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This Thursday, France and Francophiles everywhere will celebrate Bastille Day. To get ready for this celebration of democracy and the modern French nation, let's talk

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Demystifying French Wines in Time for Bastille Day

french flag.jpg
This Thursday, France and Francophiles everywhere will celebrate Bastille Day. To get ready for this celebration of democracy and the modern French nation, let's talk French wine. For many of us, choosing a French wine is a daunting task. The labels are confusing, cluttered with a bunch of references we don't understand, and in French.

People associate the French with a certain level of sophistication, which can be intimidating when it comes to wine. James Lechner, General Manager and Wine Director at Bastille Cafe and Bar in Ballard, says, "The French drink wine with food, and most Frenchmen aren't drinking Château LaTour with their nightly vittles. It's far more typical to see a bottle of simple, local wine on the French table. We're seeing people put wine on the dinner table more and more in America, and with that I think the number of Americans who 'get' French wine will continue to grow."

So how do you select a wine when you can't pronounce half the words on the label? To get started, familiarize yourself with the wine regions of France. The big ones are Loire, Bourgogne (Burgundy in English), Bordeaux, Rhone, Alsace, Provence, and Champagne. Next, get to know the main grapes grown in each region. In Bourgogne, it's pinot noir and chardonnay. In the Rhone, it's grenache and syrah. Alsace has a lot of gewurztraminer, and Bordeaux is known for blending its grapes--cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petite verdot, and malbec.

Jameson Fink, the European wine buyer for Esquin Wine Merchants in SoDo, says "Once you know the grapes grown in each region, you know the wines. There are exceptions to every rule, but don't sweat the minutiae." He cautions about getting too hung up on vintages, adding, "The best producers still make good wine even in so-called 'bad' years." He insists there are a lot of great--even excellent--French wines for around $10-$15. Down with bourgeoisie! Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

Labeling laws have changed in the last decade or so, and while the front of the label tells you the year, producer, and region, the back of the label sometimes lists the grape and usually lists the importer as well. Fink recommends familiarizing yourself with the importers. If you like a wine from one importer, chances are the other wines they import will be good too.

Wines from each region typically pair perfectly with the foods of that region. At the Bastille Day celebration at Bastille on Thursday, Lechner has chosen a minerally Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire to go with oysters; a dry, crisp rosé to go with charcuterie; and a fruity grenache from the Rhone to go with a country-style pâté. Each will be available for just $5. The party starts at 4:30 p.m. and includes a petanque tournament and live music. A burlesque performance in the back bar begins at 9 p.m. Call 206-453-5014 to reserve.

Cafe Campagne takes over Post Alley with its Bastille Day party starting at 3 p.m. There will be sausage sandwiches, frites, and baguette sandwiches for $5, and wine specials.

At The Corson Building, the Bastille Day Fête from 3-12 p.m. has a $30 cover charge ($8.50 for kids), but includes food from The Corson Building, Nettletown, and The Walrus & the Carpenter, plus chicken races, carnival games, and live music.

The party at Le Pichet runs from 6 p.m. to midnight, with Parisian street food on the menu (think crepes and falafel) and live music.

Luc in Madison Park will celebrate La Fête Nationale on Thursday with food specials, including honey-roasted duck breast, salade Niçoise, and strawberry shortcake. For $6, you can get a glass of Lillet, pastis, the house Rosé, or a glass of Vacqueyras from the southern Rhone.

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