The French have a love-hate relationship with Beaujolais Nouveau because, well, let’s face it, it’s not really good. Also, it gives you a very bad hangover if you drink too much of it. And drinking too much of it is very easy since it has very little depth and goes down a little too quickly.
I’ve learned that the hard way over many Beaujolais release parties at Bistrot du Coin on Connecticut Avenue. But it’s still fun to celebrate. I mean, it is after all the first French wine to be released for each vintage year.
Part of the fun is the regulation. In a very successful example of Gallic lobbying (yes, the French lobby, too… but only for really important things, like wine) by a group of winemakers in the 50’s, you can only uncork a bottle of this vin primeur on the third Thursday of November. Or at the stroke of midnight on that Wednesday.
The Beaujolais Region
So every year, at this time, drinkers’ attention turns to the otherwise little-known wine producing region of Beaujolais and to its most celebrated wine. And really, it’s a pity, because there’s so much more to Beaujolais than Nouveau. Beaujolais is gamay country, a grape known for its soft and fruity wines, with less acidity than those of its neighbors. You may have heard of those: Rhone and Burgundy.
Living in the shadow of these famous wine regions was probably hard for little Beaujolais, but vintners Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf did a lot to increase its notoriety outside of France using Beaujolais Nouveau, pimping out Beaujolais Day and promoting the wine as the perfectly-timed pairing to Americans’ Thanksgiving dinners. But they didn’t do Beaujolais any justice, giving the gamay-based wine the reputation of being cheap, simple and light bodied. Kind of like a one night stand you regret the next day.
For those looking for a gamay wine they can commit to, there are several cru appellations like Brouilly, Fleurie or Moulin-a-vent, that make very well respected wines. Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, which is meant to be drank within a few months of its release, these vintages can develop with age and become more pinot-like when they do. The downside is that you have to drop more money on them. Like a lot more…
I dropped by Cork and Fork earlier this week to chat about Beaujolais with owner Dominique. Other than the fact that he asked me if I was Canadian (has my French gotten this bad? le sigh) we had a lovely conversation about “quality” Beaujolais. The barely fermented fruity stuff sold in the millions of bottles by Georges Duboeuf is mass produced and made from grapes of dubious quality.
Look for a Small Producer Bottle
If you want to indulge in the Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations, look for a small producer bottle (i.e. not Georges Duboeuf or Louis Jadot) and make sure the label says that it is “mis en bouteille au chateau” or “mis en bouteille a la propriete.” You should really look for that label on every bottle of wine that you purchase though.
Even better, go for a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau instead. Beaujolais Villages in general, is the kind of wine you can take out for at least a few dates… it’s the intermediate between the cru and the nouveau. And this year, Cork and Fork is selling two different Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau: Domaine Descroix Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau and Domaine Manoir du Carra Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau.
Confession: I was drinking one of those as I wrote this post, which means I totally broke some kind of French wine law and can now feel like a wine rebel! And you know what? It was better than a bottle of Duboeuf, so if you want to drink Beaujolais on Turkey Day, it’s a great option and it will only set you back a few extra dollars. If you want to completely change your opinion of Beaujolais wines, however, go and have Dominique pick out a bottle of cru for you. These are truly the best of Beaujolais wines and are well worth exploring having a long term relationship with.
The aisles of the grocery stores in our neighborhoods demand some attention. Nowhere else in the District can you find such a confluence of diverse populations: the weekdays being dedicated to the mom and the nanny at Whole Foods, while the Sunday morning power-shop is reserved for hipster couples and athletes at Harris Teeter.
You also have the post-work Monday shopper who was too hungover to make it out on Sunday. And the 17th Street NW Safeway practically demands its own dating service since you will be making out with your fellow shopper should you both decide to go down an aisle at the same time.
Yet some would argue that as we’ve sprawled into the brightly lit gleaming aisles of our trusty chain store, we’ve also lost some of the mom and pop market shops that make our neighborhood truly locally owned. We’re here to set that record straight and show you the gems that reside right next door.
Hana | 2000 17th Street NW
When you need your Pocky fix, head to Hana Market. I go here to pick up both cabinet staples and obscure Japanese ingredients. Their website recommends visiting on Thursdays for fresh vegetables from Delaware.
Smucker Farms | 2118 14th Street NW
Head here to get the best of specialty and artisan items like pretzels from the Pennsylvania countryside, DC Kombucha and cookies and snacks from small, family owned producers. In addition, you can also grab a variety of ethically raised meat and dairy products, as well as fruits and vegetables. This is also a pick up point for the Smucker Farms CSA.
