Bastille Meal: No Big Deal (Just Add Wine)

It was a grass-roots movement that actually succeeded: the storming of the Bastille by a mob of raging Parisians on July 14, 1789. Louis XIV’s ruthless soldiers had been holding political prisoners there, and the powerless but growing proletariat was fed up.


So they revolted, liberating the prisoners – all seven of them – and taking down the monarchy’s most conspicuous symbol. Today the French celebrate Bastille Day – La Fête Nationale, national holiday since 1880.

They do know how to celebrate; they’ve even named an official Bastille Day drink: Lillet, an apéritif or, according to EU law, an “aromatized wine.” Produced in Podensac, a small village south of Bordeaux, Lillet is an apéritif, 85 percent a “blend of rigorously selected wines” and 15 percent fruit liqueurs.

Meals for this holiday are hassle free: there are no traditional foods connected to Bastille Day, but you’ll find families literally “breaking bread” together, eating simple peasant foods as a nod to their rebellious ancestors. Baguettes, cheeses, charcuterie and a bottle of wine will do; some get a bit fancier, serving savory crêpes filled with mushrooms and sausage or bacon.

If you’re in Paris this week, you’ll be treated to spectacular fireworks and the world’s largest and oldest military parade. Wherever you celebrate, let’s raise a glass to the proletariat everywhere – and to liberation!

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Apéritif = a drink served before a meal to stimulate the appetite.


Vino ‘Views:  I like a light-bodied red with my savory crêpes, so I picked up a bottle of 2013 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Réserve Rouge (13% alcohol, $12.99). Ruby-red and fading to a rim that can only be described as fuchsia, this wine stands up to a savory dish, yet lets you know its origins with a scent of lavender. Mild tannins and gentle tastes of strawberries and tropical fruits make Les Dauphins Rouge a great choice for a summer evening.

Vive la France!



[Photo of Bastille Day celebration, courtesy of the United Nations/Rick Bajornas via Flickr]



The Great Chocolate-and-Wine Myth

If you’ve ever felt like devouring a giant wedge of chocolate cake for dinner, today you have an excuse: it’s World Chocolate Day, and according to Wikipedia, “celebration of the day includes the consumption of chocolate.” Duh.


My mom baked the most decadent chocolate cake; she added mayonnaise for extra moistness. When she cooked a pot of chili, she included a square of dark chocolate to make it richer. From Oreos to truffles, brownies, fudge, hot chocolate or Trader Joe’s dark chocolate-covered coffee beans, we all know some form of chocolate that makes us swoon.

Supposedly, this day marks Europe’s first introduction to chocolate, 466 years ago – but this dark delight has been around a lot longer than that. Ancient Mayans (250-900 A.D.) came upon cacao in the rainforest and taught themselves to roast and grind the seeds into a paste. They mixed it with chile peppers, cornmeal and water to make a spicy drink they later traded to the Aztecs; priests in both societies served it in religious ceremonies. But they didn’t grow sugarcane, so chocolate didn’t sweeten up until the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs in the 1500s. They took it back to Spain where someone thought to add sugar and cinnamon, and dessert was served.

Chocolate was one of George Washington’s favorite beverages. A century later in 1886, Milton Hershey launched his biz, but it wasn’t until 1900, when he began mass-producing milk chocolate, that chocolate became affordable.

And somehow, over the years, people got it into their heads that chocolate should be paired with Cabernet Sauvignon and other BigSexyReds. But they make a terrible pairing, and the fact that this misinformation endures is one of the most annoying myths in the wine world.

You don’t believe me? Ye of little faith. Try this: take a bite of your chocolate cake or brownie. Now sip your Cab. That unpleasant sensation near the back of your tongue? It’s bitterness – not dryness, not citrus tang. Harsh bitterness. Pairing chocolate and Cabernet kills the rich, smooth, delicious tastes of both the wine and chocolate.

Now try this: open a nice bottle of Port – Vintage if you can afford it, but Ruby will do nicely. Match the wine to the chocolate if you can; the darker the chocolate, the darker you want your Port. If you’re eating a lighter milk chocolate, pair it with a light Tawny Port.

Bite the brownie, sip the Port – notice the difference? The alcohol and depth of your slightly sweet Port meet the richness of your chocolate, and they kiss. They’re transformed and elevated; each mellows the other and brings out their more subdued qualities.

Now, go ahead and indulge – once a year you deserve a chocolate dinner!

Vino ‘View:  We’re having a heat wave in Ohio. That means glorious summer, a good time to introduce this sometime-feature because I want a light wine tonight – and if it’s a red, “light” usually means Pinot Noir. 

Mark West PN

I’ve tasted this Mark West 2014 California Pinot Noir, and it’s perfect for dinner on the porch (yep, that’s my front porch). It’s young enough to show plenty of acidity, enhanced by the coastal breezes cooling the vineyards. The flavors are summery, too: strawberries, blueberries, cola, a touch of black pepper – a good, soft vino to drink with a cold chicken salad. Since it’s so warm, I’ll chill the wine for about 15 minutes before I open it. (Alcohol 13.5%, $10.99/750ml)

Wine Lingo of the Day:  CadastroPortugal’s vineyard ranking system. The DOC (the officially sanctioned quality wine region) assesses vineyards on 12 factors that influence the wine, including altitude and yield. Vineyards are ranked on their total scores, A through F; that ranking determines the Beneficio, or the volume of Port the government allows each vineyard to produce that year.

[Photo, “Triple Chocolate Cake,” by Meraj Chhaya via Flickr.]