A Toast To Bastille Day Revolutionaries

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - July 13, 2011
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A masculine wine

Le Quatorze Juillet is a national French holiday July 14, to English-speaking you and me. It is the day that France celebrates its freedom from monarchy and the monumental event of the “storming of the Bastille” on July 14, 1789.

As a wine lover and amateur wine historian, I often wonder what wines were drunk the night before storming the Bastille. Did they drink their best? Where was it from? What did they drink?

In the nights leading up to that fated day, the instigators surely met frequently, probably in secret. The idea of ending monarchy in France had already permeated the country. The ideologues who inspired the idea I am sure were also wine drinkers. During their late-night dinners and discourse, they surely tackled many of the world’s ills, including their own desire to be accepted as equals among their countrymen and liberate themselves from monarchal rule. How the wine must have flowed in that café! And I would definitely say it would be red.

I doubt they had anything so Bourgeois such as Bordeaux. The 1855 Classification was still 66 years away. If the Bordeaux did pass their lips, I suspect that it was a simple Chateau, something from the Medoc that anyone could afford. It was probably served in a carafe straight from the barrel in the restaurants cellar. In those days it was still more common to ship wine in barrel than bottle. Top Bordeaux even then would have been a luxury that most commoners would not have been able to enjoy.

Despite my love for Burgundy, I think that it would have been too subtle for mustering up the plan to physically attack a guarded fortress. It might be too finesseful or elegant to use in planning and cunning. At least to me, good Burgundy makes kittens out of lions and seduces the greatest of men.

Tons of character

Could it be a Loire Valley red made with Cabernet Franc? This area is known as the playground of the royalty, and simply for that reason I think they wouldn’t have chosen to toast with it. Could it be Beaujolais made with the fruity and some would say “light” Gamay?

Doubtful. If Pinot Noir would be too soft, Beaujolais would be as soft as a cloud.

I would like to think that a heady wine coming from the South of France gave them plenty of courage and a little bluster. The rich and warm reds of Chateauneuf du Pape with its spicy, herb and berry-laden Grenache planted in the stony, rocky earth in the area makes a fitting allegory of their plight. Its relatively high alcohol released their inhibitions and fear. Even a bottle of Syrah from Hermitage, Cote Rotie or Cornas would be quite an inspiration. Wine with a deep and envious color, hedonistic power and earthiness would give any man an extra boost of testosterone. The thought of small vines reaching deep into the earth just to find sustenance in arduous, hot, sunbeaten conditions is not so dissimilar from their own daily life. How apropos.

Alas, records are never kept to memorialize what is drunk in secret. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were some simple vin ordinaire that they vowed never to drink again as they made the oath to freedom. It might have only reminded them of their lot in life and the possibility of change and to create a better way of life. Now I would drink to that.

Recommendations: 2008 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage “Les Jalets” ($29) This wine is full of roasted black fruit, sweet herbs and the smell of hot stones. Rich and inviting, a real masculine wine. 2007 Domaine de la Roquette Chateaneuf du Pape ($39) Spicy with tons of garrigue savory character dominated by bright redfruit nuances. This wine coats your palate with flavor.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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