Cork and Fork | 1522 14th Street, NW
If your wine knowledge extends as far as which red-grape variety of Three-Buck Chuck you’ll be imbibing, head to Cork and Fork immediately. Check out wine tastings on Saturdays at 3 pm throughout July. Not into vino? They also carry a solid selection of micro-brews. This store also accepts used corks as part of their cork-recycling program.
Seasonal Pantry | 1314 9th Street, NW
If you’re not already here for Chef Daniel O’Brien’s supper club menu, then stop in to pick up a variety of locally sourced market items. Among the shelves you’ll find canned vegetables, fresh sauces and Frenchie’s Handmade Pastries and Desserts (this week: Banana Bread, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Country Sourdough). Borderstan Food Writer Laetitia Brock recommends the Bacon N’ Waffles ice cream sandwiches from Suga Mama Sweets. Also try the seasoned charcuterie (we’ve heard the maple breakfast sausage is incredible) or fresh cuts from the butcher.
Cork Market | 1805 14th Street, NW
Here’s a fact for you: Cork Market’s fried chicken was named a Top 10 Pick by Bon Appetit Magazine. If that’s not mouth-watering enough to make you fight traffic to get here, check out their wine selection with tastings, Monday through Saturday. And you must not forget that Cork Market also makes great Stumptown iced coffee and egg sandwiches.
Habesha |1919 9th St NW
True, you can buy some seriously hearty Ethiopian food for breakfast, lunch or dinner at Habesha, but while you’re waiting why not shop around their wonderfully miniature market for some meat, spices and even injera? Yelpers say this is the place to go for home-style Ethiopian food at great prices. Apparently, you can also pick up phone cards and DVDs.
Let’s Start with the Basics: When is Bastille Day?
It’s on July 14, and that’s actually what the French call it: le Quatorze Juillet (or la Fête Nationale, ie the national holiday.) Because it celebrates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789, and because Bastille Day is catchier than July 14, people outside of France have started calling it Bastille day. But nobody in France does that. Another thing the French don’t do is call it France’s Independence Day. Because it’s not. Unless you’re talking figuratively, as in we’re celebrating our independence from the monarchy…
Hum… What’s the Bastille, Exactly?
The Bastille was a huge prison. Key word: was. Apparently that’s not clear to everyone. I’ve been asked for directions to the Bastille fortress many times by very confused tourists. It was stormed, it’s gone. Sorry guys. Now it’s a busy traffic circle and a popular opera hall but there’s not much left of the actual prison other than a tiny piece inside the Bastille metro station.
How do the French Celebrate July 14?
Pretty much like Americans celebrate the 4th of July: with food, friends and family, parades and fireworks. That being said, the French could learn a thing or two from the Americans as far as showmanship is concerned. Our parade is a military parade, meaning it’s not exactly “fun” and entertaining.
The fireworks on the other hand are really amazing. The Eiffel Tower is pretty amazing on its own; add music in the background and fireworks behind it and it’s even better. Don’t believe me? Watch the Paris fireworks live on Saturday starting at 5 pm. Some of the other popular celebrations take place the night before on July 13, when popular balls are held in front of local town halls and inside fire stations. That’s right: the French’s idea of patriotism is partying with hot firefighters.
How Does the French Community in DC Celebrate, Then?
Sadly, there are no hot firefighters involved here, but our ambassador does receives us for speeches and champagne on July 14. It’s a lovely event on the grounds of the embassy. Last year Christine Lagarde was literally mobbed by inebriated Frenchies trying to snap a picture with the newly appointed, and very elegant, head of the IMF. Let’s hope my compatriots behave better this year…
I’m Not French, How Can I Celebrate Bastille Day, I Mean, July 14?
So glad you asked! There are plenty of ways you can celebrate, including at the French Embassy, where local bakery Paul and area chefs like Daniel Labonne of Bistro Labonne or Ris Lacoste of Ris Restaurant will be cooking some yummy French dishes for a lavish buffet. Of course, since the French expats get the Embassy on the actual day of the holiday, that event is held the night before, on July 13 (see the website for more information and tickets).
