a steely backbone. $40
2007 Alain Geoffroy Domaine Le Verger Chablis: A peachy aroma leads to a refreshing flavor that combines peach and pear with a touch of green apple. Crisp, elegant, refreshing chardonnay. $23
Menu: Oeufs mayonnaise (hard-cooked eggs) garnished with anchovies and pimento strips, butter-poached lobster, parsleyed potatoes, green beans, white chocolate pots de creme
It's steak or nothing for some guys when it comes to grilling out. Since this fete has a French theme, make it a hanger steak (onglet in French), perfect for a sturdy red.
2007 Bouchard Pere & Fils Bourgogne Reserve Pinot Noir: A classic French pinot noir, with touches of mushroom, damp earth, blackberries and cedar on the nose. The wine tastes of tart cherries, currants, black pepper. Tannins provide discreet structure. $21
2007 Domaine de Nizas Le Mas: A blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot from the Vin de Pays d'Oc region of southern France. An earthy wine with lots of rich, plummy fruit balanced by a lean minerality. $16
2009 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages: A classic gamay from southern Burgundy: bright, simple, juicy, fruity, ripe. No worries; relax and enjoy. $11
Menu: Smoked salmon with red onion rings, sour cream, capers and flat bread, grilled hanger steak with bearnaise sauce or tarragon butter, french fries, vanilla ice cream with fresh berries
A salad nicoise is a Provencal classic with its chunks of tuna, winey olives and cool lettuce. The fruity freshness of rose complements the bold flavors.
2009 Pascal Jolivet Attitude: This Loire Valley rose, colored a very light salmon, has a faint nose of jasmine and stone — but the flavor: a tart burst of berry like a Jolly Rancher candy. $16
2009 Hecht & Bannier: From Languedoc in southern France, this coppery pink wine glows in the glass. Soft berry fruit, a bit astringent. A blend of syrah, cinsaut and grenache. $11
2009 M. Chapoutier Belleruche: A rose from the Cotes du Rhone region, this wine has a bright strawberry color and a fruity yet tart flavor. Look for a big spritz of lime on the finish. $11
Menu: Gougeres (cheese puffs), country pate with cornichon pickles and bread rounds, salade nicoise, berry tart with whipped cream
You want that wine. But your store or area distributor may not carry it. State law may prohibit you from ordering a wine online. What to do? Ask your wine retailer for a wine similar in flavor, style and price. Remember, too, prices vary.