Bistrot Du Coin: In our area, the two biggest celebrations are at Bistrot Du Coin and L’Enfant Café. Bistrot du Coin (1738 Connecticut, north of Dupont Circle) typically turns into the unofficial after party for the French Embassy crowd as it kicks the tables to the side to make room for a dance floor. The lines can get pretty crazy if you’re not on the list or waited too long to book a 10 pm dinner seating. For a dinner experience that doesn’t involve Claude Francois and dancing on the zinc bar, you can also head to Bistro LaBonne or Mintwood Place, both of which have special July 14 menus.
L’Enfant Café’s annual Bastille Day Street Bash and French Maid Relay Race: But if you’re looking for a party, get ready to lose your head at L’Enfant Café‘s annual Bastille Day Street Bash and French Maid Relay Race. There will be can-can dancers, an appearance by Louis the XVI and Marie-Antoinette (with their heads on) and a huge masquerade ball. Gates for this revolutionary party open at 3 pm. L’Enfant is at 2200 18th Street NW. Tickets are $5.
Cork and Fork: Finally, if you just want to celebrate France in the comfort of your own home, may I suggest dropping by Cork and Fork between 5:30 and 9 pm on Friday, July 13, and 3 to 9 pm on Saturday for an all-French wine tasting. All of the wines poured will be budget friendly, under the $20 price range, and from a variety of different French regions. I particularly recommend trying some of the rosés available (they will have a selection from Touraine and Provence that are less sweet, much more dry than the ones typically found in the US), then heading home to watch one of the many great French movies available on Netflix on demand!
However you decide to spend it, please enjoy my national holiday (just don’t call it France’s Independence Day!) Bon Quatorze Juillet, everyone.
‘Tis the season for five bajillion holiday parties, New Years parties, office gift exchanges and the always-dreaded holiday cocktail party at The Boss’s house.
What’s a guy or gal to bring? How do you keep on your budget and still impress a crowd? Why, bring or give good booze!
My best buddy, Julian Mayor, is the sommelier at Bourbon Steak, so I asked him to walk around with me to the best Borderstan has to offer in wine stores to choose a red, a white and a champagne/prosecco/sparkling wine that is both a good deal and good quality.
Julian obliged, and we shall all benefit from his expertise!
From Alejandra Owens, One Bite At A Time
Your friends in Bethesda and *shudder* Virginia may already know this little, family-owned chain (three makes a chain, right?), but Cork & Fork is new to us. Located at 14th and Church NW (just above P Street), the store is a vibrant, happy addition to the ‘hood. Tonight was a preview with the grand opening this Saturday, May 8.
A little background on the owners: Anna, matriarch of the group and the chef of the crew, will be providing fresh, original recipes for the store. Dominique, an internationally recognized award winning wine maker, can tell you everything you want to know about a wine, a region, even the hill it grew on. Antoinette rounds out the crew with her passion for wine, food and the family business.
An impressive offering of wines, organized by region, take you on a tour of the world at Cork & Fork. Dominque offered us a few obscure finds and was full of information and descriptions for each, a far cry from the usual intimidating wine connoisseur.
Not in the mood for wine? It’s okay, they’ve got beer, too. I’m not a big beer drinker but I was offered a sip of Floris Apple, a lambic beer, and I was hooked.
Cork & Fork will offer free tastings and wine classes throughout May, and paid courses thereafter. Antoinette and I chatted about the wine tastings, which consist of eight wines paired with some of Anna’s delicious treats. I’ll update later when I get a list of upcoming events from her. These are tasting events you won’t want to miss, since you can nab bottles of what you loved for 20% off.
Stop by this weekend, say hi and tell them Alejandra sent you!
Cork and Fork plans to open its 14th and Church location on Saturday, May 8, “with a grand opening later in the month,” according to the owners. The family-owned business already has stores in Bethesda, and Gainevsille, VA. In addition to wine and beer, Cork and Fork will offer cheeses and fine specialty foods.
Before starting, I figured that since we are such a small mini-hood, an autonomous region of the Dupont Circle and Logan Circle neighborhoods, that I would have to include neighboring and nearby winners. After all, our commercial strips are the north side of the 1400-block of P Street NW and the west side of 14th Street NW from P to S Streets.
I was wrong. Businesses in our little enclave between 14th and 16th and P and S Streets NW did incredibly well in the City Paper competition: 10 businesses, one community-based organization, one locale and one individual (a bartender) made the list of favorites from the Readers’ Poll and City Paper Staff Picks. Several businesses were winners in more than one category.